What Role Can Community-Based Organization Play in Campus Efforts to Address Sexual Violence?

Culture of Respect dedicates itself to thinking unremittingly about what institutions of higher education can do to proactively address sexual violence. We inventory evidence-informed strategies for sexual violence prevention and response in our signature tool, the CORE Evaluation

In the survey, we implore colleges and universities to consider questions such as: How easy to follow are your reporting policies? How often are faculty and staff trained on their role as mandated reporters? In what ways does the institution foster student activism? What evaluation strategies are in place to examine the effectiveness of campus policies and programs? 

Culture of Respect engages with these questions because we believe that institutions of higher education have the power to transform communities by preventing sexual violence. While it is imperative to hold colleges and universities accountable for taking decisive action on sexual violence, it is also essential to acknowledge and celebrate the role outside organizations play in this work. Attending the JDI 2019 Prevention Institute last week clarified for me how impactful partnerships with community-based agencies can be in colleges’ work to respond to and prevent sexual violence.  

Jane Doe Inc, the Massachusetts Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, hosts an annual summit that brings together prevention professionals from across the state who work at community-based agencies. This year the summit theme encouraged attendees and presenters to consider ways to center marginalized communities in prevention work. Before the conference, I had in mind a few select roles community agencies typically play in sexual violence prevention and response: providing survivor advocacy services, supporting prevention efforts, participating on a Coordinated Campus Response Team. Yet, as the day progressed, my notion of what is possible within those partnerships began to expand. Through listening to the keynote speaker, facilitating a workshop, networking with attendees, and attending small-group discussions, I started to think more expansively about the benefits of partnerships between community-based agencies and college campuses in sexual violence prevention. 

A conference attendee called my attention to a key role of community agencies: they are outsiders who can come in and help an organization think critically about its status quo. This role, parallel one Culture of Respect plays in its partnership with schools who participate in our signature program, opens the possibility for new directions of cultural change. An outside voice brings a new perspective that can refresh and redirect an old problem. 

Part of the unique perspective that agencies bring, is their in-depth experience understanding the causes and impact of sexual violence across the lifespan. In the morning, I spoke to a colleague who goes into middle schools to provide sexuality education to public school students. Later, I sat next to a social worker who worked with toddlers who are exposed to domestic violence in their homes. While the content and strategy for work is distinct from the prevention initiatives needed on a college campus, the insight and expertise of these professionals are extraordinarily valuable. Colleagues like these would be well-equipped to help higher education professionals identify ways to take into account students’ past experiences when planning prevention curricula for undergraduate and graduate students.

Finally, throughout the day countless examples surfaced that illuminated opportunities for community-based organizations to facilitate partnerships and collaborations in the community. For example, local agencies can connect colleges to local, state, and federal grant-making agencies not only for funding support but for resources and technical assistance. Agencies partners can also identify partnerships between colleges and public schools, given that agencies likely have longstanding partnerships with a variety of institutions in the community. 

As Culture of Respect continues its work with institutions dedicated to addressing sexual violence, we look forward to hearing and sharing more examples of creative and fruitful partnerships between colleagues and community-based agencies.