A Sound Prevention Base For Addressing Campus Sexual Violence

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Brian Van Brunt (@brianvb) is the executive director of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association. He served as director of counseling at New England College and Western Kentucky University. For more information, see www.brianvanbrunt.com or contact him at brian@ncherm.org. Amy Murphy (@DrAmyLMurphy) is an assistant professor at Angelo State University, where she teaches graduate courses in the student development and leadership in higher education master’s program. She previously served as the dean of students at Texas Tech University (amy.murphy@angelo.edu).

As former university administrators, specifically a dean of students and a director of counseling, we have a distinct perspective on issues of sexual violence impacting college campuses. Speaking frankly, investment in prevention is not as exciting as investing in Title IX coordination and investigation. In our work, we have found the most effective strategy to mitigate risk is not only to fund crisis intervention and post-vention efforts such as investigations and clear due process but also to develop prevention and assessment efforts to better identify early behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that have the potential to escalate into an attack.

Frequently, however, the temptation of people in dean of students and director of counseling roles is to respond to immediate fires rather than to take the time to pull together a compressive, evidence-based approach. That is not an effective way to eliminate sexual violence on college campuses.

Think of the investment a community fire department puts into its work. While purchasing new fire trucks and having the latest in thermal imaging technology may help respond more effectively to fires, a more efficient way to deal with a fire is to prevent it by identifying risky hot spots (Christmas trees, space heaters, fireworks and so on) and educating community members how to prevent a fire before it begins. Similarly, what we need in the Title IX world is a Smokey Bear-style investment in stopping the fire before it starts.

Important Risk Factors

In our 2016 book, Uprooting Sexual Violence: A Guide for Practitioners and Faculty (Routledge), we offer such prevention strategies to reduce incidents of sexual violence and create campus environments that support healthier attitudes, behaviors and relationships. Sexual violence is not just a series of incidents perpetrated by individuals. It is also a broader societal issue that is better addressed by considering systemic attitudes and environments that support the reoccurrence of sexual assault, stalking and intimate partner violence.

We cannot make casual assumptions about where the epidemic of sexual violence might be coming from, but we can look at the roots of the problem that are buried deep within our institutions, organizations and societal values. It is by digging at these root risk factors that we can have the best chance of developing targeted and efficient educational strategies.

The first group of risk factors may be the toughest with which to wrestle, because we see examples of these underlying attitudes and beliefs in our daily lives. They include objectifying and dehumanizing other individuals, misogynistic ideology, lack of empathy, and hardened points of view. Some people see these root contributions to sexual violence as “political correctness” gone amok or even an attack on individual freedoms. But these attitudes and beliefs are regularly connected to the research on violence and tend to feed upon other similar attitudes. In fact, in group environments such as fraternities or athletic teams, these attitudes become implicit approval to think of others as less than oneself.

The second group of risk factors involves behaviors that relate to our treatment of others related to sex: using substances such as drugs or alcohol to obtain sex, behaviors that falsely lure others into feeling safe, ultimatums, and other patterns of escalating threat strategies. These factors may be used at the individual or group level to lessen supportive communication, isolate people and lower their self-esteem and ability to defend themselves.

The last group of risk factors focuses on experiences that escalate our risks related to sexual violence. How do we learn about sex? What are our past experiences with sex? Students with an obsessive or addictive focus on pornography, and who have developed no alternative narratives around how sex occurs, may be influenced negatively by exposure to pornography. Other past experiences as well as sensation-seeking and obsessive behaviors can also contribute to attitudes about sex. Unfortunately, many students have not had access to adequate sex education and are left on their own to understand consent for sexual activity and other issues of healthy sexual relationships. Colleges and universities are often left to fill this information gap for students.

Recommendations

In our favorite episode of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More, With Feeling,” the cast comes together to sing the concluding song “Where Do We Go From Here?” (See a snippet on YouTube here.) That is a fair question.

