Panel discusses campus sexual assault, UH activism
When Alyssa Whitman realized her fellow students need to take sexual assault more seriously, she was where all students are — on the Internet. She was scrolling through posts on a university freshman Facebook group, and members had commented with complaints about a required sexual misconduct training.
Concerned students like Whitman, a women’s gender and sexuality studies freshman, attended a screening of the documentary “The Hunting Ground” on Thursday at the Student Center South Theater held by the Women and Gender Resource Center just a few days before the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“I feel like (students) say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to waste my time with this. I already know what I need to do and not do,’ rather than ‘What is the education that I’m missing? What are the resources that are available to me?’” Whitman said.
The film follows two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sexual assault student survivors, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who saw their cases mishandled by the university and fought back by filing a Title IX complaint against the institution.
The women then traveled to other college campuses to help sexual assault survivors use the anti-discrimination law in cases against their schools.
Following the screening, a panel discussion featured representatives from UH and the Houston Area Women’s Center.
Richard Baker, vice chancellor and vice president of Equal Opportunity Services and UH’s Title IX coordinator, spoke about state and national laws that protect victims. One state law requires Texas colleges and universities to inform students of sexual assault policies at freshman orientations.
In June 2015, another bill passed that requested public institutions create policies on campus sexual assault.
“New and fascinating things are on the horizon that would impact every institution,” Baker said.
As the Title IX coordinator, Baker helps students who have been victims of sexual assault. In his work, he adheres to the sexual misconduct policy and urges students to look it up on the Equal Opportunity Services webpage.
“It’s your policy,” Baker said. “It should be a document that reflects your values.”
Laura McGuire, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education program manager at UH Wellness, encouraged students to get involved with a student advisory committee starting this summer. She said the committee members will inform her on issues surrounding rape culture and sexual assault on campus.
“We can’t just talk about what not to do,” McGuire said. “Changes are made on this campus because students demand them. It’s not perfected until you speak up.”
Whitman said she did not know about the resources available at UH — even as someone who considers herself an advocate.
Women and Gender Resource Center Director Devan Ford-McCartney said it is important to discuss the topic of campus sexual assault.
“I just want students to know they have a voice, which is one of the things that the panel talked about quite a bit,” Ford-McCartney said. “They should be empowered to advocate for themselves and advocate for each other.”
In 2014, the Department of Education released a list of higher education institutions with open Title IX sexual violence investigations. UH was not part of that initial list, but the university was investigated for unknown reasons in October last year.