Months after university responses to sexual assault sparked outrage and protests among the UA community, many think administrators still have a long way to go to create a safe and supportive campus climate.
In February, UA officials sent a campus-wide email about sexual assault prevention after three students reported being raped in residence halls in the first four weeks of the spring semester. Many thought the email, which focused on precautions students should take to avoid dangerous situations and did not mention consent or the conduct of perpetrators, employed victim-blaming rhetoric.
Weeks later, reports emerged that UA officials had paid a $20,000 settlement to a former student found responsible of a 2017 sexual assault who sued the university, saying the allegation against him was mishandled. In response, students organized protests April 23 and 30.
Grace Holley, a member of Associated Student Government’s Freshman Leadership Forum, hopes the university will expand student education about sexual violence, she said. Sexual assault awareness training modules required for all incoming students, but freshman experience course professors can choose whether to implement additional content in their curricula.
“It would make a big difference if more students were aware of what defines sexual assault,” Holley said.
Anthony DiNicola, the university’s inclusion liaison, has lectured at several colleges about sexual assault education and spoke about his experiences as a survivor at the April 23 protest. He thinks it is important for community members to recognize their shared responsibility in helping prevent sexual and relationship violence, he said.
“When a well-informed population can see the early warning signs of healthy versus unhealthy behaviors, then they are able to intervene on behalf of their peers and themselves,” DiNicola said.
Since the beginning of August, one rape and six incidents of sexual harassment have been reported to the UA Police Department, according to the UAPD daily crime log. The reported rape, a stranger assault, occurred in the northwest area of Old Main Lawn on Aug. 14, before the 2021-22 school year had begun.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Report lists eight official reports of rape and five of fondling at the UofA in 2020. Seven of the reported rapes occurred on campus, five of them in residential facilities. All the fondling incidents happened on campus, two of which occurred in residential facilities.
Results of the most recent student Campus Climate Survey, administered in 2019 and completed by 926 students, might tell a more complete story about the prevalence of sexual violence on campus.
Of respondents, 37% said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact after becoming a student at the university, 47.9% said they know where to get help regarding sexual assault, 35.9% said they do not know where to report a sexual assault and only 33.1% said they thought it very likely officials would take them seriously if they reported.
UA officials have introduced initiatives, such as the hanging of teal banners around campus, to honor sexual assault survivors, but many students see such efforts as performative and futile.
“There are many good people on this campus whose efforts in the fight against sexual assault have resulted in immense progress,” Sophie Hill, a senior, said. “(But) the university has engaged in what seems like (public relations) stunts, like ringing the bells every Wednesday at noon in honor of people who have been sexually assaulted, (which) are truly ineffective in the grand scheme of things.”
Hill thinks university administrators have done nothing substantial to prevent future sexual assaults unless they “suddenly decided to expel rapists,” she said.
Shanita Pettaway, who began work Monday, was hired as the new Title IX coordinator following the resignation of former coordinator Liz Means on April 30. The Title IX coordinator works with students, faculty, administrators, staff, department leaders and campus police to “foster a campus community free of illegal gender discrimination and sexual violence,” according to the university’s Title IX website.
Pettaway “comes highly recommended with a long list of credentials, but most importantly a history of taking an intersectional approach to this work,” DiNicola said in an email.
Students who have experienced sexual assault or harassment can report it to the Title IX office. The grievance procedure, outlined on the Title IX site, involves four steps, including an intake process, formal complaint process, comprehensive investigation and determination hearing.
On April 28, Hill sent an email to former Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, Means and many other campus administrators. The email contained screenshots of dozens of anonymous accounts students sent her of their negative experiences with campus sexual assault and the Title IX reporting process. Common themes included feeling ignored or disbelieved by officials, or too disheartened by the daunting process and minimal potential punishments to report at all.
“In a nutshell, the university should believe women by making the Title IX process a lot easier on them,” Hill said.
Holley thinks UA officials should be more forthcoming when assaults occur, she said. Failing to adequately address the issue with students for fear of harming the university’s reputation makes the situation worse, she said.
“If more awareness was spread about sexual assault, then combatting it would become less taboo,” Holley said.
DiNicola thinks the UA community should be working harder to make the UofA safe for students and supportive of survivors, he said.
“We can be the change we wish to see in our Razorback community, but it takes desire, will and reinforcement,” DiNicola said, “I will be there doing the work, and I hope to see many others alongside in this ongoing fight.”