By Michael Shine
This article was published September 4, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.
Twenty percent to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Additionally, nearly two thirds of college students experience sexual harassment.
When it comes to South Arkansas Community College, Title IX Coordinator Vanessa Williams said there were two reports with her office filed in 2017 and 10 thus far in 2018. She also said there’s currently several investigations in process.
As a way to combat sexual violence SouthArk received $550,000 from the Department of Justice as part of the DOJ’s Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking on Campus Program. The program is designed to help colleges combat the challenges surrounding sexual misconduct.
Williams worked with other campus leaders to fill out an application for the funding. The grant is supposed to go to 10 different subject areas including training of personnel, strengthening campus policies, developing educational programs for students, creating a data collection process and providing capital improvements for building changes to address the crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
The funding will go to benefit SouthArk, but the college is partnering with Southern Arkansas University Magnolia and Southern Arkansas University Tech in order to help students and faculty on all three campuses.
Conversation around sexual misconduct on college campuses has been mostly focused around universities. However, Williams doesn’t think the issues are very different when looking at the community college level.
“It’s the same kind of behaviors that we’re talking about,” Williams said. “We don’t have as much of it because of our size. We’re a community college, a commuter college. We don’t have students on campus 24/7, and I think that probably makes a big difference. On the other hand, our partners do have dorms on campus. They probably have more reports and things happening on their campuses. But the goal for everybody is the same. Prevent. If it happens, make sure it doesn’t happen again and make sure we’re all safe.”
One of the main areas the funding will be going to is hiring a project manager – who will primarily be on the SouthArk campus – and a part time coordinator for each of the SAU campuses. Additionally, it will fund the hiring of several trained victim advocates.
The project manager and coordinators will be in charge of working together to oversee and plan activities on all three campuses surrounding the attempt to raise awareness of sexual misconduct. They will also help with reviewing the schools’ codes of conduct and seeing where improvements can be made surrounding sexual misconduct.
The victim advocates become a partner for somebody who files a report. They can talk to reporters about options, can go with reporters to file a police report and can help reporters set up mental health counseling.
One of the programs Williams plans to bring to the campus is the Green Dot campaign. The campaign includes a traditional prevention program, which talks about keeping men from being potential perpetrators and women as potential victims. However, Green Dot also approaches everybody on a college campus to be allies and addresses bystander behavior. It encourages people to speak up for themselves or people they know.
Williams also wants to bring other forms of awareness training for students and faculty. This includes a program for new student training with the goal of getting to student before they officially start in classes.
“We were excited to learn that the Department of Justice has awarded this important federal funding,” Barbara Jones, SouthArk President, said in a statement to the News-Times. “Grants such as this one are crucial in attaining the overall goals of safer campuses, more secure communities and a healthier south Arkansas, thanks in part to the in-depth training that they help provide.”
Since Williams took over as Title IX coordinator in 2015, she’s been working to raise awareness by creating posters and working with community partners to provide free training. She attributes the rising number of reports to increasing awareness rather than increasing incidents of sexual misconduct. Her goal is for this grant to continue raising awareness of the issue.
“If you go in the bathrooms, you’ll see them. We have lots of posters that are all about prevention and awareness of sexual misconduct like domestic violence, dating violence, stalking.” Williams said. “Our students know who to talk to, what to watch out for, how to look out for each other. We talk to students about it at new student orientation. I send out weekly facts or tidbits about those kinds of topics. We also tell our staff about things. This just gives us more resources where we can use more outside people to come in and train us.”