By THE BLUE & GRAY PRESS STAFF
Sexual assault is an often unacknowledged problem in society, and higher education’s response to the increased knowledge of sexual assault on campuses is particularly underwhelming. The Blue & Gray Press finds the focus on sexual assault by the University of Mary Washington extremely important, but there is always more that can be done.
In September, Gov. Terry McAuliffe initiated a Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence to create practices for educating and preventing sexual assault on campus. This led to the creation of UMW’s own task force on sexual assault, headed by the university’s Title IX Coordinator.
The university’s task force will develop “a plan that will ensure that UMW will be resolute in addressing the issues and building a campus climate conducive to the needs of all of our students,” according to a campus-wide email sent by President Richard Hurley on Monday, Dec. 1.
While this is an important step in addressing the problems on campus, the editorial board of The Blue & Gray Press believes the issues regarding sexual assault on this campus and in society as a whole cannot be overcome by just the work of the task force. Instead, the university community must find ways to break the mold of the stereotypical college environment.
In order to combat these issues, the administration must directly address sexual assault not only with the task force, but also through various resources on campus. The university should hire a sexual assault coordinator to focus solely on student aid and support. In addition, the conversation of sexual assault should always be open within our community, and the University should continue to educate students on consent and safe practices. Sexual assault should not be shied away from in any aspect of this university, particularly within the classroom.
A larger, 24-hour emergency hotline should be made available to students, with faster response time and more personal attention for victims. Above all, there needs to be a better way for both handling cases of sexual assault and emphasizing awareness.
We should encourage victims of sexual assault to report their cases, but this can only be possible when a non-accusatory and non-objectifying community exists. This includes not only UMW faculty and students, but campus and city police, as well as faculty at local hospitals and health centers.
While we are making these recommendations, we are in no way condemning the University for creating a task force, nor for putting a moratorium on Greek life, as these are both important actions. In fact, the editorial board believes this is the beginning of a very effective and open conversation that will continue. We hope that this university community never stops working to eliminate instances of sexual assault.