Another step in preventing sexual violence
College administrators from around the country gathered at Brandeis last week for a full-day seminar on sexual assault prevention and response on campuses.
The program, led by The Clery Center for Security on Campus and the Victim Rights Law Center, focused on how to implement federal laws like the Clery Act and Title IX to best protect sexual assault survivors and universities.
“This is part of our ongoing work to improve our efforts at reducing sexual assaults,” said Bernadette Brooten, founder and director of the Brandeis Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, which hosted the event. “A number of administrators and staff are working hard to radically change the climate.”
Last fall Brandeis hosted a conference, “Massachusetts Steps Up: Key Sexual and Domestic Violence Issues for College Administrators,” that was attended by more than 300 Massachusetts college administrators and faculty members. Brandeis also created a sexual assault prevention and response specialist position, now filled by Sheila McMahon. The latest training, "The Practical Implementation of Title IX and Clery for Sexual Violence Prevention and Response," is helping Brandeis continue that work.
Stacy Malone, executive director of the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, says though they are frequently asked to conduct workshops on campuses, they came to Brandeis because of Brooten’s tireless work. She adds that the sessions are important because they encourage schools to learn from one other and to adopt best practices.
“I think it was a successful training because Massachusetts is so saturated with educational institutions but often times they don’t talk to each other, so they don’t realize they aren’t the only ones dealing with these issues,” says Malone. “At the end of the day, so many of the administrators and faculty at different schools were talking to each other, brainstorming.”
Brooten says hiring McMahon was a key step in advancing Brandeis’ commitment to preventing sexual violence on campus. One of McMahon’s priorities is to implement a training curriculum on campus that was developed at the University of New Hampshire and will involve working with undergraduate and graduate students on ideas like bystander prevention, when to intervene and how to deescalate a situation. McMahon also hopes to take make strides in changing the culture.
Like chaplains or counselors, McMahon serves as a confidential resource for students who have been sexually assaulted or harassed. Her intervention roles vary and may include talking with students, explaining their rights under Title IX, filing complaints, accompanying them to the hospital after an assault, connecting them with academic services if intrusive thoughts are preventing them from excelling in classes, or with public safety if they need a protective order.
“I think here we are uniquely situated in terms of the identity of the school, our founding and how we promote social justice in our own community,” McMahon says. “Part of social justice is recognizing when people are being treated badly. Even if it just means seeing some who looks uncomfortable at a party and checking in to see how they are doing.”