Beyond Compliance: Effectively Engaging the Violence Against Women Act

Area A Representative, Equity and Diversity Action Committee Chair
Foothill College, Equity and Diversity Action Committee

It rang loudly: the passing by acclamation of Resolution 13.01, System-wide Collaboration on Violence Prevention Programs, on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at the ASCCC Spring Plenary Session. This resolution asked the ASCCC to “work with the Chancellor’s Office and other system partners to develop and distribute guidelines to assist with developing and implementing effective anti-sexual assault and violence prevention programs at their colleges.” With the passage of this strong statement, faculty must now consider how to hold crucial conversations in local academic senates and on college campuses about sexual violence and assault.

Sexual violence on college campuses is not new, nor are many of the college programs aimed at preventing it. The heightened attention to this issue over the last two years stems in part from President Obama’s reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act in 2013, effective July 1, 2015. The reauthorization included the “Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act,” more commonly known as the “Campus SaVE Act.” This legislation places greater responsibility on institutions of higher education by requiring increased transparency about sexual violence on campus, enhanced rights for victims, more stringent standards for conduct proceedings, and greater efforts in violence prevention programs. Compliance is mandatory for all post-secondary institutions to remain eligible for participation in federal financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education began enforcement of these provisions in March 2014 and colleges—including California Community Colleges—have had to respond quickly to plan and implement measures to come into compliance.

The second major factor currently spotlighting violence prevention programs is California’s September 2014 passage of the “Affirmative Consent Law” (SB 967) in response to the federal Campus SaVE Act. Effective January 2015, the Affirmative Consent Law added §67386 to the California Education Code, and the law features several important provisions, including the requirement for college campuses to adopt a “Yes Means Yes” or “Affirmative Consent” standard.[1] Although the affirmative consent standard is perhaps the most conspicuous component, California’s Affirmative Consent Law requires colleges to implement comprehensive violence prevention programming, both ongoing and as a part of every new student’s orientation. California community college faculty will immediately recognize this requirement as a challenge, as institutions already struggle to ensure that every new, non-exempt student participates in orientation and colleges already have to include nine other orientation components explicitly required by Title 5 §55521.

At this point, faculty may feel overwhelmed, as most are neither lawyers nor experts in violence prevention. These compliance mandates also come at a time when colleges are faced with a litany of other issues ranging from increasing student success and mitigating disproportionate impact to meeting a new set of accreditation standards. However, the response to resolution 13.01 S15 demonstrates that as a body, faculty overwhelmingly support effective violence prevention efforts on our campuses. Truly, one could argue that working to ensure a safe environment must be central in our efforts to increase student success. As such, the external pressures currently driving the review and revision of our anti-violence policies and programs can be viewed not just as a challenge but also as a critical opportunity for campus-wide collaboration to build programs that are not just compliant but, more importantly, that are actually effective at preventing violence.

Local senate leaders can help guide effective campus efforts and conversations in several ways. Beyond familiarizing themselves with the requirements in California’s Affirmative Consent Law, perhaps the most immediate work is to identify and contact key players already on campus. These individuals include the campus Title IX compliance officer, as well as the individuals or groups responsible for compiling their mandatory Annual Security Report (ASR), which includes statements of campus policies regarding sexual violence and annual campus crime statistics. Because counseling faculty are central to orientation programs, they too must be involved in planning and discussions. Colleges should note that SSSP money can be used effectively and legitimately to develop effective violence prevention programs.

Faculty, staff, and administrators should collaboratively explore prevention strategies already known to be effective and revise those known not to be effective.[2] Two great resources to begin with include the 2014 White House Task Force report “Not Alone”[3] and the CDC’s “Preventing Sexual Violence on College Campuses: Lessons from Research and Practice.”[4] The National Sexual Violence Resource Center also provides a number of resources.[5]

The passage by acclamation of Resolution 13.01 S15 demonstrates the importance to the ASCCC and to faculty in general of preventing sexual violence.  The Academic Senate will follow the direction of the resolution and work to publish guidelines for colleges in developing anti-sexual assault and violence prevention programs.  However, the most meaningful work regarding this issue must take place at our colleges themselves.  If we are to make a difference, our review of campus policies and procedures should not just be developed for compliance but with a vision of implementing truly effective practices and building a culture of nonviolence and safety.

[1] California was the first state to adopt such a standard, and the detailed ramifications are beyond the scope of this article, but several references are provided in the next few footnotes for those wishing to learn more.