Speakers urge UO to do more to prevent sexual assaults

A required course in sexual ethics, self-defense classes for women, clear and frank discussion of expectations and more collaboration were among the suggestions for preventing sexual assault offered at a public meeting Wednesday.

A dozen people offered their thoughts as the President’s Review Panel on sexual misconduct held the first of several public sessions to gather public comment. This session focused on steps the university should take to help prevent sexual assault; later sessions will address issues such as reporting and services to survivors.

The message of most speakers was that the university needs to do more to create an atmosphere of respect and to keep students safe. While the campus has numerous programs aimed at setting expectations and encouraging students to report any problems, speakers said additional steps are needed.

Interim UO President Scott Coltrane opened the forum by saying he is totally committed to the panel’s work and to addressing the problem of sexual assault. While some of the group’s sessions are closed because of the sensitive nature of the information, he assured the audience that its final report and recommendations will be public and the subject of much discussion.

“We care about what the university is doing in this area, we care about our students and it’s absolutely essential we keep our students safe,” Coltrane said.

The first speaker, UO philosophy professor and department head Bonnie Mann, urged the panel to recommend instituting a required course on sexual ethics for all freshmen. She said an approach deeper than the standard method of having students attend short workshops on sexual conduct is needed.

“A real commitment is going to require something different,” she said.

Several speakers also called for more and better self-defense training for women. Samantha Krop, a UO graduate student and founding member of the Eugene-based Warrior Sisters Society, said the university only offers a single self-defense class for women, a for-credit PE class. She said education is necessary but takes time and steps need to be taken to help women protect themselves in the interim.

“What we’re seeing is that while we’re doing the education and cultural work, women are getting hurt,” Krop said.

Later, self-defense trainer Ryan Kelly echoed those feelings. He said research has not shown that education efforts actually reduce the number of attacks on women but that defense training has.

Carole Stabile, a journalism and women’s and gender studies professor, thanked the panel for meeting with members of a UO Senate task force on sexual violence earlier in the day. Stabile is a co-chair of the task force and urged the panel to look at both short-term and long-term steps to address the issues.

Stabile said the task force also is looking into a required course put together by faculty and staff with expertise in the subject. But she also called for more clarity and better communication on the UO’s mandatory reporting requirement, which obligates all university employees to report any knowledge of sexual assault or misconduct to the appropriate office.

Lori Lander, the UO’s director of residence life and academic initiative, discussed programs used in the residence halls to encourage students to watch out for one another, including regular floor meetings and increased staffing to allow more one-to-one discussions between students and resident assistants.

But she also called for more collaboration with other groups, both on and off campus. In particular, she said the university needs to reach out to K-12 schools to help dispel the misperceptions about college life many youngsters acquire before they arrive on campus.

Keith Van Norman, the health promotion marketing manager at the UO Health Center, said the university needs to be more frank and direct in communicating its expectations to students. The Health Center has a long list of programs it uses to reinforce good sexual health, including a smartphone app that’s being picked up by other universities, but he said more needs to done to get the message to students.

“If this is important to us, then these values need to be incorporated into our day-to-day interactions with students,” he said. “We need to demonstrate what we expect them to do and how we expect them to act.”

Panel chair Mary Diets, a retired Oregon Court of Appeals judge, said the first public comment session was held during summer because the panel needs to complete its work as quickly as possible. Later public meetings will be held when students are on campus.

Students and others who could not attend Wednesday’s meeting can submit written comments here.

―By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications