A Systems Approach to Addressing Sexual Violence: On Campus and Beyond

As headlines about Dr. Blasey Ford’s anticipated testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee flood our newsfeeds, many writers, pundits and activists have repeated this refrain: Are we really here again? The parallels to Anita Hill’s account of the sexual harassment she faced while working for Justice Clarence Thomas are impossible to ignore. But it's not just the stories, pictures, and recordings of that testimony that offer us insight: Anita Hill, professor of social policy, law, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University, publishes and speaks regularly about workplace sexual harassment. In a New York Times op-ed last week, she offered advice to the Senate about how to avoid mistakes of 1991.

Hill offers a few succinct suggestions that may sound familiar to many of us in higher education: she advises the Senate create a standard procedure for investigating claims of harassment, with investigations conducted by neutral parties with sufficient training. She suggests that any investigation be free from myths about assault, and should prioritize treating survivors with respect. This proposal would prepare the Senate for what we know is inevitable: future cases of sexual harassment that need to be addressed head-on. The strategies she recommends sound familiar to student affairs professionals because they are the exact standards that colleges and universities must follow under Title IX. The methodology of Title IX and of Hill’s proposal have one essential thing in common: they both focus not just on an individual report of violence, but on building sustainable systems for a world where we know sexual violence is commonplace. This approach is not silver bullet, but a long, slow process where we the opportunity to carve out an institution, a community, a city, and a country that can be proud to be a part of.

Culture of Respect, NASPA’s initiative to support college and university efforts to address sexual violence, is committed to helping institutions with this same task: parsing out the structural, procedural, and policy changes that can transform an organization to one that does not tolerate sexual violence. Culture of Respect works with diverse stakeholders to support institutions in creating policies and programs that support survivors, prevent sexual violence, and communicate that violence is unacceptable. In our signature program, the Culture of Respect Collective, we bring together institutions of higher education who are dedicated to ending campus sexual violence and guide them through a rigorous process of self-assessment and targeted organizational change.

We help participating instructions identify concrete strategies to advance the larger goal of ending sexual violence. Our CORE Blueprint framework grounds our work in six areas necessary to achieve organizational change related to campus sexual violence. Institutions who join the Collective assess how they are doing in each area by taking our comprehensive self-assessment survey, the CORE Evaluation. Using results from the assessment, we support campus leaders in identifying and implementing strategies that work towards creating a culture of respect on campus.

When tackling systems changes, we have the opportunity to transform our relationships, departments, communities, and campuses so that we can create a world where there are no more survivors who need to come forward. If your institution is ready to take the next step in working towards targeted organizational change related to sexual violence, find out more about how to join over 60 institutions who are part of the Culture of Respect Collective.