White House focuses on college sexual assault

This year the Obama administration established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

This program set out to mandate the strengthening of federal enforcement efforts by providing schools nationwide with tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.
Mercyhurst Univeristy is also working towards putting an end to sexual assaults occurring on its campuses. Currently, the university is putting a tremendous effort into educating its students and staff about Title IX.

Title IX states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Although Title IX was created in 1972, there were no major changes until 2011 when the Department of Education released a statement saying, “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.”

Currently, Mercyhurst is working towards complying with the new guidelines of Title IX by sending Police and Safety officers to special training on how to handle a Title IX investigation as well as how to handle the situation when a victim does come forward to report a case of sexual violence.

Students, faculty, and coaches are also being educated about Title IX. It is especially important that the faculty and coaching staff learn how to handle a situation if a victim comes to them to report an incident.

Educating students has paid off with regard to Title IX.

According to Vice President for Student Life Laura Zirkle, “We have seen an increase in reporting and have seen better reporting, because as a campus we are more aware and conscious of Title IX.”

She finds it impressive that students “are talking the language” that is used in the pamphlets that are disturbed throughout campus on the subject.
In terms of reporting, Mercyhurst University wants to make sure that both the victim and the defendant will be treated with as equal parts in the investigation to ensure the conduct hearing is a fair one.

Zirkle is also thankful for the “University-wide support. From the board to the president, faculty and staff, she appreciates that they are being flexible with their schedules in order to hear the message as well as to go to training.”

She also emphasizes how important it has been that everyone responded to the call to make the Mercyhurst community a safe one.

In terms of things to come, there is a big push to educate incoming freshmen, by including a section on consent and respect in the Alcohol Wise test each student has to take before coming to Mercyhurst.

The university will also bring in a guest speaker during Welcome Week to discuss nonviolent sexuality.