The following post appears courtesy of Susan B. Carbon, Director, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).
Earlier this month, at the first-ever National Summit on Campus Safety for College and University Presidents, nearly 70 representatives from colleges and universities across the country and Puerto Rico came together to discuss the critically important issue of campus safety.
Attendees shared information related to campus crime and worked to strengthen safety programs by developing campus-based coordinated community responses to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Although these problems and other forms of violent crime exist all around us, our discussions focused on the college population of 16-24 year olds — the age of the highest prevalence of violence against a very vulnerable population.
The Office on Violence Against Women was honored to host this historic summit and engage in town hall format discusssions about implementing policies and practices that address the needs of victims, hold offenders accountable, and are pro-active in preventing and intervening in these crimes. From the outset, our main objective was to develop clearly-defined and transparent policies that create a culture of safety and non-violence in the university or college environment.
The summit’s ambitious agenda highlighted the most enduring lessons as well as the best examples of student success and campus leadership and achievement. Expert panelists provided an overview of the federal agencies that support campus programs; survivors and victim advocates shared their experiences; and guest presenters discussed legal concerns, the latest statistics on these crimes, and the breadth of campus threats and what we can do to address them.
Finally, our experts talked about major gaps in the public’s understanding of sexual violence, and explained critical strategies for communicating about it as a public and educational issue.
At the end of the summit, OVW was particularly thrilled to welcome back the first director of our office, Attorney Bonnie Campbell, former Regent of the University of Iowa system, who closed the session with a compelling challenge and invitation to all presidents to make campus safety their signature achievement.
We covered a lot of important ground – and reaffirmed our joint commitment to moving forward in this work – over the course of just two days. But great challenges, and a number of key questions, remain before us. What can we do to make it easier for victims to find information and get help? How can we better engage students in the campus safety discussion, and ensure that our message is getting through? What hiring and training techniques can be employed to ensure that college and university personnel understand the priorities of safety?
Of course, few of these questions will be met with easy answers. And, despite our best efforts, it will undoubtedly take longer than we would like to make the progress we seek. But this month’s summit was a promising step in the right direction.
Administrators agreed that acts of violence do not belong on any campus, and affect the entire student body, faculty, staff and surrounding communities. “Sexual sovereignty – every student is entitled to their own. Respect it,” said Diane Rosenfeld, of Harvard Law School. With the leadership – and shared commitment — of these and other college and university presidents, I am confident that healthier campus environments, where tomorrow’s leaders can learn and grow, are becoming a reality.
We look forward to further conversations, and invite you to join us.
For more information about the Office on Violence Against Women, visit ovw.usdoj.gov.
We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.