University responds to petition
On June 12, the University published a response to a petition created on April 8 by Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence—a group that formed in the spring and is not recognized by the University as a club or group—which garnered 2,706 signatures as of press time. The petition listed a set of demands made to the University, calling for it to revise and expand protocols and resources for handling reported sexual assaults.
In the petition, B.SASV listed 11 specific demands, asking for clear and accessible information on existing reporting paths, options and resources, a permanent on-call crisis response counselor, a psychologist on the Psychological Counseling Center staff who specializes in sexual trauma, violence and assault for long-term counseling and proper training of University staff, faculty and administrators on the roles and responsibilities of mandated reporters and responsible employees under Title IX.
The group also asked for workshops addressing pro-social bystander intervention, effective consent and healthy relationships at Orientation and throughout the entire school year, specific sexual assault response training of Brandeis police, an effective campus-wide campaign to combat rape culture, awareness of non-abusive sexual behavior and list of resources as part of party registration process, safety networks for students and engaging broader campus resources and a permanent rape crisis center.
On the University’s website, a webpage posted in June responded to each request individually, explaining exactly what they have planned.
On Aug. 21, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel wrote in an email to students that the University has created a website that lists sexual assault services and reporting procedures and processes. They have also published two different resource guides that will be widely available around campus called “A Resource Guide for Sexual Assault Survivors” and “Sexual Assault on Campus: Supporting Our Students—A Step-by-Step Guide for Faculty and Staff.”
In the response, the University said it also plans to work with Sheila McMahon, the first sexual assault services and prevention specialist who was hired last academic year to expand sexual assault emergency response services to a 24/7 model. They have established a new student-run Rape Crisis Center located by McMahon’s office in the Usdan Student Center near the Gender and Sexuality center, for which McMahon will serve as an adviser, wrote Flagel in his email to students.
They will do this by hiring and training student rape crisis advocates and building a network of volunteers to provide both phone and in-person help.
The student counselors will work primarily on students’ concerns about sexual assault, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and stalking. In addition to in-person hours, the group will rotate a pager, allowing for crisis response to student survivors of sexual violence 24/7, explained former Senior Vice President for Communications Ellen de Graffenreid in an email to the Justice.
Ava Blustein ’15, one of the B.SASV student leaders, wrote in an email to the Justice on Aug. 24, “While we are excited about student advocates creating a safe space where their peers can get information and support anytime and feel they are essential to the rape crisis center, we remain firm in our belief that the rape crisis center must also have professional staff.”
Another student leader in B.SASV Evelyn Milford ’16 wrote in an Aug. 24 email to the Justice, “These services should be provided by people whose expertise is such and who can put all their energy into providing full-time support for those affected by sexual violence on our campus.”
In response to B.SASV’s request for a new counselor trained in sexual trauma, the University has hired a specialist in trauma and sexual violence, Dr. Kristin Huang, according to an email from Flagel. In addition, Dr. Joy Von Steiger, a part-time staff psychologist at the PCC, has been trained in emergency rape counseling and trauma treatment both with children and adults and is available in these matters, according to de Graffenreid.
De Graffenreid wrote that PCC part-time staff psychotherapist Dr. Amy Engel also “has years of experience working with those who have experienced sexual violence.” She added that the PCC is working to hire one to two new counselors who have expertise in this area.
In response to B.SASV’s request for proper training of staff, the University explained that all its faculty and staff go through a mandatory human resources training when they are hired, which “includes review and awareness of the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
The University is also putting together a resource guide and bystander training program on sexual assault that is available to staff and students this fall and will be required to be completed by all new employees, according to de Graffenreid.
“Bystander education challenges us as individuals and as a community to move beyond viewing sexual violence as a one to one relationship between a victim and a perpetrator to a total community response,” de Graffenreid explained in an email to the Justice. “It invites each of us to use our awareness of incidents that could escalate to sexual assault to intervene before an incident occurs.”
To reach the student body, beginning this fall, the University instituted a bystander-training course as part of a mandatory Orientation program for incoming students.
On Monday students gathered at the Speak About It training, a “performance-based presentation about consent, boundaries and healthy relationships” according to the University website.
This program will also be offered to student club leaders and sports teams, and trainings will be available to students frequently throughout the school year, according to de Graffenreid.
Moving forward in bystander education, Brandeis is implementing a “train the trainer” format. Student leaders are being trained as trainers, and will then be able to offer the training to a wide variety of student organizations and programs, de Graffenreid wrote. Campus security also attended training over the summer about these issues with D. Stafford & Associates, a firm focused on campus security and safety issues.
A campus-wide Task Force for Sexual Assault Response, Services and Prevention is also being established to build a public safety awareness campaign, and will most likely launch during the spring 2015 semester, according to the University response.
Brandeis is also looking into creating a mobile phone application customized for students to help keep them safe on and near campus and have made emergency contraception available at the Health Center free of charge beginning in the fall.
Blustein wrote in an email to the Justice on July 9 that although she is grateful that the administration has considered all of B.SASV’s proposals, the University must continue to work on its policies. “Going forward, we really want to push for the administration to take measures that respond not just adequately, but comprehensively and groundbreakingly, to a problem that has the potential to affect any student.”
Blustein wrote that B.SASV future plans include advocating for revisions to Section 3 in the Rights and Responsibilities handbook “to include clear definitions of actions that constitute sexual misconduct and examples, as well as a range of possible disciplinary actions that follow violations,” and “to continue collaboration with the administration to ensure initiatives and changes are implemented in a timely and effective manner.”
“New protocols and rules are only as good as their enforcement, and just because policy has changed on paper does not necessarily mean that they will be well implemented,” wrote Cecile Afable ’16, another student involved with B.SASV.
“We are cautiously optimistic, and hope that the administration will follow through with their commitments to making real change.”