Colleges Have an Opportunity to Reset Campus Culture

For those hoping that an era of remote learning would reduce sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse in higher education, the reality has proven far more complex. 

While students in a remote learning environment may have been less vulnerable to physical abuse from peers or others on campus, many virtual platforms are rife with harassment and other misconduct. Additionally, some students remained tied to the campus environment during the pandemic by binding apartment leases or a lack of other options aside from campus dorms. With many campuses offering limited in-person support services because of the pandemic, students facing this situation were more isolated than usual, leaving them even more vulnerable to abuse.

Now, with vaccines leading many campuses to return to in-person instruction, there are significant subsets of the student population coming to campus for the first time – far more than the usual quarter of the student body in the freshman class. This means that more students are learning how to navigate the college social environment and its risks without deep social bonds with peers and mentors, which can help protect students from abuse and give them somewhere to turn when they need support.

Meanwhile, many students are challenging problematic aspects of campus culture. For example, student protesters at the University of Lincoln in Nebraska – who are drawing attention to the issue of sexual assault in Greek life following an alleged rape at a Phi Gamma Delta party – are just the latest group to express outrage at campus culture.

National efforts to change campus culture are also gaining momentum. Activist groups are calling for the Biden administration to move more quickly to reverse Title IX regulations from the Trump administration that made it easier for schools to disregard sexual violence complaints from students.

This combination of factors has put college administrators under renewed pressure to support the development of a new campus culture – one centered around respect and collective responsibility in ending sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. For administrators unsure where to begin, we recommend starting with the questions we raised in last week’s blog. They are designed to help campus leaders think about the best way to start conversation on campus, identify policies that can make a difference, and put those policies into action.

RALIANCE – in partnership with the National Football League – has been proud to support several organizations leading culture change and sexual violence prevention on campus. For example, Chicago-based HEART Women & Girls received a RALIANCE grant to support their implementation of trainings for Muslim students on college campuses, with the goal of developing policies and best practices centered on survivors. Administrators can turn to HEART Women & Girls – and others organizations like it – for potential campus partnerships and resources. 

Want to learn more about the crisis on college campuses? Check out the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s two part podcast series addressing the dangerous confluence of alcohol and sexual violence on campus during the pandemic.

RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at [email protected] to get started.

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