Sexual Violence Culture and Climate Work Group putting plans into action
The work group launched a webpage, reconfigured an email alert, enhanced training efforts, while also devising additional plans to create a safe, stable campus environment.
Creating a webpage, redesigning an email alert, and enhancing training efforts were a few of the actions completed by Virginia Tech’s Sexual Violence Culture and Climate Work Group, as the group spent a portion of the summer working to make Virginia Tech a safer campus.
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands established the work group last November, charging the now 26-member committee with developing a framework for “cultural transformation” at Virginia Tech. He tasked the group with not only looking at ways to address sexual violence, but also the underpinnings that allow sexual violence to occur.
The early meetings consisted of forming subcommittees, establishing focus groups to secure student involvement, holding a student-focused event to get feedback, and planning for this fall semester.
Those plans consisted of launching a new webpage, and the work group debuted SAFE at VT on Sept. 1. This centralized hub that lists prevention measures, existing prevention programs at the university, the reporting process for victims, and, most importantly, the resources for victims.
“One of the things that we heard a lot when we were talking with students and the community was it's just really confusing to find out useful information about what happens at Virginia Tech,” Katie Polidoro, Title IX coordinator and chairwoman of the work group, said. “Students in particular need to know what their options are if something were to happen — what kinds of care are available? Where are there confidential and helpful resources? What will it be like? Being more transparent about what happens is an important part of building confidence and trust that we really do care and take this issue seriously.”
Administrators in Polidoro’s office, those in Student Affairs, and those in Communications and Marketing collaborated on the page, and then they allowed the students to choose the name via a survey that ran this past spring semester. SAFE at VT replaced the Stop Abuse page.
The initial feedback has been positive, but the work group isn’t losing sight of its much more important priority.
“The website is important, but it not going to cure everything,” Polidoro said. “There’s a lot more that we must do. But I do think that for people are unsure about where to go for help, it's a good start.”
Collaboration also took place between the Title IX office, the Women’s Center, Hokie Wellness, and the new Residential Well-being program. Those involved enhanced training efforts for both professional staff and student leaders within Residential Well-being, with a focus on prevention efforts and cultural change.
Previous 90-minute training sessions were transformed into half-day ones, with a goal of teaching how to handle certain situations and how to have conversations about prevention, healthy relationships, and consent.
In addition, a subcommittee within the work group rewrote the email alert that gets sent to the campus community after an assault occurs. This email is a requirement by a federal law known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.
The subcommittee invited student involvement and that feedback, according to Investigations Lt. Kendrah Cline in the Virginia Tech Police Department, revealed that the email was too vague.
“I believe it left our community wondering, ‘Well, what does all this mean?’” Cline said. “Everybody naturally assumes sexual assault means rape. Not all of those met that definition, so we had to figure out a way to provide more information of what's occurred, so that our community can better prepare on how to keep themselves safe.
“But it’s also a balancing act. We had to figure out how to do that, but also limit that information so that we're still protecting the identity privacy and rights of our survivors. We never want to put them in danger or disclose too much to where their identities are known through our crime alert.”
The revised alert gives details on the crime, what happens next, where victims can find help, personal safety information, and prevention methods. In the revised alert, Cline felt it important to emphasize that survivors choose the next steps after initially reporting an incident.
“That section [what happens next] is really all about speaking to our survivors from the police department, telling them it is absolutely your decision on what happens,” Cline said. “We don't get word of something and then go out and start investigating. … It was important for me, for our community, to understand that it's absolutely survivor's choice in what next steps are taken.”
The Virginia Tech Police Department started using the revised alert Sept. 1. According to Cline, the feedback has been positive.
“The overall feedback is that the email is much cleaner,” Cline said. “The content is organized with headers and is more informative and survivor oriented. The information provided in it is much better. It doesn't have that immediate feeling of, ‘OK, a sexual assault’s been recorded. What does that mean and what happens next.’ We are continuing to work toward ways of providing information to our community on next steps within criminal and/or university processes.
“I really wanted to put heart back in it because our community knows, yes, we're required to send this. Yes, we know it's unfortunate, and it might be triggering, and it's hard to read about it. But we want for our community and our survivors to know that we're here for you, that we will never push you in a direction that you don't want to go in, and that you can come in and you can talk with a police officer or a member of my investigations team and talk about your options and what a case would look like and have a choice every step of the way of what we do.”
Next steps for the Sexual Violence Climate and Culture Work Group (SVCC) consist of the launching of a prevention campaign in the coming weeks, planning future events and ways to engage the community, a potential campus summit on sexual violence to be held in the spring, conducting a campus survey, and then sharing the results of that survey, and continued updates to the community.
“This fall, SVCC will be transitioning our focus,” Polidoro said. “We’ve been really focused on the experience of our undergraduate residential students. Our next step needs to be focusing upperclassmen who are living off campus and on graduate professional students.”
Along with those efforts, the work group will continue to self-evaluate, assessing its programming to ensure that it helps the group reach its goals. This past summer, an assessment group subcommittee developed tools to aid in this and started piloting them.
“It's not super glamorous,” Polidoro said. “But it is meaningful, so that we know if what we are doing is right and what do we need to change for this year.”