It is a month of great excitement on college campuses. Graduation season is here and for most students whose four-year path to their diploma has been smooth and uninterrupted, it is a time to celebrate academic achievement. But during the thrill of commencement, we must also contemplate the estimated one in five women and one in sixteen men who experience sexual assault during their college career. For these students, the journey to graduation may have been anything but smooth and it is possible that sexual assault may have derailed their graduation plans entirely.
The national conversation around campus sexual assault has grown exponentially since the academic year began and much of the credit for this goes to student activists and survivors who have been at the forefront of change. Sadly, many schools still demonstrate disbelief that sexual assault impacts their campuses or they fail to address the issue transparently. Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s refusal of a handshake with survivor and artistic activist Emma Sulkowicz at commencement this week is an example of a missed opportunity for open communication.
However, in an effort to address the statistics, encourage transparency and ultimately shift the culture on college campuses, Culture of Respect launches our Pilot Program on thirteen diverse campuses across the country this month. Schools that have joined our Pilot Program have taken the FIRST and important step in acknowledging and publicly disclosing the issue of campus sexual assault on their campus. We applaud them.
Over the next year, these schools will use our CORE Blueprint and CORE Evaluation to implement the leading practices in campus sexual assault prevention and response; they will build their capacity in all six areas of our framework and engage in an ongoing process of self-assessment. Over time, this process will yield a measurable impact in shifting campus culture to one free from sexual violence, ensuring all students are safe to pursue – and achieve – the promise of higher education and stay on their intended path towards commencement.
To the 2015 graduates, we send you our hearty congratulations and much success in the next stage of your journey. As an organization on the cutting edge of sexual assault prevention, we are honored to do this work and as we help create a Culture of Respect on every campus, we hope to pave a smooth path to graduation for every future college student.