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Prevention and Wellness Services offers pamphlets and resources to students. Some former and current staff say prevention efforts at Western are not given enough support or attention from administrators. // Western Front file photo
By Haley Ausbun, Asia Fields and Rebekah Way Some former and current employees familiar with Western’s prevention efforts say it’s doing the bare minimum to prevent sexual violence. They say due to limited resources and busy leadership, Western’s focus has just been on meeting state and federal requirements. Note: CASAS is referring students to DVSAS for the summer. “When you're passionate about something like sexual assault [prevention], you don't just want to check the box,” said Katie Plewa Olvera, a former coordinator of Consultation and Sexual Assault Services
at Western. “I feel like because of the lack of resources sometimes we have to do that.” Western’s work group on sexual violence response and prevention has been discussing many of the same projects for years, meeting minutes show, and progress on rolling out efforts has been slow. Most of the group’s work has been focused on meeting federal or state requirements, such as making an online training course available to students. Experts on prevention have recommended that colleges have more robust prevention efforts, which are proven to be more effective than one-time trainings. Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, vice provost for equal opportunity, Title IX coordinator and Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, has been leading the work group. The Equal Opportunity Office has been understaffed for almost a year, and Guenter-Schlesinger said she will be able to focus more on policy and prevention once those positions are filled. Plewa Olvera, who left her role as CASAS coordinator in 2016 but still teaches at Western, said a lack of resources has left most preventative work to student volunteers and a few overworked staff. “It kind of seemed like there was no broad commitment to sexual assault prevention. It fell on a group of less than 20 people,” Plewa Olvera said. Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services Melynda Huskey recognized understaffing and funding throughout sexual assault services were issues, which she said she hopes to address. Western’s policy on sexual misconduct states it is committed to preventing sexual misconduct, has a comprehensive sexual assault education program, and offers support and resources for survivors. The Western Front does not name survivors of sexual violence without their permission.
Read the other stories in this series Sexual assault survivors frustrated with Western investigations despite changes to process Western expels second student in five years for sexual misconduct, but he was allowed to graduate Behind the series: Unresponsive administrators, incomplete records

Experts say online prevention course is not enough

Western requires students to take a mandatory online educational course called Haven, which includes lessons on consent, sexual and relationship violence, risk reduction, bystander intervention and campus policies and services. Some survivors and experts question the effectiveness of a one-time program. During one survivor’s first quarter at Western in 2015, she said a student she had considered a friend sexually assaulted her. She said after the student sexually assaulted her, he yelled at her saying Haven required him to get consent, according Office of Student Life records obtained through public records request. The survivor said he then unsuccessfully tried to use her fingerprint to unlock her phone, so he could make it appear she consented by sending himself a text, according to records. The student was found responsible for sexual misconduct and was eventually expelled by the appeals board. But the survivor said it was clear he didn’t know what consent was. And she doesn’t think the university’s prevention efforts or conduct process, which administrators say was designed to be educational, taught him. “He didn’t understand what he did was wrong,” the survivor said in an interview. Plewa Olvera, who now has her own private practice as a psychologist and works on campus as an adjunct psychology instructor, said it’s hard to see what administrators are really doing to prevent sexual assault, other than the Haven course. “It’s not obvious to me from an instructor’s standpoint, and I’m knowledgeable about it and passionate about it,” she said. “If I'm missing any of the university’s actions—if they're doing anything—it’s not being highlighted. It’s not being seen.” The Clery Act, a federal law, requires universities to offer training for all new students and employees. Guenter-Schlesinger said Western was a leader in this area because it made Haven mandatory in fall 2015, although the Office for Civil Rights was recommending making trainings mandatory at the time.

"If I'm missing any of the university’s actions—if they're doing anything—it’s not being highlighted. It’s not being seen."

