First-year Katherine Johnson was excited to check her Miami email account for the first time, last spring. But when she logged in, Johnson was overcome by a sense of dread.
What am I getting into? she wondered, as she clicked through the four or five sexual assault-related crime alerts in her inbox.
“I feel like you can read as much as you want about people with past experience in college, and all the statistics, but when you actually see it happens, that was just kind of a wakeup call,” said Johnson. “This is where you’re going to live for the next four years, and this is what’s happening there.”
Two sexual assaults were reported in Oxford the weekend of Sept. 1, then two more on Sept. 22. But while Miami’s sexual assault reports have increased over the past year, administrators don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing.
Becca Getson, Miami’s Deputy Title IX coordinator for matters related to sexual violence, and Kathie Wollney, education and outreach coordinator for sexual and interpersonal violence, both said it’s actually the opposite.
“We know that this is happening,” said Wollney. “We know that there’s a discrepancy between reporting numbers and the actual rate of incidents. When we see those start to become a little closer, we see that as a good thing because people are accessing the resources that we have, and hopefully they’re getting the support and the help that they need.”
To prepare for the reality of sexual assault at college, this year’s incoming freshmen completed mandatory online modules through a program called Haven and were presented with a series of skits at orientation on matters related to sexual assault, consent and relationships.
Johnson said while she found the skits “informative,” she felt they were more for potential victims of sexual assault, rather than the perpetrators.
“Everybody needs to know what the consequences are if you were to do it [sexual assault],” said Johnson. “I mean, it’s a crime., You need to know what’s gonna happen, what’s gonna happen to you in the future, what’s gonna happen to you here at school . . . I feel like that needs to be shared with everybody.”
But Johnson, and first-year Devine Anderson, both agreed that in general, they feel the administration has provided them with enough resources and guidance that they would know what to do if they or one of their friends were sexually assaulted.
Anderson said she was pleased with Miami’s willingness to spark conversation about sexual assault, but that her peers aren’t always willing to do the same.
“I mean, it could happen to anyone,” said Anderson. “So I feel like people need to be aware of it and want to talk about it.”
Director of Admissions Susan Schaurer said that when the office of admissions and tour guides receive questions about sexual assault from visitors, they’re almost always from the parents — who do their best not to “embarrass” their kids by inquiring.
Schaurer said that, in weekly meetings, tour guides are trained to respond to these questions when they do come up, and to point out safety measures the university has in place, like swipe access-only residence halls, the blue emergency lights dotting campus and the “It’s On Us” campaign.
“It’s something we are armed and ready to talk about,” said Schaurer, “But it’s certainly not central to the conversations taking place.”
Getson said that the administration is currently working to diminish the “stigma” clouding conversations about sexual assault, and to make the university’s policies clearer for students.
While in the past, Getson also said, Miami’s sexual assault outreach programs have focused primarily on victim resources, they’ve expanded these to encompass bystander outreach as well.
“Everyone can be involved in this,” said Getson. “So, for many, many, many years it’s been thought of as a women’s issue. It’s been thought of as an ‘oh, well, if you’re a victim of it, people can’t really get involved . . .’ What we want to encourage is, everyone has a voice in this, everyone can participate and everyone can help prevent and end the violence that’s happening on our campus.”