Students share concerns, offer insight on stopping sexual assault

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State gathered input today (Nov. 11) from roughly 80 students who made their voices heard in the fight against sexual assault.

Penn State’s Task Force on Sexual Assault collected student comments and discussion points during a luncheon at the Nittany Lion Inn that was designed by administrators as a way for students to have their opinions and voices heard on the complex and underreported problem of sexual violence. In July, University President Eric J. Barron formed a task force to study the issue of sexual violence and assigned a cross-section of people to compile recommendations on investigating, mitigating and adjudicating sexual violence, while empowering survivors to come forward and protecting their confidentiality. 

A student talking while a staff member takes notes

Facilitators led discussions and took notes Nov. 11 as students shared their thoughts on how Penn State can combat sexual assaults.   

Image: Bill Zimmerman

“Today's focus group discussion is part of our information gathering and should offer additional insight about student thoughts and feelings on the issue,” said Damon Sims, chairman of the task force and vice president for Student Affairs. “We're eager to hear student opinion and would invite others wishing to contribute to the ongoing conversation to contact us to share their thoughts. If the University is to remain the safe and civil community we expect it to be, students must always be a key element."

Before the discussions, Penn State senior Melissa Skolnick said preventing sexual assaults has been a cause of hers since her freshman year. 

“I believe that prevention is extremely important, but I also want to make sure that we are not forgetting about the reaction when these cases do occur,” she said. “It’s really important for me to get across that we need to hold perpetrators accountable.”

A string of reported sexual assaults as well as a new White House initiative, It’s On Us, have intensified discussions this semester, creating an opportunity for students and staff to target the issue. A group of student-athletes are currently featured in a highly visible public service announcement promoting It’s on Us. The uptick in reported sexual assaults may be attributable to an increased awareness about how to report and where to report, according to officials, who have been increasing efforts to educate the entire University community about sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual violence in general.

“The University should continue to engage with students to show that they really care about these types of issues,” said sophomore Justin Lewis.

The task force has been meeting weekly, as does its subcommittees, working toward a Dec. 31 deadline for a report and recommendations. The subcommittees have focused their attention on education and awareness, policy, enforcement and discipline, victim support, and communication and outreach. Two student representatives sit on the task force. The task force is reviewing University processes that involve the reporting and investigation of sexual violence, disciplinary processes, communications surrounding sexual violence and its prevention, guidelines that establish accountability and possible improvement in all of these areas.

“The president's charge to the group was to develop a proposal that would position Penn State as a national leader in higher education in addressing the problems caused by sexual assault and sexual harassment,” said Sims. “The task force is confident that, building upon the strong foundation of existing support and intervention services and programs, our recommendations will ensure that President Barron's expectations in this regard is realized."

Last Updated November 12, 2014