Brandeis hosts conference on sexual, domestic violence

Part of an effort to mitigate sexual and domestic violence on college campuses

Photos/Mike Lovett

Beth Devonshire, director of student conduct at Bridgewater State University, speaks at the conference.

More than 300 Massachusetts college and university administrators and faculty members gathered on the Brandeis campus Sept. 17 for a forum titled “Massachusetts Steps Up: Key Sexual and Domestic Violence Issues for College Administrators.”

Sponsored by the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual and Domestic Violence and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health — and developed by the council’s Higher Education Working Group on Sexual and Domestic Violence — the forum addressed critical campus issues regarding sexual and domestic violence.

Attendees filling the Sherman Function Hall in the Hassenfeld Conference Center were welcomed by Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence. While noting that the university’s namesake, Louis Brandeis, would be very committed to a frank discussion of topics surrounding sexual and domestic violence, Lawrence said, “I look forward to the day when this kind of conference will be quaintly obsolete.” Thanking Professor Bernadette Brooten for her leadership in hosting the event, Lawrence called the conference both “interesting” and “important,” and urged participants to make the world a better place through a more nuanced understanding of sexual and domestic violence issues. 

In his opening remarks, Brandeis Provost Steve A.N. Goldstein ’78, MA’78, argued that, for educators, confronting issues of misconduct is essential to preparing students for their lives during and after college. “How we address sexual and domestic violence,” he said, “leaves a deep imprint on every student on our campus.”

The morning panel focused on helping administrators navigate issues that arise in sexual violence cases that involve alcohol. While pointing out that there is no direct cause and effect, presenters outlined current research on the complex interplay between alcohol use and sexual violence. Panelists discussed guidelines for writing and adopting clear policies that explain the meaning of consent and incapacitation, and shared best practices related to campus judicial processes.

The afternoon panel discussed how a campus-based Coordinated Community Response Team can address issues of sexual and relationship violence in collaboration with community violence programs. Best practices identified by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women were detailed, as were various models and strategies for building and sustaining a successful Coordinated Community Response Team.

Attendees heard from recent graduates and current student activists, including Jessica Christian ’13, Caitlin Feuer and Amalia Bob-Waksberg. 

Other speakers included Peggy Barrett, co-chair of the working group reporting to the Governor’s Commission on Sexual and Domestic Violence and the Statewide Sexual Violence Prevention Plan, and the director of prevention and innovation at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center; and administrators from Columbia University, Bridgewater State University, Harvard University and Tufts University, as well as community partners from the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Newton-Wellesley Hospital and REACH Beyond Domestic Violence; and Brooten, the Kraft-Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies and the director of the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project at Brandeis.

Another “Massachusetts Steps Up” forum was held at UMass Amherst on Sept. 18.

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