Here is what we suggest:

  • Monitor social event planning. A higher education institution should devote equal time and energy to appropriate planning and implementation processes for events that include alcohol. Administrators need to actively monitor the social environment and address the opportunities for perpetrators to take advantage of others. They should ask themselves questions like “How is the event being promoted and what messages are being sent?” “How is the safety of the attendees considered?” “What lessons have we learned from past events to ensure everyone has a safe and fun time?”
  • Teach otherness and empathy. The teaching of empathy is best tied to the overall mission of the college. For many liberal arts institutions, this mission involves teaching students to think critically and diversely about the world around them. To that end, faculty and staff members could reasonably teach basic empathy and perspective-taking skills to students in their classes, workshops and orientation events. This directly impacts the root risk factors of objectification, misogyny and hardened points of view.
  • Challenge hardened viewpoints. Critical thinking is the hallmark of liberal education. It cannot be just about content knowledge, but must also be about teaching students how to think. Following that logic, there is little room for inflexible thoughts or entrenched points of view. We need to challenge students’ thoughts that center on women being worth less than men, that other people are objects to be enjoyed regardless of their agency, or that you just have to ask more aggressively when someone says no to sexual activity.
  • Teach consent. Simply identifying the “bad” and developing programs to reduce at-risk and concerning behaviors is not sufficient to stem the tide of sexual violence on our campuses. We also must teach sexual consent and relationship health in a continuing, affirmative — and, quite frankly — engaging and entertaining format. Specifically, we recommend:
  1. creating dialogue, not monologue, when teaching students;
  2. knowing your policy and conduct code;
  3. using technology to help engage students;
  4. teaching students that good sex begins with good communication; and
  5. embracing the prevention year, not the prevention month (such as Sexual Assault Awareness Month during the month of April).
  • Teach healthy relationships. Healthy relationships, in all their wonderful diversity, are based on concepts of open communication and respect for each other’s autonomy and connectedness. In healthy relationships, people cultivate each other’s worth, as well as demonstrate willingness to reach a middle ground and to contribute to the betterment of the other. Colleges can support healthy relationships by helping students build their skills around practicing active listening, empathy and equanimity; focusing on the other’s happiness; and fostering social connection and mutual respect.

While institutions must investigate and respond to incidents in an efficient and consistent way, and often put out fires, we would do well to focus more time and energy on prevention and education. We need to find the time and resources to prevent those fires before they begin.

So what next? Again, we turn to the end of the TV series Angel, the companion series to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to offer some guidance.

Spike: “And in terms of a plan?”
Angel: “We fight.”
Spike: “Bit more specific?”
Angel: “Well, personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon.”

How To Support A Colleague Who Is Being Stalked On Campus

Note: this blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed career advice column (here). Dr. Meghan Krausch is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin Superior. Meg studies race, gender, disability and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization.

Earlier this week, Meg wrote about being stalked by a student on campus; below, Meg offers advice to colleagues to support victims of campus stalking.

10 Tips For A More Humane Workplace

In the fall 2016 semester, one of my students began stalking me. I pursued all available resources, but I quickly found myself very isolated. Being stalked by a former student meant that I no longer felt safe going anywhere on my own on campus. Originally, that meant seeing my colleagues more often, as they accompanied me to my classes. But as I advocated for the institution to take more formal responsibility instead of the informal responsibility of my department, I began to see my colleagues less and less. Being escorted around by security guards seemed to give me an aura of unapproachability, and I felt that people avoided me, although that was the last thing that I wanted.

Then there was the fact that I simply spent as little time on campus as possible, since time on the campus became so complicated. I did not want to walk through an empty corridor alone to get tea or go to the bathroom without arranging for an escort. Going to events in other parts of the campus seemed out of the question, because there was no guarantee that the stalker would not also be present, plus I needed to arrange special escorts to remain with me. I needed to be sure to leave the campus before the building emptied out later in the afternoon. I needed to keep track of when the stalker had classes downstairs in my office building. And, I needed to keep my office door closed and locked at all times in an open-door office culture.

My office had simply been ruined for me as a place where I could sit calmly and think. I felt physically ill coming in to what had once been a relatively happy workspace, having to close and lock the door behind me. Meanwhile, my interactions with my colleagues were reduced to a minimum as my movements through the corridors decreased, and when I did interact with them, my anxiety at being “out in the open” was hard to conceal and negotiate.

I wish that my colleagues had been more proactive in counteracting this isolation. I tried to put a cheery Post-it note on my door saying, “Please feel free to knock!” And I tried a weak smile when I saw people, but I am sure that the anxiety and sheer fear that I felt at being on the campus made my emotions hard to read.

I know that my colleagues wanted to support me, and I think they did their best, but they were simply unsure of what to do. Because of the limited range of emotional conversations possible in professional spaces, and because of the extremely emotional nature of traumatic events, it can be really confusing to know what to do.

