Utah Colleges and Students Confront Campus Sex Assaults at Statewide Conference

Sep 26, 2014

Sept. 26, 2014 Westminster hosted the first symposium of its kind in Utah in September SALT LAKE CITY - With a powerful and calm voice, Tiffany Thorne told a crowd of 200 college students and educators she survived a sexual assault in 2010 at her off-campus apartment. When she returned to classes at the University of Utah, she couldn't concentrate, and she was afraid. Thorne eventually found help at her university-but not all students are as fortunate to have had help. "I'm excited to witness the dissolving of barriers through open and honest conversations about this problem," Thorne told the audience. Students, professors and administrators from universities all over Utah gathered at Westminster College in late September for a symposium entitled, "Not Alone: Confronting Sexual Violence on College Campuses." Westminster President Brian Levin-Stankevich welcomed representatives from Utah State University, Weber State, University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Snow College, Dixie State and Southern Utah University. Local law enforcement and community advocates also attended. "We are honored to play a role in bringing together the expertise and experience to help us all provide an environment where our students can be safe and focus on their learning," said Levin-Stankevich. "At Westminster, students are at the center of everything we do. This symposium is a great example of the core values of our institution." According to the Justice Department's 2007 Campus Sexual Assault study, one in five women in the U.S. is sexually assaulted while attending college. It's most often by someone she knows - and most assaults are not reported. When they are reported, The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault found many universities weren't meeting legal obligations under Title IX to protect students and help victims. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex against any person in education programs and activities receiving federal funding. The Task Force's first report to the White House resulted in a federal crackdown on colleges across the country. Nearly 80 schools are now being investigated for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Utah colleges and universities are not immune to the nationwide problem of sexual violence. Westminster partnered with the Rape Recovery Center and the Utah System of Higher Education to host the two-day conference to shine a light on sexual violence not only in the college setting but also in the community. One in three women in Utah report that they have been a victim of some form of sexual violence in her lifetime. "Unfortunately, too many of our college student clients tell of frustration and lack of support when trying to report sexual assault on campus or to receive healing services," said Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center. "This event will encourage frank discussion around this national epidemic and provide direction toward resources." The symposium was divided into two tracks: one for students and another for faculty and administrators. Student breakout sessions tackled topics like rape culture, the bystander effect, perpetrator profile, and consent. Students also learned what to do if they experience sexual violence and how to support a friend or classmate who has experienced it. College administrators at the symposium learned about victim services, rape myths, bystander intervention, and proper documentation. Sessions on how to comply with Title IX and the Clery Act filled up quickly. "No matter what we accomplish in higher education, if we can't address sexual violence, we are failing our students," said Utah Valley University chief of staff Fidel Montero. "It was encouraging and helpful to come together with colleagues from across the state to discuss what's happening at our ground level. I hope it will continue and expand. Like NotAlone.gov suggests, we're in this together," said Southern Utah University Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Jerry Roeder Along with increased enforcement of Title IX, The White House established NotAlone.gov, a website providing schools with additional tools and recommendations. One of the steps is to engage men in preventing sexual assault - a recommendation by Ted Bunch, activist and consultant to the White House. At Westminster's symposium, Bunch delivered the keynote address and challenged Utahns to change social norms that lead to sex assaults. He said men need to tell other men to stop when something isn't right, and to recognize that sexual violence is happening all the time around us. Thorne says that's a battle she fights every day. "A lot of my conversations are still around convincing people this is a real problem."  

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About Westminster

Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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