One Year Later, Sexual Assault Reform MOU Examined

A year after the university published a memorandum of understanding addressing sexual assault on campus — a three months after the university released the results of its climate survey in which over a 1,000 female undergraduates reported nonconsensual sexual contact while at Georgetown – administrators and advocates highlight the university’s progress toward fulfilling the goals set in the MOU.

The university and Georgetown University Student Association reached a memorandum of understanding mid-September of last year following two months of negotiations, which committed to advancing sexual assault policy reform, increasing bystander intervention training and promotional material for survivors, hiring of a full-time Title IX coordinator and carrying out a Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey.

The university fulfilled several of its promises, including hiring Laura Cutway in January to serve as the university’s first full-time Title IX coordinator, as well as conducting the university’s first-ever campuswide Sexual Assault and Misconduct Survey.

Notably, Counseling and Psychiatric Services now provides a semester’s worth of free appointments to survivors of sexual assault.

The university also changed the definition of dating violence in the Student Code of Conduct, and emergency resources were added to GOCards as well as on the doors of campus bathroom stalls.
Despite this progress, GUSA Deputy Chief of Staff Olivia Hinerfeld (SFS ’17) said the university did miss certain deadlines on the MOU’s requirements.

“While some of the projects and initiatives took longer than the specific timelines called for, university administrators consistently made an effort to be transparent and to push forward on the various asks outlined in the MOU,” Hinerfeld said.

The need for greater sexual assault reform became particularly apparent after the survey revealed that 31 percent, or 1,131 students, of surveyed female Georgetown students reported nonconsensual sexual contact and 14.1 percent reported nonconsensual penetration during their time at Georgetown.

Former GUSA President Joe Luther (COL ’16), who helped lead negotiations of the MOU, also pointed to the viewpoint “I Stand With Willa,” published in The Hoya last June, one of two pieces published in The Hoya written by sexual assault survivors about their experiences, as a catalyst for the change.

“The piece highlighted a lot of areas where the university was failing to care for survivors of sexual assault,” Luther said. “The resulting document came about through a series of meetings between student activists and senior administrators throughout the summer and beginning of the year.”

GUSA Sexual Assault and Safety Chair Maddy Moore (SFS ’17) praised the MOU as an “incredibly helpful template” for the university to meet necessary goals over the past year.

Cutway said the MOU helped to define shared goals for the administration and students to address.

“The committee met regularly and made great strides in furthering our support of all individuals involved in sexual misconduct on campus,” Cutway said.

However, Cutway said the university needs to continue increasing dialogue regarding sexual assault at Georgetown.

“This is our moment to fully create the campus we respect and want to be a part of, one that doesn’t tolerate sexual assault or misconduct but one that fairly and transparently supports all individuals involved,” Cutway said. “It takes every member of our community to create a culture shift and to raise awareness.”

Beyond increasing awareness of the issue, Moore stressed that the university needs to clarify what constitutes sexual assault.

“There needs to be clearer language around what encompasses a sexual assault, especially in regards to dating violence and stalking,” Moore said.

Hinerfeld pointed to bystander education and awareness as areas that need more attention.

“We need to follow up on President DeGioia’s commitment to fund bystander education for all students,” Hinerfeld said. “This will require developing and operationalizing new curricula and building relationships with stakeholder organizations.”

Luther said while Georgetown had made strides in responding to the needs of survivors, the university should increase emphasis on assault prevention.

“A lot of the provisions in the MOU are about how to best care for students after an assault occurs. It would be infinitely preferable that the assault doesn’t happen in the first place,” Luther said. “I think one of the most important questions, yet difficult ones to answer, is ‘How do you create a culture of consent?’ I believe this will without a doubt continue to be the focus of Georgetown and GUSA for many years to come.”

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