Colleges Attempt Improvements: Do Hasty Decisions Result in Quality and Thoughtful Changes?

Picture of a College

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It’s around that time of year where summer will soon fade and college classes will be back in session. While students are making sure they are registered for all the right courses, some institutions of higher education also want to be as prepared as possible before the school year begins by attempting to quickly establish reformed practices and policies addressing sexual violence.

However, is it really in the best interest of students to make hasty decisions and “improvements”? Understandably, making quick turnaround decisions is better for an institution’s reputation as “leaders” and to ensure federal compliance, but does this also guarantee that quality changes are being implemented?

According to the Boston Globe, Harvard’s undergraduate college has “a revamped policy” on campus sexual assault, created a centralized office to review reports of sexual assault, adopted the DOE’s recommended “preponderance of evidence standard” for adjudication, and replaced academic administrators a part of the adjudication process with staff experienced in investigating sexual assault.

USA Today also reported on Dartmouth’s Summit on Sexual Assault, where more than 60 colleges met to hear from federal officials, consult with national experts, and share strategies on how to improve handling cases of sexual violence.  Furthermore, the article states that Dartmouth in particular has made efforts to address the issue by creating procedures to investigate complaints, opening a sexual assault prevention center, and creating a committee that will provide a list of recommendations on next steps.

At first glance, many would praise colleges and universities like Harvard and Dartmouth for finally taking important measures to address campus sexual violence at an institutional level. Some might say that it is better to quickly take initiative and make instant improvements than none at all (especially if the college is under the microscope of the federal government and the public eye). However, it is significantly important for college administrators to pause and evaluate if they are sacrificing the safety of their campus community by making fast-paced “improvements” that could result in poorly revised changes that cause more harm than good. Instead, the campus community would most likely benefit if administrators are discussing and implementing changes under the guidance of and in collaboration with survivors, students, and survivor-centered community-based organizations. In fact, this should be the leadership style that school administrators practice because I believe people within the community know their needs -and assets- best.

Survivors, students, and the entire campus community deserve high-quality, intentional, and collaborative improvements that have been thoughtfully and strategically planned, organized, and implemented to sincerely promote a violence-free campus. A patient, methodical, and collaborative process is a key leadership approach in addressing campus sexual violence.

Post written by Fátima Avellán, Campus Project Associate at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA). Photo from USA Today. 

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