DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Southern Methodist University is taking steps to return federal compliance after being found in violation of sex assault and anti-harassment guidelines.
SMU is vowing to return to compliance by Thursday night. Like all colleges that accept federal money, SMU must abide by Title IX, which means women cannot be discriminated against. Usually that means sports… here it means sexual assault.
“It has been a problem for the last two to three years I’ve been here and they have been addressing it,” senior Leslie Ratliff told CBS 11 News.
Ratliff believes the campus is changing the “party hearty, anything-goes” atmosphere that once held sway. Especially with new programs like “Not On My Campus” to fight unwanted sexual advances. “It’s programs like that really trying to bring awareness to the campus and basically extinguish the problem as much as they can.”
The U.S. Department of Education found that SMU generally failed to properly report sex crimes and provided inadequate support services for victims. Specifically saying a young man was assaulted by another male and was later harassed and retaliated-against.
The Dallas Area Rape Crisis Centers’ Bobbie Villareal gives SMU credit for identifying some problems. ” I think the first thing they identified was that there was not a clear reporting system.” And for addressing others. ” If there was a sexual assault on a college campus, who do they go to? Who is the Title IX coordinator? What sources that you can reveal—that you can go to—are confidential, what sources are not confidential? What are the safety procedures that a campus has? Do they partner with local experts in providing therapy, in providing counseling, in providing medical treatment?”
But the issue goes beyond so-called “acquaintance rape.” A blue light system can summon campus police if a stranger threatens. Awareness and personal responsibility are drilled into incoming freshmen. “The communication with the students has been excellent so far,” said first year student Elena Lerma. “The SMU PD is excellent, too, I see them everywhere, they’re always around campus.”
While not admitting to all of the charges, SMU says it has been sensitive to the concerns that began surfacing two years ago. “Our campus community is committed to preventing and vigorously addressing sexual misconduct and to promptly and equitably responding to complaints,” a statement said in part. The full statement can be accessed below.
“The general consensus around campus is that things were kind of lax in the past and so it’s good to see things stepping up and I’m glad the school is kind of taking the initiative to do that,” Junior Trevor Meagher told CBS 11 News adding, “We’ve been focusing on, from what it feels like to me, on the whole campus of just, ‘Everybody needs to be safe, everyone—this is everyone’s responsibility.’ Not just the men’s responsibility, not just the women’s responsibility, it’s really a campus-wide call for everyone to be more aware.”
Fellow junior Danielle Deraleau added, ” Since it’s getting more attention paid to it now hopefully it’s going in a good direction and things are going to continue to get better. Because that’s the ideal scenario that things continue to get safer, that everybody gets to feel more comfortable.”
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