Here are some recommendations for how faculty members can better support each other when a colleague is being stalked on campus.

  1. Go out of your way to say hello every day. It does not need to be a long conversation, and be ready to accept news that they are having a bad day. Take a Pomodoro break from your work and pass by their office; leave a note to say hi if they are not there. Do not wait until you pass them in the hallway as you normally do, because it is less likely that you will see them while they fear for their safety on campus.
  2. Ask if the stalking victim needs a walk or a ride somewhere on a regular basis (and then do not ever forget them). Safety planning is time-consuming and emotionally exhausting, and it really sucks to ask people for help all the time. You can significantly relieve the burden by offering to be a regular calendar event.
  3. Ask whether the colleague who is being stalked needs any help taking their books back to the library, making photocopies, washing their dishes or other tasks that require leaving one’s office, as they may be embarrassed to ask for help (including a walk to the bathroom!).
  4. Ask your colleague how the university is reacting to the situation and then listen for ways that you can support them. Do not wait for the stalking victim to tell you what to do; think about what problems this situation highlights on the campus in general, and then raise those problems in the appropriate forum yourself.
  5. Try to avoid, if you can, the generic “What can I do to help?” I did not know this before, either, but it turns out that having a lot of people asking you that question at once is kind of overwhelming. Try to think of something to offer, and if that is the wrong thing, it will at least give the stalking victim a starting point for an idea of something you can do.
  6. Help your colleague reschedule as many of their other work responsibilities as possible. Work life should not be expected to go on as usual while someone is being stalked.
  7. If you are a strong advocate or good note taker, ask whether your colleague needs an advocate present at any of the meetings that they are likely to have with administrators (especially if your university does not have a faculty union).
  8. Offer small, easy concrete plans to get out of the house like lunch or dinner. Depending on the situation, it is likely that the stalking victim will be able to go places with other people but not feel comfortable going many places on their own.
  9. Be patient. Stalking is traumatic and has a long-term emotional effect on people. Try to catch yourself if you find yourself rushing your colleague to “get over it” or to act as if they are OK for your own comfort.
  10. Just break the isolation in any way you can. Stalking isolates people at home and at work.

If you do promise to do something (and I hope that you do!), it is crucial that you follow through with it. Stalking is dangerous, and the purpose of all the rides and accompaniment is to make as sure as possible that your colleague is safer.

Looking at this list, I’ve listed many recommendations that would apply beyond the narrow scope of a stalking situation. This experience taught me a lot about the ways that our workplaces fall short at recognizing us as human beings and specifically the ways that we as faculty colleagues do not create support mechanisms for one another. This seems like a deeply achievable goal, regardless of the perilous neoliberal structures in which we work. None of what I have recommended above relies on broad institutional support, and there is little that a department, supportive subgroups within it or even good-willed individuals could not accomplish. While these recommendations are derived from my experience of being stalked and what I would have liked to experience, they give us insight into what would really create a more humane workplace for everyone.

Finally, the above advice is for colleagues looking to support stalking victims, not for victims themselves. If you are a fellow faculty member who is being stalked, feel free to contact me directly so that we can brainstorm together. I do not promise to have all the answers, but having been through it myself, I can try to provide some support and ideas.

A Call For Campus Safe Walks To Protect Victims Of Stalking

The following blog post, by Dr. Meghan Krausch (bio at the end), is only being published on our site, ConditionallyAccepted.com rather than on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (IHE). Meg is one of multiple bloggers contributing to our ongoing blog series on sexual violence in academia who have been asked by IHE to publish anonymously or pseudonymously for fear of a lawsuit or retaliation from the bloggers’ colleagues, department, and/or university. (Some have obliged, while others refused and withdrew their blog post from the series.) Meg has refused, opting to publish the essay here without anonymity. In what follows, Meg reflects on being stalked by a student, and calls for campus safe walks to better protect fellow victims of stalking.

Stalking on Campus: Safe Walks, Not Security

During the last week of classes of the fall 2016 semester, one of my students did something that I recognized as a stalking behavior. In the two months that followed, I exchanged dozens of emails and had several meetings with upper-level administrators on my campus about the stalking. However, almost nothing has changed.

I told my Dean and department colleagues that I no longer felt safe going anywhere on campus alone because I was being stalked and did not want to be murdered at my workplace. I was not being dramatic; murder is a real risk for someone being stalked — something I confirmed with two nationally recognized experts as I constructed safety plans. I spent the first month of the spring 2017 semester fighting with my university for accompaniment by security officers at low traffic times on campus. The university never expelled or suspended the student who stalked me; on the contrary, the administrators responsible for working directly with the student have worked hard to encourage him to continue his studies.

