Curtailing Sexual Abuse and Violence on College Campuses
- By Steven R. DiSalvo
- December 1st, 2014
Colleges and universities in the U.S. need to step up their game to help victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence and to prevent future assaults too often related to alcohol abuse. As with the professional sports leagues and the NCAA, there is a failure in higher education to support victims and to make sure the legal authorities are notified when verified assaults take place. We must not give in to the pressure to keep silent on this issue for fear of losing revenue from potentially negative publicity.
The White House's "It's On Us" initiative to end sexual abuse on campus is a good start. It will be an awareness campaign to help put an end to assaults via guidance for every school district, college and university that receives federal funding on their legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual assault; the creation of a White House Task Force to work with colleges and universities on developing best practices on how to respond and prevent sexual assault; and a review of existing laws to make sure they offer adequate protection.
But more is clearly needed, as indicated by my colleagues when we met as part of the Division II NCAA President's Council and decided to tackle this issue. Personally, as a college president, as the former executive director of the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation (dedicated to domestic violence and founded by the Baseball Hall of Fame New York Yankees manager) and as the father of three sons, I feel it is my responsibility to act against sexual abuse and domestic violence on campus.
Bringing It to Campus
At our campus, Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, we are using the Joe Torre model to create a safe space within our gates for victims to find refuge. Because we know that it takes time for victims to share their stories, we hope this will engender a support system that will lead to increased reporting and eventual solutions.
Our staff members will work with victims to help them seek counseling, report their aggressors to authorities, find shelter if necessary, and otherwise guide them through an often intimidating process. We will be prepared to work with law enforcement, when necessary.
We don't like to see a student's future ruined because he or she is accused of a wrongdoing, but we will not shrink from properly adjudicating crimes.
Steps to Prevention
Prevention will also be critical, to protect victims and those who might act out when alcohol and behavior issues take control, too common when young people are independent for the first time. We will enforce rules on underage drinking and encourage those with alcohol problems to get help. We will work with our students to help them deal with anger issues before those issues lead to violence, as all parents and educators should (preferably before they are packed off to college).
Educators, government officials and leaders in the sports world should be working together to make sure violence among students and athletes is minimized. There is no excuse for looking the other way in deference to tuition payments, ticket sales or negative press when lives are in danger and victims are subject to lifelong trauma inflicted by the effects of abuse. Courage and action are needed, and will ultimately pay dividends, when leaders recognize that they can win more respect and patronage when they do the right thing.
Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D., is president of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. He holds a doctorate from Fordham University in educational leadership and is former executive director of the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, dedicated to domestic violence issues.