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Press Clipping: Texas Woman's University leading way against sexual violence

TWU leading way against sexual violence

By Karen Garcia
Texas Woman’s University
Published: 09 August 2016 10:51 PM

Texas Woman’s University will lead a consortium of universities and higher education organizations in a move to create a consistent, effective response to sexual assault on college campuses across the state.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault found that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college. TWU will use a three-year, $750,000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to team with eight universities and colleges and five higher-education organizations to increase awareness of and implement policies to prevent sexual violence on college campuses.

“We have a good mixture of large schools, small colleges, urban and city schools and faith-based and secular institutions,” said Donna Scott Tilley, principal investigator for the grant and TWU’s assistant provost for promotion of research and sponsored programs. “This will allow us to reach a broad range of individuals.

Totaled, these institutions serve almost 100,000 students.”

Partnering colleges and universities include the University of North Texas, North Central Texas College, Hardin-Simmons University, McMurry University, Midwestern State University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M International University and Texas Christian University.

Partnering organizations include the Texas Council for Public University Presidents and Chancellors, Texas Council of Chief Student Affairs Officers, Association for Student Conduct Administration, the National Panhellenic Conference and the American Student Government Association.

Each partner institution will establish a task force, including student representation, that will create or revise policies, prevention programs and comprehensive responses to campus sexual assault. TWU task force members will participate in all project activities.

Tilley said the groups’ efforts won’t just be about protecting women, but protecting all victims of sexual assault.

“Sexual assault creates a lifetime of stress for a woman, but a false accusation damages men as well,” she said. Although less often reported, men, too, are victimized in college, and members of the LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer] community are at most risk, she said.

Many serving on the TWU team have skills that are ideally suited for the project. Mark Sandel, a professor and the director of the university’s social work program, previously led Project REV (Resources for Ending Violence), a nine-year, U.S. Department of Justice-funded program aimed at ending violence against women. Abigail Tilton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has extensive experience in developing policies and managing grants. Tilley is a registered nurse and certified adult sexual assault nurse examiner.

Noah Lelek, a drama professor, will lead bystander education training for TWU. Bystander education, which teaches people how to intervene in abusive or potentially abusive situations, is required by the grant for incoming and first-year students. Lelek has a broad background in theater for social justice with specific training in interactive theater.

Each partner university also will be required to create a sexual assault response team and conduct campus climate surveys that will be used to gauge perceptions of risk, knowledge of available resources and more.

Tilley said representatives from each participating university and organization will meet in September to get instruction and direction in setting up teams.

A consistent approach is necessary, Tilley said, as campus officials’ response to sexual assault can range from effective and therapeutic to ineffective or even harmful. She noted that TWU, where males make up about 12 percent of the student population, doesn’t have many incidents of sexual assault but added that all incidents must be handled carefully.

“Even if it’s just one student affected,” she said, “we have to get it right.”