Last month, President Joe Biden announced an executive order reviewing Title IX regulations and how they pertain to sexual misconduct. This review comes less than a year after the Trump administration released rules that, among other things, narrowed the definition of sexual harassment to offenses that are “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” as well as restricted the type of offenses universities must intervene in to those occurring on campus or “in conjunction with an education program or activity."
At Penn, the review was met with a mostly positive reception, with student leaders supporting the review. However, those same leaders also argued that Penn itself must not only implement the guidelines effectively, but also increase its efforts in combatting sexual misconduct.
Sexual misconduct plagues Penn's campus. In 2019, 25.9% of undergraduate women at Penn, 21.5% of transgender, genderqueer, and nonbinary undergraduates, and 7.3% of undergraduate men reported unwanted sexual contact. Given the size of Penn's campus, thousands of students have been victimized, and more will surely follow. Through increasing education on sexual assault prevention, increasing resources for Penn Violence Prevention, and helping survivors understand their options, the University can do exactly that.
Most obviously, Penn must improve education on issues surrounding sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct. Education is an often suggested tool to combat sexual assault, with bystander training and risk reduction being particular topics that should be taught, as well as ways in which the prevalence of sexual violence can be reduced. Therefore, Penn should mandate additional sexual violence prevention programs. Through focusing sexual misconduct prevention efforts on student groups such as fraternities and student clubs, as one activist suggested, Penn could take a powerful step in combatting sexual violence.
Second, increase resources for Penn Violence Prevention. Over the past few years, PVP has been relocated twice. Despite the second relocation being a move back on campus, the program's move off campus angered students, with many arguing it signaled a lack of commitment by Penn to tackling sexual violence. The University must rebuild trust with the Penn community by increasing resources for PVP. For example, PVP should expand its full-time staff from its current number of four to six. While such an increase may seem arbitrary, it is much more preferable for PVP to be overstaffed than understaffed, as occurred when the program lacked a director back in 2019. Hiring more staff members sends a powerful signal to the Penn community: that the University is doing everything in its power to combat sexual violence.
Finally, Penn must do a better job at providing survivors with a clear picture of their options. Just 22.4% of students said they were “very or extremely knowledgeable” about finding help if they are a victim of sexual assault, and a mere 9% of students said they were “very or extremely knowledgeable” about what happens after reporting sexual assault. These startling statistics need correction. To combat this problem, the University should mandate annual education for students on what happens after an assault is reported, as well as what their options are if they are a victim of sexual assault.
Sexual assault and harassment are epidemics plaguing American society, and Penn's campus is no exception. However, through doing a better job helping survivors understand their options, educating students at large, and increasing support for Penn Violence Prevention, the University can combat this pervasive problem.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.