The remarkable achievements in the campus-based movement to address sexual violence are long-overdue and should be celebrated. Still, there is much more to be done. This momentum cannot be limited to higher education. While sexual violence at colleges and universities has been a hotbed of activism, media attention, and federal and state legislation, it is far from the only place where harassment, assault, abuse and intimate partner violence occur. Sexual violence is a problem that plagues people of all ages at public schools, private schools, workplaces and in our streets. Like with many important social movements, institutions of higher education have an opportunity to use their influence to transform society writ large.
While campuses get better at condemning violence, responding to poor behavior, and supporting survivors, it is imperative they start to think how to expand the impact beyond student centers and residence halls. Below are five ways colleges and universities can focus their resources and energy to ensure campus efforts to end violence ripple throughout our society.
Develop and evaluate sexuality education curricula. We know students need to learn about consent and healthy relationships before they get to campus. Providing ongoing, comprehensive sexuality education at the elementary, middle, and high school levels is the best way to make sure students are prepared for healthy romantic and sexual relationships. Yet, the CDC has identified only two programs for secondary school students that have been effective at reducing sexual violence perpetration. We need more programs that can provide developmentally and culturally appropriate content to students of all ages. Institutions of higher education have a big role to play here -- they can encourage faculty and students to develop new curricula and support researchers in conducting rigorous evaluations of these programs to ensure they effective.
Partner with local school districts. Title IX has been a focus for college campuses due to: the the courageous activism of students survivors, the Obama administration's push for Title IX enforcement, and the intense pressure from local and national media outlets. Though there hasn’t been the same spotlight on secondary schools, any public or private school that receives federal funding is held to the same Title IX standard of ensuring access to education without discrimination. Colleges can share their Title IX expertise by partnering with local school districts to help provide guidance on training employees, setting up reporting procedures, and implementing prevention education.
Prepare professionals to recognize and address violence. We cannot relegate this insidious problem into the hands of just a few. We need professionals in every field who are trained to recognize and respond to violence, and institutions of higher education are responsible for that training. It is essential that aspiring teachers are trained in the best practice standards for sexuality education; that medical students are taught how to provide trauma-informed care; and that media professionals start to acknowledge and shift their role in promoting rape culture.
Foster student activism and civic participation. In order to continue this essential anti-violence work, we will need capable and engaged citizens - and that is exactly the task of student affairs professionals. Involving students in anti-violence work is not only essential to creating meaningful change on your campus, but to ensure the movement continues to be supported by politically engaged citizens. Institutions should professionalize the work that students do on campus by: compensating students who serve on Title IX committees; providing rigorous training for peer educators (including on the very critical issue of self care); and listening to student input to ensure they know their voices are valued. This will prepare graduates to run for school boards, vote in local elections, and establish careers in activism.
Show us what works. Campuses are still struggling to figure out what works in sexual violence prevention and response. The pressure is on to get it right. If colleges can demonstrate what it takes to transform campuses into place where survivors are supported and all people are treated with respect, then we will have a roadmap for what might work within other types of institutions. That means colleges must continue their evaluation efforts, so we can see prevalence decline and evidence of culture change through regular campus climate surveys, ongoing program evaluation, and sustained funding for evaluation efforts.