Throughout the semester, he attended classes as usual. Upper-level university officials in charge of security repeatedly told me that, if I was “that afraid,” then I could feel free to carry pepper spray to work because it is legal in my state. Further, they said that there is simply inadequate security to guarantee any response for anyone at 7pm at night (when my class ended); so I should, in no way, have relied on campus security to escort me or otherwise.

In the midst of all of this, eight people in my life so far — all women — have mentioned to me that they have also been stalked at some point in their lives, including one of the administrators in this conversation. It is not as though this is an isolated phenomenon or that I am the only person who will ever face this problem on my campus. Indeed, 6.6 million people are stalked each year in the U.S. according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. Looking at these numbers, it is obvious that this has likely happened before and it will happen again on my campus. By refusing to make any institutional policies or changes, the university specifically avoided setting a precedent for a situation that will certainly occur again.

Is More Security the Answer — Especially for Feminists?

I am an antiracist feminist who believes de-policing is the only path to a just society. I am also an anarchist and sociologist who centers my thinking on populations who have consistently been marginalized by states and by police (which, after all, have their roots in slave patrols). As such, my understanding is that more police make a situation more dangerous rather than safer. However, the immediate need for escorting as a stalking victim put me in what felt like an outright contradiction: pushing for more security on campus. My fierce advocacy with the university on behalf of my own safety seemed to be just another example of “white feminism” — a betrayal of my previous work with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Make no mistake, the institution, as an employer, has a responsibility to guarantee me a safe workplace — one that is free from stalking. And, I do not think a prison-abolitionist feminist position requires me to relinquish that. However, it is important for feminists to recognize that we do not need to turn a call for safety into a regressive call for more law and order on our campuses, but can instead turn to another model which already exists on many campuses: safe walks. Stalking victims and others do not necessarily need a uniformed officer as an escort. All we really need is an additional person whose whereabouts are known to a central dispatch and who is equipped with a flashlight and a link to emergency services to walk us from place to place. Although it was easy for me to become caught up in the existing logic of asking for “security,” what is really needed is a proliferation of dedicated safe walk services like those that exist on many campuses already.

A safe walk service provides something closer to what a de-policed community looks like: community members connected to and looking out for each other in an organized way. And, there is no reason to wait until someone is actively being stalked to put this service in place because we can be sure that someone will need it in the future. If my campus had a safe walk service available, I could have begun using it immediately on the day that the situation began. This would have saved two months of meetings in which I tried to make plans for how I was going to get from class to class, to say nothing of the emotional toll I experienced during this period.

It is important to clarify that a dedicated safe walk service is much better than a system wherein the campus security suggest that they provide escorting to anyone upon request. One major difference is that campus security may not necessarily be prepared or staffed to provide the service (which is what happened in my case) and another difference is, of course, the one I argued above: one service is provided by a shadow police force while a safe walk is a community service.

Like most academic readers, when I imagined the challenges that I would face in my teaching career, I did not imagine stalking. I never imagined the sheer emotional exhaustion of having to make a daily safety plan with my department chair for accompaniment to each of my classes in order to be safe from my stalker in the halls of my building. In fact, I actually worked with stalking victims before I was an academic and had a sense of how common stalking is, but I still did not really think it would happen to me. I did not understand just how ill-prepared my institution was to deal with this situation. As a survivor, I am certain that if a safe walk service had simply been available on campus, then it would have been of invaluable assistance for me.

My story is one example, but I imagine that there are many people on campus in a variety of situations who could make good use of this service if it were simply available to them, without having to spend hours advocating for themselves and proving that they are in active danger as I needed to do. Safe walk services could be useful, for example, to students, faculty, and staff who are in fear when the threat of racist, xenophobic, or queer-bashing violence is on the rise on or near campus. (Think, for example, of the way some communities escorted women who wear hijabs immediately after the 9/11 attacks.) Advocating for safe walks is another case in which advocating for a service for “extreme” situations (e.g., stalking victims) would enhance the campus environment for everyone.

(Note: be sure to read Meg’s follow-up essay on advice for supporting a colleague who is being stalked on campus.)

Author’s Bio:

Meghan Krausch is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Meg studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization.