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CSAP recommendations take effect

Jenn Metz | Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP), along with student government, offered 22 recommendations last spring, Ann Firth, associate vice president for Student Affairs said, and several of those recommendations have been implemented in the 2009-10 academic year.

The recommendations fall into five categories — policies and procedures, resources for survivors, communication about sexual assault resources, educational initiatives and staff training and development — and were presented to University Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. Mark Poorman in April.

“We are working diligently to implement these recommendations,” Firth, who serves as co-chariman of CSAP along with Associate Vice President for Residence Life Bill Kirk, said. “We are very pleased at the progress we have been able to make.”

The five recommendations put into place this year include an expanded training on sexual assault for residence hall staff, expanded CSAP membership and the addition of a second sexual assault resource person. The two resource persons — Ava Preacher, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, and Catherine Pieronek, assistant dean of the College of Engineering — are now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, compared to normal Monday-Friday business hours previously.

Other recommendations implemented include improvements to “College HAS Issues,” the Unviersity’s mandatory sexual assault education program for first-year students and the creation of a follow-up program to be piloted in 12 residence halls.

According to the letter CSAP submitted to Poorman, the Committee “focused on identifying additional, practical steps the University might take to prevent sexual assault, address unacceptable behavior, and help to ensure the safety of every student” in drafting its recommendations.

The Committee features representatives from the Office of Residence Life, the University Counseling Center, University Athletics, Notre Dame Security Police, Saint Mary’s College, the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education and University students and rectors, as well as several other campus and community resources for victims of sexual assault or violence.

“We have all of these people around the table who are working together to eliminate sexual assault on campus,” Firth said, adding that this group with diverse backgrounds can “offer a comprehensive look” at the reality of sexual violence at Notre Dame.

Student body vice president Cynthia Weber became a member of CSAP this year. She said she believes the expanded membership of the Committee to include rectors added a previously missing element in the discussion of sexual violence on campus.

“[Rectors] add a unique and valuable perspective to the efforts to prevent sexual assault,” she said.

In the course of her work with the Committee, Weber said she has discovered that sexual assault is “not an easy issue to address.”

Lauren Cummings, an assistant rector in Farley Hall and CSAP member, said one of the most important things hall staff, including rectors, can do to prevent sexual assault from occurring on campus is “to foster of community of mutual respect for one another.”

“Sexual assault is about asserting power and control over another person,” she said. “If you respect someone, you will not violate his or her human rights by attempting to overpower that person.”

Hall staff, Cummings said, plays “a critical role” in supporting the members of the University community who share their stories of surviving sexual assault.

“We need to believe the survivors’ stories and avoid judgment based on dress, sexual history or alcohol consumption,” she said.

Student government’s role, Weber said, is “to bring our knowledge specifically as students to this broad discussion. CSAP provides the venue whereby these efforts can be discussed and enacted.”

Weber said student government focuses primarily on education through programming and policy, and has worked on improving the “College HAS Issues” program, presented during freshman orientation at the University, as well as implementing other events aimed at raising awareness, such as “Sex Signals,” which premiered in October.

After the Student Senate passed a resolution calling for a review of University sexual assault policies in the spring, the collaboration between CSAP and student government began.

“The resolution was a catalyst to an important and open discussion about how we can improve our university’s efforts,” Weber said.

Firth said she believes the Committee’s work in recent months is evidence of “a successful collaboration between CSAP and student government.”

Firth, Cummings and Weber believe Notre Dame’s community can achieve the elimination of sexual assault and violence from the campus.

“Community awareness and frank discussion about sexual assault is also a key component to preventing it,” Weber said. “When a community says, with a clear voice, ‘we will not tolerate this,’ it helps stop the crime from happening.”

Firth said sexual assault is “antithetical” to the values of the Notre Dame, as a Catholic university.

“This is a serious issues that should never be accepted as a part of our culture,” Cummings said.

Events like Sexual Assault Awareness week, which takes place annually during the spring semester, offers the community the opportunity to hear from survivors of sexual assault, which can have an impact, Weber said.

“Hearing from survivors … helps us be aware of precautionary steps we can take, like creating situations where we can socialize in our comfort zones,” she said.

Firth said she hopes these events will “get people talking about the issues.”

Sexual assault “is under-reported across the board,” she said, citing the national statistic reporting one in five women experience sexual assault and 10 percent of men are victims of sexual violence.

“Notre Dame faces the same challenges [as other universities nationally] in getting good numbers,” Firth said.

“Sexual assault harms our community,” Weber said, “and at Notre Dame, we are tasked to hold each other to high standards. We value any questions or input about sexual assault and how it can be prevented on campus.”