Task force unveils new recommendations to reduce campus sexual assault and misconduct

The task force report reacts to the 2019 campus climate survey, which found 31% of undergraduate female respondents experienced sexual misconduct after entering USC.

The USC AAU Task Force released recommended actions in a report Oct. 5 to address the 2019 campus climate survey findings, including students' lack of knowledge and underreporting of sexual assault and misconduct.

Co-chaired by Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman and Vice President of Student Affairs Winston Crisp, the task force conducted community engagement events, including two town halls during the 2019-2020 academic year as an effort to improve USC’s campus climate. The task force was formed after the 2019 campus climate survey determined that USC’s prevalence of sexual assault among undergraduate women was rated the second highest (31%) among the 33 schools that participated in the survey.

“It really provides a roadmap for the various aspects of responding, reducing and preventing sexual assault and misconduct on our campus,” Van Orman said of the task force’s report, adding that it highlights the understanding that “we know there are groups of students disproportionately impacted and we have hired an advocate specially designated to work with LGBTQ students.”

Van Orman said USC Student Health has expanded its Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services (RSVP) unit, which tripled in size and hired employees in two important areas to address the findings in the 2019 report.

“With new staffs in the prevention and education team, we’ve rolled out a series of training for students,” she said, referring to the mandatory in-person freshman workshop about consent that was offered for the first time last fall. “We’re continuing that workshop to all incoming students and we’re adding for second-year students a requirement to do a workshop about healthy relationships.”

Van Orman also mentioned the launch of a bystander training program this fall, as well as specialized sessions and trainings for graduate and professional students.

“The second thing that we’ve added at Student Health through RSVP, which just started this January,” Van Orman said, “is a team of advocates who are specially trained to work with students who’ve experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking and they’re available 24/7 to students.”

Though campus resources have shifted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Van Orman said the initial evaluations of the remote workshops provided via Zoom showed promising feedback, suggesting students are engaged.

“We’ve had actually more students sign up this year, earlier than they did last year, so we’ve actually had more interest in the sessions,” she said. “Our violence prevention educators have redesigned the workshops to allow opportunities for some of the same interaction” that would occur during in-person sessions.

As for the future, the report includes a lengthy list of recommendations, such as the creation of a Campus Coordinating Response Team to encourage the prevention of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, as well as to make the implementation of the report publicized to the campus community. The report also suggests the creation of an online student resource and engagement portal and additional trainings for students.

Van Orman admitted a single online training is not enough to change the campus culture. “That’s why we’re trying to build out these series of multiple kinds of educational experiences. When students have multiple touchpoints at USC is what makes the difference in changing culture.”