Shepherd University administration’s efforts to raise awareness and fight sexual assault goes largely unnoticed by its students.
For many years, in response to the Educational Amendments of 1972 (which includes Title IX), and the Clery Act of 1990, Shepherd University administration has made efforts to raise the awareness of students on the issue of sexual assault.
Title IX of the Educational Amendments guarantees an equal learning environment for both men and women. As statistics have shown a correlation between sexual assault and college drop-out rates of female students, Title IX legally holds educational institutions that receive federal funding responsible for protecting students, both male and female, from sexual assault and providing counseling services to help mitigate the emotional trauma brought on by this heinous crime.
The Clery Act works to a large extent in tandem with Title IX. The Clery Act legally requires educational institutions that participate in federal financial aid programs to record and publicly disclose information on crimes committed on or near their campuses. This includes incidents of sexual assault.
On Shepherd’s campus, the primary initiative in protecting students from sexual assault is raising the awareness of the student body. According to Rhonda Jackson, a counselor at Shepherd, this is done through orientation programs for incoming freshmen, athletes, and members of Greek life. Jackson also stated that this year over 400 students attended awareness seminars presented by the university.
In regard to the sexual assault awareness programs, Jackson explains, “Consent is the focus. If a potential partner is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he/she simply cannot give consent.”
To further clarify this point, picking up someone at a bar or a social gathering where drugs or alcohol are being used does not make one a “player,” it makes them a predator, unless consent has been given prior to consumption of said substances.
Despite the administration’s efforts to inform Shepherd students, students are either not getting the message, receiving it with lukewarm enthusiasm, or simply feel like more should be done in the effort to raise awareness.
John Donaho, a sophomore in the biology department said, “Honestly, I haven’t really seen anything in regard to raising awareness of sexual assault, but also I have never heard of it being an issue on campus. There is always a better way to raise awareness; in the Marine Corps we did sexual assault safety awareness briefings almost every week.”
Another student in the biology department, sophomore Brook Comer, said, “I know about the support systems in place at Shepherd to help victims of sexual assault in reporting the incident and getting counseling, but to be honest, I never hear anything about it [awareness-raising programs]; but I also never check my emails about these kinds of things.”
For Tristyn Salmons, a senior in the education department, the subject of sexual assault and of its awareness is one of great importance and feels as though there is much more that the university can do to bring attention to this issue.
“Other than seeing pamphlets in the health center, I am unaware of any services offered by Shepherd to educate and/or help the victims of sexual assault,” said Salmons. “If Shepherd does offer these services, it needs to be better publicized.”
Raising awareness is not the only issue concerning the dilemma of sexual assault; how cases of assault are handled at Shepherd are of equal importance.
It all starts with the report.
Shepherd University Police Chief John McAvoy explains that in most cases of sexual assault, the report is made by a surrogate e.g. a friend, perhaps a resident assistant, or another concerned third party. Once the report is made, the police can begin their investigation.
The investigation can be handled several different ways depending on the variables of the case. If the complainant should choose to press charges, the police handle the case accordingly. If charges are not filed, the case can then be given to the Title IX coordinator on campus. In any case, the respondent (the accused) is evaluated to determine if he or she is a threat to students on campus.
This may seem like an overly delicate procedure, but the idea is to differentiate between a sexual offender and a person who made an unfortunate decision while under the influence of one substance or the other; to ensure that only those who are truly deserving bare the scarlet letter of a sex offender.
Regardless of the various ways a case can be handled, the two most important things are that the incident is reported and the complainant gets the help he/she needs and deserves. “We have so much confidence and respect in our counseling service,” said McAvoy, “and I am proud of the university’s commitment to investigating, preventing and fairly prosecuting these reports.”
In compliance with the Clery act, crime records are available to the public both in the police department and on the Shepherd website.