After the expulsion of rape survivor Willa Murphy this summer, campus has rung with calls for sexual assault reform. Student activists at the forefront of this charge have presented the university with a number of policy recommendations, including ongoing and mandatory programming to educate students on issues pertaining to sexual assault.
With its charge to create and maintain a safe and just campus environment, the university has a responsibility to institute this programming and must commit to promoting consent education and bystander intervention.
Georgetown currently requires incoming freshmen and transfer students to participate in the I Am Ready program, implemented in 2014 as a module of New Student Orientation that focuses on consent education, bystander intervention and on-campus sexual assault resources. Although the establishment of this program is commendable, it is insufficient.
A broad base of research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and prepared by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault proves that brief, one-session educational programs like those offered by Georgetown are ineffective at changing students’ behaviors and attitudes in the long-term, unless implemented as part of a larger, ongoing program.
An effective prevention program must address consent and bystander intervention beyond freshman orientation. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, college students remain divided on the definition of consent, with 40 percent of respondents interpreting nonverbal signals, like undressing, as consent and 40 percent disagreeing with this interpretation. In light of this confusion, Georgetown must ensure that its students understand the affirmative definition of consent put forth in its 2014 Policy Statement on Sexual Misconduct.
Ongoing, mandatory programming that promotes bystander intervention using a community of responsibility model to build a campus culture of empathy should be implemented at Georgetown if the administration seeks to successfully change students’ behaviors and attitudes in the long-term.
The administration must demonstrate that it embodies the values it preaches. Cura personalis must be more than a pretty selling point designed to capture prospective students’ tuition dollars. If the university intends for students to become “men and women for others,” then it must equip them with the tools necessary to uphold a culture of empathy and intervention, both on campus and as members of a more compassionate world.
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