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Students on Locust Walk

Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

Students have called for Penn to change the way that it addresses the issue of sexual violence on campus following sexual assault survey results that indicated is behind its peer schools in sexual violence awareness.

The findings of the American Association of Universities’ Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault were released on Sept. 21, revealing that Penn students are disappointingly unaware of Penn’s resources and were less likely than their peers at other schools to bring issues forward.

According to the survey data, only 10.7 percent of respondents knew Penn’s definition of sexual assault, and only 12.6 percent knew where to make a report of sexual violence. Compared to peer institutions, students at Penn were relatively pessimistic about the University’s ability to handle complaints of sexual violence.

Students at Penn were also less likely than average to believe that a victim of sexual violence would be supported by fellow students in making a report, that campus officials would take the report seriously or that the safety of the victim would be protected.

Two months later, the administration has taken various steps to tackle the issue, and students can expect a number of changes in the way that sexual violence will be addressed on campus.

1. Mandatory freshman orientation modules for all undergraduates

In the coming months, the Thrive at Penn freshman orientation online module will be available to all undergraduate students. The program covers four topics: thriving at a research university, wellness and health, the risks associated with alcohol and other drugs and healthy relationships and sexual violence prevention. Though the University expects all students to complete the two-hour module over winter break, the University may require students to complete it before registering for classes in future semesters if the participation rate is too low.

2. Revamped student surveys to address sexual violence

Penn will revise its regular student surveys to include questions about awareness of resources for students who have experienced sexual violence. This spring, the Senior Survey will include these kinds of questions, some of which will overlap with questions that were asked on the AAU campus climate survey.

3. New campus groups and initiatives

Through the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life, Penn is beginning and expanding programs for educating and preventing sexual violence. About a month ago, Penn Anti-Violence Educators — a peer group that focuses on teaching other students how to be active bystanders — held its first workshop. Students can find more updates and opportunities on the Penn Violence Prevention website.

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