Some midstate college officials are applauding a proposed bill aimed at combating sexual assaults on college campuses.
The proposed legislation, which would require colleges to survey students about the issue of sexual assault on campus, would bring more awareness to the issue and help colleges increase prevention efforts, local campus leaders say.
“I’m really glad the issue of sexual assault is being focused on at a national level,” said Jennifer Graham, coordinator of the Women’s Center at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. “This kind of attention is great because it allows for there to be more conversations like this on college campuses.”
At Georgia College, workers at the Women’s Center have been tackling the issue for the past decade. The center educates students and provides support for victims. Advocates offer options for medical care and for reporting sexual assaults. They also accompany victims to the hospital or to the police station, Graham said.
Now, thanks to a three-year $300,000 federal grant, the center is increasing its efforts. Leaders are forming a sexual assault response team and, beginning this academic year, all incoming students will receive education on sexual assault prevention. Additionally, students will receive bystander education, which teaches them how to respond if they witness questionable behavior, Graham said.
“When they observe some type of risky situation, they have the knowledge and skills and ability to be active bystanders, to take a step forward and to step up,” she said.
Mercer University also is looking to put in place a bystander education program. Additionally, President Bill Underwood is forming a task force to make sure Mercer is “doing everything we can to prevent this,” said Doug Pearson, vice president for student affairs.
The university hosts education seminars for all new students, and a committee works throughout the year to provide awareness and education to all students. Mercer also encourages victims to file both university and criminal reports, and “we fully investigate any case that is reported to us,” Pearson said.
Mercer officials are reviewing several pieces of federal legislation aimed at curbing sexual assault on college campuses, including the most recent proposal.
“I think it’s a good thing. We’ve done periodic surveys from time to time to address campus culture on a lot of different things,” Pearson said. Those surveys “give you some good data. There’s no harm in any institution doing more.”
Like other institutions, officials at Middle Georgia State College are sifting through a growing number of federal mandates aimed at sexual assault on college campuses. Some requirements, including the new proposed legislation, remain unclear, and college Police Chief Shawn Douglas is attending a conference next week that will address the new laws, he said.
The college hosts defense classes on campus, and officials hold educational programs in the residence halls. Additionally, officials are looking to educate faculty on ways to spot offender behavior. It’s an effort to stop the crime before it happens, Douglas said.
As for the new proposed legislation, surveys should help campus leaders “better understand what students need or expect,” Douglas said.
Efforts to immediately reach officials from Wesleyan College and Fort Valley State University were unsuccessful Wednesday.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.