The rate at which sexual assaults occur on college campuses across the country is alarming -- nationally, one in four college-aged women report experiences that meet the legal definitions of rape or attempted rape.
As noted in Wednesday's issue of The Daily Item, the numbers are slightly higher at Bucknell University, but it is important to add context to this conversation.
While the federal government's Clery Act requires all colleges and universities to disclose reports of crime on campus, research shows that as few as 5 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported to police.
To address this problem, Bucknell is now one of only a few universities in the country committed to having a dedicated research team conduct the national Sexual Experience Survey (SES) on a regular basis.
The SES is an anonymous, voluntary survey of students that is widely considered to give a much more accurate rate of these incidents on college campuses than standard reporting.
Guided in part by our SES data, we have taken many steps to confront this serious problem, including:
n Implementing a comprehensive education and intervention program. During the past two years we have increased our education and training for student leaders, such as orientation assistants and resident advisors; provided faculty and staff with information on how to help survivors of sexual assaults; and continued to work to educate the entire campus community on these issues.
n Involving peers in prevention and reporting. We have developed a peer education bystander intervention program based on best national practices. The program was implemented this fall with all first-year students and will continue in years to come.
n Improving organizational effectiveness. We recently hired an expert staff member to assist in reviewing our policies and procedures for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct, providing support for survivors, working with local law enforcement and adjudicating assailants through our student code of conduct system.
n Securing funding for prevention and education initiatives. We recently secured a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women to assist in providing the best possible support for all students and preventing assaults. We are one of only 22 institutions in the country selected to receive the funding. It has already led to the creation of a team of Lewisburg Community partners and Bucknell staff members who will review our policies and support services in place and make meaningful changes that will have a positive impact on our campus.
Our success in changing the culture here will initially be marked by an increase in reports of sexual assault.
Here again, context is critical to understanding the story behind those numbers: we are striving to build an environment of support in which survivors of sexual assaults are more comfortable reporting those incidents.
Sexual assault is a serious issue on college campuses nationwide, and Bucknell will do everything it can to ensure all students enjoy a safe and supportive campus.
n Susan L. Lantz is the Dean of Students at Bucknell University.