By Megan Flynn and Hope Mueller
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A report released in December by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education is the first of its kind to measure reported incidents of sexual assaults on college campuses and their outcomes.
The report, required by a law passed in 2015, included public and private colleges and universities and showed the number of sexual assaults reported to each school for the 2015 calendar year.
CSB and SJU, which were listed together in the report, had 21 reported cases, the highest number of reported cases of the private schools included in the data. St. Ben’s and St. John’s fell second on the list of campuses with most reported incidents, behind the University of Minnesota, which had 47 cases
reported. Carleton College and the University of St. Thomas were both close behind with 20 cases each in 2015. The report also includes a category for how many of these cases were investigated by the schools or reported to law enforcement as well as how many resulted in disciplinary action. At CSB and SJU, 11 of the 21 cases resulted in disciplinary action greater than a warning.
While it is useful to see this data laid out more clearly and publicly than before, CSB Dean of Students Jody Terhaar says further interpretation is needed to truly understand what the numbers mean.
“The numbers in and of themselves don’t tell the whole story,” Terhaar said. “I think what [the report] does is it presents information that should prompt people to seek more information out, because it’s confusing.”
Terhaar said she interprets the numbers to mean that the schools are succeeding in their efforts to make it possible for people who have experienced a sexual assault to come forward and report to the schools. She said she hopes the numbers indicate that students know where to report and what the avenues are for getting assistance after an assault occurs.
What Terhaar says needs the most interpretation is the difference between the number of reported assaults and the number the schools have investigated.
“I think there might be an assumption that every report provides us with everything we need, but reports come to us in a whole variety of ways—anonymous, third party, complete, incomplete,” Terhar said.
She explained that if a student reports but doesn’t want to pursue further, the schools then focus on offering that student support rather than investigating the situation.
“Particularly when a report comes in from the person who believes they were harmed we really want to take our cues from that person,” Terhaar said. “So if a student comes and says, ‘I think I had this experience, but I don’t want to tell you who the person is,’ my goal isn’t to force her to tell me who the person is. My purpose is to make sure that she has the support that she needs—and the same thing would be true if it was a male.”
While the data itself can’t reduce sexual violence on campus, Terhaar says she hopes it will provide some transparency and allow people to ask questions about how to best address the issue. She also says she doesn’t expect the numbers to plummet anytime soon.
“I would love our numbers to go down,” Terhaar said, “But I think they’re going to continue to grow because this issue is everywhere. I think that as more people have confidence in being heard and being supported, and know that there are people on both campuses and in the broader community who hear and understand, people will have more confidence coming forward.”
Faculty and Staff’s Role
Students and administrators alike agree: knowing that sexual assault happens at CSB/SJU is important. Educating the community in ways to prevent,
protect and provide resources for those who have experienced sexual assault is equally important says Lori Klapperich, assistant director of health promotions at CSB/SJU.
Klapperich says she noticed a large audience missing from the sexual assault prevention conversation—faculty and staff. A subcommittee of 50 faculty and staff members were invited to engage in conversation about education surrounding sexual assault and prevention.
“We can’t just educate students,” Klapperich said. “We are all a part of this community and we all contribute to what this community looks like. So in order to do that we have to figure out what each constituency needs and that first step is with faculty and staff.”
The committee’s main focus is on education. Members of the cohort learn and teach others how to report—all faculty/staff are required reporters—encourage professors to write text into their syllabi about providing assistance to students and outline definitions for students on what sexual assault is.
This committee, Klapperich reiterates, is meant to focus on what faculty/staff can do for students in regards to sexual assault because without the necessary tools, faculty/staff are unable to participate in efforts to create a safe campus for everyone.
“It’s making sure we can bring all of that energy and all of that knowledge [from faculty/staff] and focus together on one thing,” Klapperich said.