By Christopher Woodside
On Monday, October 19th, Assistant Dean of Students, Stephanie Davey, and the University Title IX Coordinator Frank Vinik held a question and answer session in the Great Room of the Edward J. Pryzbyla Center regarding University policy for response to sexual discrimination, harassment and assault. The event was organized by the CUA PEERS (Peer Educators Empowering Respectful Students), and students were able to enjoy refreshments while having their questions regarding University policy answered.
There was no shortage of questions from students who used the entire hour to ask questions about how the University responds to accusations of sexual assault, as well as measures that the school takes in educating students to prevent such cases. Davey highlighted such events as Can I Kiss You, Take Back the Night, and Sexual Assault Prevention Month as ways Catholic University has improved on its initiative to prevent future cases of sexual assault.
However, with the University still on the list of schools being investigated by the Obama Administration for improperly handling accusations of sexual assault, everyone was in agreement more could be done.
When Vinik was asked where he felt the school could most improve, he highlighted the need for better training, a change of culture among students and staff, as well as the understanding that survivors are the ones who should be making the choice of following through on reports, and that they should not feel pressured to do so.
Vinik also highlighted the fact that before he came to work for Catholic University, staff received little training on how to respond to cases of sexual assault, while today 75 percent of full-time faculty has been trained with the hope of reaching 100 percent of full-time faculty members by the end of the academic year.
Davey and Vinik also highlighted the education students were receiving upon coming to Catholic University. The current senior class received almost no information or education regarding sexual assault prevention or awareness, while the current freshman class has received a lot of information. It was also brought up that of the online information and quizzes sent out to freshman, there has been close to 100 percent participation among the first year students.
Davey and Vinik also stressed that they believed there was a misunderstanding among students about some of the University policies. One of the major changes Vinik said that he made was to change the language of University policy that would allow for students to be guaranteed amnesty for lesser violations of the code of student conduct (i.e underage drinking) when reporting cases of sexual assault. It is through changes such as lessening underage drinking punishments that has led to an increase in the reports of sexual assault, which he believes is a good thing, because it means more people are recognizing the signs of sexual assault and coming forward about it.
After the meeting, senior Santino Cozza, one of the PEERS organizers for the event said he was pleased with the event and said, “we would definitely host again so more people will be able to attend.” Santino emphasized that while discussing sexual assault may not be a lot of fun and even uncomfortable for students, it is important that the University and students remain persistent in addressing this issue to prevent more cases from happening in the future.