“If higher education steps up to its moral obligation, it can make a historic contribution to the struggle to contain sexual violence. No other institution is as well placed to take us into a new and far more sophisticated era of education and prevention. No other institution has the concentration of expertise needed to make this happen.”
Dr. David Lisak, clinical psychologist and campus sexual assault expert
Today we feature our interview with distinguished clinical psychologist and campus sexual assault expert, Dr. David Lisak. It continues the discussion from last month: how do we move from awareness to action?
Dr. Lisak’s research and applied forensic work on non-stranger rapists has guided rape prevention and response policies at numerous colleges and universities. He was instrumental in developing programming for Dartmouth’s 2014 Summit on Sexual Assault on College Campuses, and we are honored to call him an advisor and friend.
In our interview, Dr. Lisak illuminates two powerful levers for changing campus culture and containing sexual violence:
1. Senior-level commitment to comprehensive prevention programs; and
2. Making evidence-based practices and programs easily accessible to more college and university leaders.
This interview confirms our mission to make the CORE Blueprint, our six-pillar strategy to eliminate campus sexual assault, accessible to as many senior-level higher education leaders as possible.
What do you think it will take to move from awareness to action?
From Awareness to Action: Q & A with David Lisak
CofR: How do you think the national conversation about campus sexual assault has changed in the past year?
DL: I think that one of the most important changes that has taken place over the past 12 months is that there is far less denial about the scope of the problem. I hope I am not being too optimistic in believing that we are moving beyond the question: “Is sexual violence a real and serious problem on college campuses?” and beginning to focus on how to solve the problem.
CofR: What do you think about the media portrayals of the issue?
DL: Well, I am encouraged by the national attention to the problem, but I am troubled by the lack of nuance in much of the media coverage. This is, of course, nothing new. But it is still troubling to see coverage that relies on sweeping generalizations, sound bites, and punch lines. The problem of sexual violence in higher education is enormously complex, and the solutions we discover will have to deal with those complexities. And they will not be well understood via sound bites.
CofR: What practical ways can we move from awareness to action on the campus level? Is there a linchpin?
DL: If there were a single linchpin, a decisive factor that I believe will be necessary to move from awareness to resolute action, I’d say it is leadership and commitment to comprehensive prevention efforts – leadership from the very top of higher education institutions. We need to see five and ten-year plans being drawn up, tied to sophisticated evaluation protocols. We can no longer rely on temporary federal grants. Sexual assault education and prevention must become an integral part of what colleges and universities do for their communities.
CofR: How can organizations such as ours best support campus leaders?
DL: I believe we are heading into an era in which information, research and resources related to sexual violence prevention and response will be increasing exponentially. Actually, it is already happening. One of the challenges we will face is to collate, analyze, evaluate, and make all of that information available to those who will need to apply it. We also need better channels of communication across campuses. As more and more institutions pilot new programs, or evaluate ongoing programs, we will need coherent mechanisms for sharing these experiences and these data. Culture of Respect can take a leading and important role as an information portal for higher education institutions.
CofR: What are points of promise that you see in the movement?
DL: For several years now we have seen considerable pressure placed on higher education, and that pressure has created a very significant opportunity. If higher education steps up to its moral obligation, it can make a historic contribution to the struggle to contain sexual violence. No other institution is as well-placed to take us into a new and far more sophisticated era of education and prevention. No other institution has the concentration of expertise needed to make this happen.