Posted March 2, 2016
Starting this fall, incoming freshman and returning students at UW-River Falls will have to complete an online course about sexual assault and harassment before they can register for classes.
The course is aimed at raising awareness about the issue. UW System President Ray Cross commissioned a task force in 2013 to combat the climate of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses in Wisconsin.
Gregg Heinselman, UW-River Falls associate vice chancellor for student affairs, served on the task force. He said that national data about sexual assault show that the crimes goes substantially underreported. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, rape and sexual assault victimizations of students go unreported to the police 80 percent of the time.
The task force found that providing some sort of baseline education and training about sexual assault was a best practice, but was not being offered in the UW System.
In the past, at new student orientation, there has been a sexual assault awareness program that students could attend. However, Heinselman said, this did not really meet the federal standard.
The new program, Heinselman said, should result in an increase in reporting of sexual assault and harassment.
“As we build a culture of reporting and awareness amongst our student, faculty and staff,” Heinselman said, “our numbers should increase, because people are reporting what went underreported before.”
In 2012, there was one reported case of a sex offense on UWRF campus, according to the annual security and fire safety report. In 2013, there were no reports of sex offenses, but in 2014 there were eight.
At UW-Madison, which three years ago instituted the same type of training that is coming to UW-River Falls, reports of sex offenses increased from 15 in 2012 to 34 in 2014, according to that university’s annual crime and safety report.
The new training program will be introduced to River Falls in three phases.
First, the university will address incoming freshman and new students. Starting this fall, they will receive an email explaining how to go online and take the class.
The second phase will address returning students. Before registration for spring 2017 classes, students will have to complete the course. The university will restrict registration until completion of the class.
“There is no way for us to guarantee that every student sat in that session. We are obligated by federal law to verify that students have been trained,” Heinselman said.
The third phase will address faculty and staff who also will be required to complete the online training.
Student Senate has drawn attention to the It’s On Us initiative that was put in place by the Obama Administration in September 2014. The main focus of the campaign was to create conversation and engage the community about the issue, according to Christopher Morgan, Student Senate president. These conversations then might create policy changes, Morgan said.
“Now every student will be mandated to complete training,” Morgan said. “That is coming out of the Obama-Biden Administration, but we see it has a significant victory in combating sexual assault.”
With this new training, the University will now be able to verify that every student has been educated. Heinselman said the University is simply striving to comply with federal standards. However, the training will not replace other sexual assault awareness programs, Heinselman said, because they remain a key factor in prevention.
The cost of the class has not been finalized, as the University is currently analyzing bids from software companies. However, Heinselman said the cost is estimated at roughly $1.50-$2 per student. Heinselman built in a $2 increase to the new student fee through the New Student and Family Programs budget, which was approved Feb. 23 by the Student Senate.