About 425 staffers from more than 50 Washington community, private and public four-year colleges will gather at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus Thursday to discuss how to prevent college sexual assaults.
In the past year, there’s been a heightened concern nationally about sexual assaults on campus, as officials raise concerns about both the emotional and academic impact these attacks can have on students. States and individual colleges have passed new laws and policies aimed at curbing sexual assaults. But there’s disagreement about the best approach.
The conference was organized by the Council of Presidents, made up of Washington’s six four-year public college presidents. It came from a presidents’ discussion in May about how the schools can more directly address and curb sexual assaults, said Paul Francis, who is the council’s executive director. The presidents wanted all colleges in Washington — public and private, two-year and four-year — to get together to share what works.
At the conference, college representatives will hear from Alan Berkowitz, a California psychologist and independent consultant who helps colleges design sexual assault prevention programs, and Major General Kenneth Dahl, deputy commanding general of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Francis said JBLM has made some innovative steps toward curbing sexual assault.
Earlier this year, the state of California passed an affirmative-consent law, sometimes called “Yes Means Yes,” that requires students to give direct consent at every stage of a sexual encounter. In the past, regulations required that the victim made it clear that he or she refused a sexual encounter before an incident could be prosecuted. (“No means no.”)
Francis said some legislators have asked whether such a law might work in Washington. “We’re talking about it,” he said. But the law has, in some cases, raised more thorny questions than it has solved. “What we really want to do is get behind something that works,” Francis said.
Washington State University is one of more than 55 schools facing a Title IX investigation over its handling of sexual-abuse complaints, according to the U.S. Education Department.