by Jayati Ramakrishnan
Sexual assault is a problem on college campuses across the United States. In the last few years, several cases have brought the issue to the forefront of national consciousness, so much so that in 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama put together a task force to combat the problem facing most colleges and universities in the USA. Among other things, the task force pledged to create training and awareness programs in schools and colleges for how to identify and combat sexual assault.
The task force also launched a campaign called "It's on Us." The campaign has created several videos and a pledge, encouraging students and other members of society to stand up against sexual assault and view themselves as the vehicle for change — hence the campaign's title. Now that it's been over a year since the campaign was launched, how successful has it been — and how much change has it brought to college campuses?
Awareness versus Action
The campaign has inspired a lot of important discussions on college campuses: sexual assault and rape is beginning to be recognized for the huge problem it is in universities and colleges, and it's more talked about than ever. Some colleges have made strides in creating safer environments for their students, both to report sexual assaults that do occur, and to prevent new ones from occurring.
A video featuring several celebrities, athletes, and civic leaders circulated, with many famous faces pledging their support for the campaign.
Several colleges have created their own public service announcements inspired by the original video, and many large organizations — college athletic leagues, the NCAA, and media outlets — have gotten on board, signing the pledge, or offering their resources to the campaign.
It's good to see the topic of sexual assault on college campuses getting so much attention, and the campaign has raised awareness in a lot of key areas, and gotten a lot of influential people on board. But has it been as effective in lowering numbers of sexual assaults on college campuses?
Some critiques of the task force posit that the awareness the campaign has undoubtedly raised doesn't translate to fewer sexual assaults. The Washington Examiner noted that while the campaign had rounded up support from many influential figures, the success of the program in reducing sexual assaults on campuses was inconclusive. U.S. News and World Report released a detailed story, stating that while the climate on some campuses has improved for victims to report, or for others to speak out against, sexual assault, more still needs to be done to combat the problem.
"Colleges overall need to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing sexual assault, rather than a piece-by-piece approach," the article says, quoting John Foubert, a professor at Oklahoma State University. "In addition to prevention programming, he says schools need to focus on improving their policies, strengthening adjudication processes and ensuring they are fair and equitable and developing sanctions for offenders."
It's important to have the support of influential figures and public entities in support of a program like this, as it gives steam to a major issue. What's important now is how the White House Task Force chooses to use that influence they've collected - hopefully to ignite major change in the climate of college campuses.