Join efforts at SMU to prevent sexual assault

By Dr. Lori S. White and Samantha Thomas

A year ago, SMU’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures released its report recommending changes and new initiatives for our campus.

Since then, many students, faculty and staff members have been putting these recommendations into action to help prevent and raise awareness of sexual assault. Here are ways everyone at SMU can join our efforts:

KNOW HOW TO GET HELP

When a student reports a sexual assault to anyone at SMU, it is critical that he or she be informed how to obtain support. Students are urged to seek medical care and call police immediately.

Resources include SMU Police (214-768-3333), the SMU Title IX Coordinator (214-768-3601), the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital (214-345-6203) and confidential counselors at the SMU Health Center (214-768-4795) and Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center (972-641-7273). Please save these numbers in your cellphone and learn more at smu.edu/LiveResponsibly.

UNDERSTAND CONSENT

Consent means voluntary, clear, continuous, mutually understandable permission, given by words or actions, regarding one’s willingness to engage in sexual activity.

Being intoxicated is no excuse for failure to obtain consent. Coercion, force or threats invalidate consent. A student cannot give consent if he or she is incapacitated due to alcohol or drug use, or is asleep or unconscious. Please call 911 if you or another student needs help.

KNOW THE LAW, SMU POLICY AND YOUR RIGHTS

Sexual assault is a crime under Texas law that is punishable by imprisonment from two to 20 years plus a fine up to $10,000. Sexual assault also is a violation of SMU Policy 2.5.1 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. SMU prohibits sexual assault and has processes in place that hold violators accountable while treating all students fairly.

Students who experience sexual assault can choose whether to pursue criminal charges in Texas courts, an internal grievance process and prompt investigation under SMU’s Title IX policy, or both processes. Learn more at smu.edu/LiveResponsibly.

What is this?

BE INVOLVED

Through our collective efforts, we want to create a campus where sexual assault does not occur.

However, as the White House’s task force on campus sexual assaults reported this week, sexual assault is an underreported crime and a serious issue at universities across the country. It’s important for our community to provide a supportive place for a student to come forward if a sexual assault does occur. We believe our efforts are making a difference. Students are coming forward to report sexual assaults and seek help, and the university has taken prompt and appropriate action.

Examples of the work our community has undertaken include a new online course for incoming students, in addition to a program focused on consent and sexual assault awareness. Student Senate adopted an SMU Values Statement and student leaders recently launched a “Not On My Campus” campaign that makes a powerful statement against sexual assault.

In addition, faculty and staff members now have informational cards about supporting students. Posters explaining how to report sexual assault and obtain help are displayed across campus. The SMU Title IX Coordinator and other SMU officials have participated in campus events to raise awareness and answer questions.

In fall 2014, the Health Center and Department of Psychology plan to launch a bystander intervention program. Continuing programs include Take Back the Night and Sexual Assault Awareness Week, sponsored by the Women’s Center and community members. Healthy relationships are explored in Wellness courses and Residence Life programs, and SMU Police continue to offer self-defense courses.

We thank Task Force members, students, faculty, staff and community members for contributing to this important work.

As we continue to develop and refine initiatives, we urge everyone to participate in SMU’s ongoing conversation about this serious national issue. We also invite you to join our efforts to prevent sexual assault and speak out against the attitudes that support it.

Dr. Lori S. White is Vice President for Student Affairs. Samantha Thomas is the SMU Title IX Coordinator in the Office of Institutional Access and Equity.

Tell us what you think.