There is a need for greater education, training

Arsh Ali and Isha Parikh

Content Warning: Discussions of sexual assault and harrassment 

Amid this awareness-raising month for domestic violence, the fallout of sexual assault and misconduct cases at higher education institutions showcase a need for greater transparency and action. The ongoing prevalence of sexual harassment, assault and abuse on the UT campus is often overlooked due to underreporting and the variability of the definitions and measurements used to acquire campus sexual assault data. As co-directors for the Women’s Resource Agency within Student Government, we seek to not only raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault at UT through our initiatives, but also to provide outlets for women to discuss consequential issues within a safe campus climate. 

According to the 2017 UT Austin Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments Report: 

  • 15% of undergraduate women at UT-Austin reported that they have been raped, either through force, threat of force, incapacitation, or other forms of coercion such as lies and verbal pressure 
  • 28% were victims of unwanted sexual touching 
  • 12% experienced attempted rape 
  • 13% of graduate students and professional school women said they experienced crude sexual harassment perpetrated by a staff or faculty member 
  • 30% reported experiencing sexist gender harassment  
  • 5% reported unwanted sexual attention harassment 

The rise of the #MeToo movement has given women the space to retell traumatic sexual experiences, but many fear the stigma that is accompanied by coming out to the public. Despite the high frequency of estimated sexual assault cases at UT showcased by the statistics above, the prevalence of underreported cases is perpetuated by rape culture that is pervasive on campuses. The normalization of sexual assault stories is evident by the faculty sexual misconduct at UT, where many of the perpetrators are shawled by protections or loopholes designed to protect both the university and faculty from liability. The UT Austin Sexual Misconduct Database lists UT employees involved in sexual misconduct, including professors who are teaching in the fall 2021 semester. 

Moreover, the longstanding issue of sexual assault can be explicitly seen in the social systems upheld by fraternities and sororities that create a culture that allows sexual assault cases to transpire in Greek communities. In recent events, an off-campus fraternity at UT called Texas Rho was at the center of controversies revolving around hazing, drugging and sexual assault. The nature of Greek social life perpetuates this type of behavior –– the pattern is not a coincidence. 

We need to rely on an education system where we can find a long-term solution. UT has implemented programs to aid its students in fighting and advocating against sexual violence such as the HealthyHorns messaging and the AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault Prevention Modules, but there is a need for greater modifications that can reduce students’ vulnerability and help to enable a culture shift. Resources such as SURE Walk need to be prevalent in areas including West Campus where sexual assault cases occur most frequently and free LYFT rides should be provided to students as soon as the sun goes down. 

There is a greater need for sexual assault training for fraternities and sororities and educational programs aimed at discussing important topics about what constitutes consent, prevention strategies and prohibited conduct using realistic scenarios with cultural-specific content to Greek life. This training must focus on topics like bystander intervention with an interactive format to help students learn their role in preventing sexual assault and how they can protect others when dealing with harassment incidents. The lack of consequences for sexual assault on campus among faculty and students showcases the lack of accountability, transparency and due process. As students, we unequivocally need to demand action from UT administration in employing a framework that defines proper steps to confront sexual misconduct at all levels in academia. 

For victims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment, there are an array of resources provided on campus that provide well-rounded support. From Title XI resources (University Health Services, Victim Advocate Network, Domestic Violence Clinic) to Voices Against Violence to Counseling and Mental Health Center, the Women’s Resource Agency community is also here to serve as an outlet for ongoing support. 

Ali is a neuroscience sophomore from Houston and co-director of Women’s Resource Agency.

Parikh is a biochemistry and health education junior from Sugarland and co-director of Women’s Resource Agency.