April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and the University of Dallas has taken care in acknowledging its importance and furthering the conversation surrounding the difficult but crucial issues of sexual violence and discrimination.
This month, a number of university events are seeking to educate students about sexual assault, as well as more general issues of sexual respect and consent in the media.
These events include a screening of the documentary “Miss Representation,” a presentation by Fight the New Drug on the effects of pornography, co-sponsored by the Anscombe Society, and a presentation by a representative from the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.
UD Title IX Coordinator Jeffrey Taylor has also created a way for students to express their opinions and experiences to the administration on matters of sexual assault.
On April 8, students were sent an email with a link to a survey, officially titled the “2016 Campus Climate Survey.”
This anonymous survey, which will remain live through the end of the month, provides students with ample space and opportunity to outline their perspectives on several topics related to sexual assault and sexual discrimination.
Along with questions regarding students’ perspectives on sexual assault and consent, the survey includes questions on sexism and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Certain key administrators will be informed of the results of the survey first, before they become public.
Students will be notified when the results become available online on the UD website.
Such a survey is not yet required by the Association of Title IX Administrators, though, according to Taylor, conducting and analyzing the results of such a survey is highly recommended.
UD has never conducted a student-wide survey like this before.
“Now, with an increasing possibility that a survey of this kind will soon be legally mandated, the university is looking to be ahead of curve,” Taylor said.
Because the results are not yet complete, Taylor cannot give any indication as to potential outcomes or trends, nor any definite speculations.
He did state that in his 12 years in higher education, he has found UD students tend to be among the best educated in matters of sexual assault.
“I have very high expectations about the behavior and the character of the students at UD,” Taylor said.
No student body is without fault, of course, and Taylor hopes the survey will help those UD students who may not otherwise feel comfortable coming forward to share their concerns.
“The anonymity of the survey provides students an opportunity to share an honest, more realistic perspective that can inform me about what the problem areas actually are,” Taylor said.
The survey will be repeated either annually or biannually, and in time some trends might also become discernible, hopefully in a positive direction.
“I see [the survey] as a baseline for future growth and development,” Taylor said.
Taylor hopes that recognizing SAAM more generally at UD will help alleviate common misconceptions and misunderstandings about sexual assault.
“Too many times, we imagine sexual assault as a guy creeping in the bushes with a knife waiting to assail an unsuspecting lady,” Taylor said.
In particular, college students might be ignorant about alcohol’s role in sexual assault.
According to Taylor, there can be no confusion about consent given while a student is intoxicated.
“It cannot be stated enough that a drunk person is incapable of giving consent to sexual activity,” Taylor said.
It will be some time before the campus community will be able to use this survey to understand or address any potential problem areas.
The university’s willingness to engage the spirit of SAAM by allowing students to safely express their concerns, Taylor indicated, is still an encouraging beginning to a necessary conversation.