The Husch Blackwell report commissioned by LSU to investigate Title IX issues on campus resulted in a list of 18 recommendations to improve the University’s sexual assault procedures. None of the recommendations focused on the prevention of sexual assault, but the new Title IX Office is implementing several steps to address the root cause of these issues: campus culture.
Jane Cassidy was appointed as Interim Vice President of the Office of Civil Rights & Title IX on March 15, which was created in response to one of Husch Blackwell’s recommendations. Cassidy said her goal is to rebuild trust in the Title IX office and ensure that students feel safe and supported coming forward to report instances of sexual assault.
“The long term goal is to change the culture on campus,” Cassidy said. “We are no different at LSU than in Baton Rouge, than in Louisiana, than in the nation. Everyone has problems with this. It’s going to take a long time to change the culture.”
Cassidy said the Athletics Department has contracted with Sexual Trauma Awareness Response (STAR) to provide sexual assault training for athletes and coaches. One training session was already conducted. The University has a separate contract with STAR for training related to the overall student body. Athletics also commissioned A Call to Men, a national violence prevention organization which provides training and education for men. This organization frequently works with NFL teams.
Cassidy said these training sessions are not about “checking the box” or public appearance. Instead, they are focused on changing the culture within athletics.
In addition to this, the Title IX website will be updated, and communication with students will be streamlined. STAR will evaluate all current sexual assault trainings that students undergo, such as MyStudentBody, and make recommendations to LSU about altering these programs by June 2021.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Cassidy said athletes will wear teal wristbands at their competitions. Announcements will be made to raise public awareness about issues of sexual assault.
“We’re doing blitz work here,” Cassidy said.
President and CEO of STAR Racheal Hebert said statistics show college campuses are breeding grounds for sexual assault, which is ingrained in the culture. Hebert said there is an issue beyond Title IX at the University that needs to be adequately addressed.
“I think, in a lot of ways, the culture of LSU and a lot of universities don’t do enough to outline things like consent or the complexities of drinking and having sex, or doing drugs and having sex,” Hebert said. “Certainly at LSU, a big football college, a big party college, there’s definitely going to be more implications.”
Hebert said the idea of prevention is often misunderstood to be risk reduction. Institutions usually promote women taking self defense classes or carrying pepper spray in order to avoid situations where they could be sexually assaulted. This is not prevention, Hebert said, it is risk reduction.
“A lot of the ways we talk about prevention is really targeted at victim-prevention, which we know doesn’t really prevent anything,” Hebert said. “We definitely want to support people protecting themselves and being smart. But we know that’s not preventing rape from happening. If we really want to end sexual assault we have to prevent perpetration. We need to be reaching potential perpetrators.”
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network cites that eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim — an acquaintance, a friend, a partner or a family member. Random assaults committed by someone unknown to the victim account for about one-fifth of rapes.
Hebert said more should be done to educate women about the dangers of automatically trusting everyone they know, and even those they are in relationships with.
“For so long we’re trained as kids, you know, ‘stranger danger,’ and then when we grow up we have a sense of comfort around our friends or acquaintances or even people we meet tailgating or going to a game with,” Hebert said. “We have this feeling that ‘oh, we know each other, nothing’s going to happen.’ But we actually know that the majority of these assaults are happening with people we know and these acquaintance-type situations.”
Hebert said a good first prevention step would be to educate students on recognizing predator-like behavior that could occur in normal college situations, such as a man cornering a woman at a party, trying to get her to drink excess alcohol or take drugs, offering to drive her home or getting her alone in some way. She also said more training focused on healthy sexuality and relationships should be conducted.
“Culture is everywhere, it’s like water,” Hebert said.
Lighthouse Program Coordinator Susan Bareis agreed that training is an essential part of sexual assault prevention and culture change at LSU.
“Culture change is a long process,” Bareis said. “But it comes from all levels. In my role at this university, I work for the students. I think their voices are really important. But that change from administration is really important, too.”
Bareis said after having several meetings with LSU administration, she would describe their demeanor towards changing campus culture as “proactive.”
“It’s important to recognize there’s a lot of mistrust with administration,” Bareis said. “That’s going to take a lot of time to repair when it comes to students and among faculty and staff who feel that mistrust as well.”
Political communication sophomore Kimsey Stewart said she believes changing LSU’s culture relies on a partnership between the student body and administration.
“Social pressure can only do so much,” Stewart said. “It needs to be a combination of social change amongst the student body and administration taking punitive actions against people who assault women.”
Stewart has fought alongside survivors to enact change within the student body and Title IX office but has seen few decisive actions taken from administration on that front, she said.
“Change is coming,” Stewart said. “It’s coming very slowly, and it’s not coming in the way we want it to or need it to. But every incremental change I’m thankful for, even as I’m pushing for more to happen.”