By Michelle Johnston, Ph.D.
A single act of sexual violence on an Ohio campus is one too many. By working together, Ohio colleges and universities have a new opportunity to make headway on one of the most challenging issues on all our campuses.
That is why Ohio’s college and university presidents should embrace Changing Campus Culture, the Ohio Department of Education’s statewide initiative designed to help all of Ohio’s colleges and universities — public and private, two-year and four-year — prevent and better respond to incidents of sexual violence.
The Changing Campus Culture report provides action steps to strengthen our focus on the safety and well-being of our students. It calls for campuses to adopt five recommendations aimed at preventing and responding to sexual violence: 1) Use data to guide action – specifically, an annual campus climate survey; 2) Empower staff, faculty, campus law enforcement and students to prevent and respond to sexual violence through evidence-based training; 3) Communicate a culture of shared respect and responsibility; 4) Develop a comprehensive response policy; and 5) Adopt a survivor-centered response. Many campuses already are doing some of this work.
The recommendations and the $2 million in state funding support implementation and ensure that all campuses are better prepared to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence. I applaud the Ohio Department of Higher Education and Chancellor John Carey for their collaborative and flexible approach. Input was sought and received from campuses across the state.
I had the privilege of being among a group of campus leaders that shared perspectives during the development of the recommendations. As a college president, I know one size does not fit all, but this unified approach provides the flexibility that addresses the diversity of Ohio’s colleges and universities. Our campuses are unique, and the response of the collective “we” is best when college leaders consider best practices and adapt those in the most meaningful and effective ways for our own campus. The resources pledged by Governor John Kasich and our legislature and administered through the Department of Higher Education provide the help where and when we need it the most.
I represent two different types of schools — a community college with many commuter students and a small private university with a residential campus. At Rio, we have purposefully heightened the conversation surrounding sexual violence — both on the prevention and response front. Yet there is more that must be done if we are to truly tackle this issue.
The objective for the Changing Campus Culture initiative is for 100 percent of Ohio’s campuses to adopt 100 percent of the recommendations by the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year. This work is important, and I have no doubt that together we can and will achieve this goal and build a culture of shared respect that ultimately makes our campuses safer for all students.
Michelle Johnston, Ph.D., is the president of Rio Grande Community College and the University of Rio Grande.