Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Task Force on Combating Sexual Violence, created in September 2014, released draft recommendations March 18. Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06, chair of The College of William and Mary’s Task Force on Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment, believes that the College is on track with the governor’s recommendations.
The Governor’s task force is split into three subcommittees: Law Enforcement, Prevention, and Response. The College’s task force has similar committees in place, but it focuses on the College community and lacks a law enforcement division.
“My biggest observation as I’ve been going through the governor’s recommendations is that many of them are things that we are talked about, some of them are things we’ve actually already done,” Ambler said. “We weren’t going to wait until the end of our term — until the report was done in June — to start making changes that we knew needed to be changed.”
One of the points in the governor’s Response subcommittee is that online portals need to improve to facilitate the reporting process and increase resource awareness among the student population. Currently, the College has multiple different pages where students can find the necessary resources after experiencing a sexual assault, but not one single portal. The page that addresses “Helping a Victim of Sexual Assault” is rife with information but resources are not found until the bottom of the page. The Dean of Students page has two buttons in a sidebar, which are the most direct route to two different pages with a more concise presentation of information. Ambler aims for redundancy, hoping that resources will be easily accessible regardless of which webpage a student lands on.
Alex Greenspan ’15 is a student on the task force and agrees that the online information and resources need to be more accessible for students, especially for those in a crisis. Access to resources has been a priority for the task force. The most recent mass email, alerting the college of an off-campus rape, included resources along with the notification to target this goal.
“That’s something we talked about in the task force, was how those emails should go out — not just saying ‘a rape happened’ but to intrinsically tie it with ‘here are resources’ … and to make it not feel hopeless when someone hears about a rape or sexual assault,” Greenspan said.
There is concern over the response committee’s suggested database detailing circumstances for which students have been expelled or dismissed from a university to prevent them from entering another with a clean record. In addition to the database, a bill recently passed the Virginia General Assembly which would require a transcript notation signaling when a student has been suspended, expelled, or has withdrawn while under investigation for a code of conduct violation. Some believe this is a good idea, including Kelly Gorman ’16, president of HOPE.
“The data tells us that most assaulters don’t assault someone just once, that they do it many times. … In the reality of many cases, the perpetrator could just move colleges and go somewhere and start with a clean slate, and for me that’s kind of terrifying,” Gorman said. “I think that’s important information for people to know so that [perpetrators] don’t just continue doing it and continue that pattern.”
Ambler confirmed that the College does make a notation on a student’s transcript if they leave under suspicion of a serious conduct code violation. Because transcripts are used throughout a person’s life, for future careers and school acceptances, Greenspan worried that the policy could have unintended consequences.
“Some of the administrators were sensitive to the fact that just the general nature of these cases, sometimes it’s not malignant, it’s not mal-intent, and someone, through misunderstanding or whatever is given a conduct charge that isn’t even necessarily suspension, but where they want to leave the school,” Greenspan said. “There are a number of these cases that come from lack of understanding on what consent is and effects of alcohol that really it’s not black and white. A policy like this could, if it were too hardline … chill reporting rates — if the person was an acquaintance and the survivor was worried about [the perpetrator’s] chances of getting a college education they might not report.”
The College’s task force released a survey in November, which has helped them inform its recommendations, Ambler said. The data will be publicly released later this month.
“What I want is for the data to highlight where we have work to do, and we have work to do,” Ambler said.
Reveley’s task force will present preliminary findings and a draft of recommendations at its May meeting, and publish official recommendations in June. Ambler expects there to be a College committee to follow up on the progress after the task force disbands, which follows suit with the governor’s advisory committee plan which will follow the end of his task force.