Katie Plewa Olvera, former CASAS coordinator
A mandatory Haven refresher training is expected to begin in fall at President Sabah Randhawa’s request, according to minutes from a May meeting of the work group on sexual violence prevention and response. Colleges should not rely on educational programs alone to prevent sexual violence, according to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . The report recommended that colleges also strengthen existing campus policies and support services, increase negative consequences for perpetrators and work to decrease social norms that allow sexual violence to continue in college communities. According to CDC’s report, brief educational programs on their own may increase awareness of the sexual assault, but are unlikely to change behaviors developed over a lifetime that are associated with perpetration of sexual violence. Hypermasculinity and belief in rape myths, such as believing the way someone dresses signifies consent, are behaviors strongly associated with perpetrators of sexual assault, according to a 2009 study in the journal of Trauma, Violence & Abuse . Other problematic beliefs include that women are to be pursued, viewing hesitation and rejection as a challenge or resistance to sexual advances as insincere, according to the study. Julie Reimann, a licensed mental health counselor and former counselor at Western, said there needs to be more education about consent and healthy sex early on. Reimann said college is a late time to educate students on boundaries. Huskey said Haven is a law-complying building block for Western’s prevention process. “Research suggests that is the need is a really robust, research-based curriculum that addresses consent and empowers people to self-advocate in all kinds of relationship contexts,” Huskey said. “I think [Haven has] an important job. I just think we can’t stop there.” Huskey said she’d like to see more ongoing messages about sexual violence prevention and response, instead of just one-time statements, but also recognized the challenges of consistently communicating to a large population. “Passive messaging is just one strategy and you can't rely on the whole poster, social media, that kind of thing,” Huskey said. A task force was formed at Western in response to the release of Obama-era guidelines for colleges on handling sexual violence in 2011. The task force created posters, small handouts and wallet-size cards with information about resources for survivors. Guenter-Schlesinger said this summer, the Equal Opportunity Office will be working on new handouts, posters and changing its website to make the process more clear and accessible with the help of the university communications and marketing office. Ali Brenes, who was president of Planned Parenthood Generation until she graduated in June, said university websites and other communication about sexual violence policies use jargon.
Graham said universities should assess how the campus community consumes information, whether that’s on social media or with physical informative flyers and cards, and tailor education strategies to match this. A 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the most effective sexual assault prevention strategies for higher institutions have consistent messages about campus policies and programs surrounding sexual violence that are communicated from the individual to broader community levels.

What has Western's work group done?

Equal Opportunity Office Dean of Students Office

What the meetings have mostly focused on: • Haven (required by Clery Act; Office of Civil Rights recommended making mandatory) • Sexual assault campus climate survey (required by 2015 state legislation) • Memorandum of understanding with law enforcement (required by 2015 state legislation) • Compliance with the federal investigation into Western • Revising policy (to be compliant with federal guidelines)

The group worked on putting out a campus sexual violence climate survey , which was required by state legislation passed in 2015 . Western’s survey had a response rate of seven percent and incomplete surveys, and Guenter-Schlesinger called the findings “unreliable” at a February 2017 meeting. Hiring a University Police victim advocate has been discussed since April 2016, after an external investigation into Western’s response to a student threatening to lynch the Associated Students president over Yik Yak. The investigation was done by the University of Washington police chief, who recommended hiring a full-time advocate. Administrators responded saying they would immediately evaluate the option of doing this, and set a deadline of spring 2016, according to an email obtained through public records request. Now two years later, the university authorized funding for a half-time employee for this position, University Police Chief Darin Rasmussen said in a June email. The University of Washington’s police force has a full-time victim advocate who offers confidential support for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and other safety concerns. “Hopefully this will occur in the near future, clearing the way to move forward for fall quarter,” Rasmussen said in the email. A current Western employee familiar with prevention efforts, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for their career, said efforts too often assume the wheel needs to be reinvented. They said Western should look more into what other institutions have done that were successful. They also said prevention efforts have been slowed down because busy administrators are the ones in charge of them. It would be more effective for this work to be delegated to people who can build coalitions among various experts and the campus and wider community, they said. Guenter-Schlesinger said once the Equal Opportunity Office is back to full staffing, she will be able to focus more on prevention and policy. The office has been operating without full staffing since September 2017, when the assistant director and deputy Title IX coordinator left . The position was upgraded and posted in June, nine months later. Cocke said it took this long because of “personnel and administrative reasons.”

Students not involved in planning

Prevention efforts rely on unpaid students

Resources stretched thin, administrators hope to fix

Despite high rates of sexual violence among college-aged populations, offices and staff devoted to supporting survivors at Western are in stretched thin. Counseling Center in Old Main. // Photo by Kevin Lake
Western’s policy on ensuring equal opportunity and prohibiting discrimination and retaliation states that every “reasonable” effort will be made by the Board of Trustees to provide necessary resources to implement policie s preventing discrimination and retaliation. Editor’s note: Melissa McCarthy contributed some information about the Student Health Center.  Reporter Rebekah Way did not interview or edit content from Julie Reimann, who she has a professional relationship with. This story is the third in a three-part series for an advanced reporting course with professor Carolyn Nielsen. Read the other stories, on investigations and sanctions.


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