Chapter 9: Taking Action to Overcome Institutional Betrayal on College Campuses

by Edward Ray, Ph.D.

Posted on April 24, 2017

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On a fateful night in 1998, Brenda Tracy came to Corvallis, the city where Oregon State University (OSU) is located, to visit friends. The night went horribly wrong when Ms. Tracy* was sexually assaulted by four men. Two of the suspects at the time were members of the OSU football team, while two of the other suspects were not enrolled as Oregon State students. Law enforcement officials did not pursue criminal charges in this case.

I learned of this sexual assault for the first time in 2014—more than a decade after I began serving as Oregon State's president. After reviewing the police report and other university reports from 1998, I met with Ms. Tracy to share what I had learned and, most importantly, to apologize.

This profound and emotional meeting served as a wake-up call and a catalyst for my university to fully address its campus culture. I decided that Oregon State's existing and planned efforts to address sexual violence and provide survivor services were insufficient for the many students at risk of sexual violence. Our efforts also were not sensitive enough to the needs of survivors.

Sexual assault on college campuses is pervasive. In far too many cases, survivors feel burdened with a sense of institutional betrayal as they attempt—oftentimes alone and without others' understanding or care—to recover physically and emotionally.  

As university presidents and leaders, we all are acutely aware that sexual assault on college campuses is pervasive. In far too many cases, survivors feel burdened with a sense of institutional betrayal as they attempt—oftentimes alone and without others' understanding or care—to recover physically and emotionally, having been betrayed by the very colleges or universities they depend upon for student safety and security.

Over the past few years, Oregon State administrators, faculty, staff, and students have united to address what Susie Brubaker-Cole, our vice provost for student affairs, calls the overlapping "wicked problems" of alcohol, drugs, and sexual violence. 

In response, Oregon State has implemented a comprehensive strategy to prevent sexual violence and harassment and measurably address the use and consequences of high-incident and underage drinking and substance abuse in our campus community. OSU officials, student leaders, and community partners have redoubled our efforts to alter the sexual assault conversation.

Admittedly, we have much more work to do.

Within a year of learning of Ms. Tracy's assault, Oregon State opened the Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center (SARC) on our Corvallis campus. The SARC operates within the student health services center on a 24/7 basis to:

  • Provide confidential services for sexual assault survivors
  • Offer resources to help survivors navigate campus and community programs
  • Offer access to trained sexual assault nurses, if requested
  • Engage in partnerships with the Corvallis Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence and the local hospital

Since opening, the center has provided services to more than 240 survivors. Staff members have provided 14 trainings reaching more than 1,100 participants. 

Prior to SARC's opening, Oregon State had taken other steps to combat sexual violence. The University had joined the national "It's On Us" effort. Thanks to student leaders, these efforts and their results have grown significantly to foster a safer culture. Students are leading Oregon State's "It's On Us" efforts. Leaders from the Associated Students of Oregon State University work closely with the Prevention, Advocacy and Wellness Team in Student Health Services to create campus messages and support campaign efforts. Students have partnered with the Pac-12 Conference to create an "It's On Us" video featuring student leaders, who express their commitment to ending sexual violence and implore other students to do the same.

Additionally, Oregon State students and prevention professionals are involved in many other efforts, such as "Beavers Give a Dam," a bystander intervention program implemented last year by the violence prevention department of Student Health Services. In the first year of this program, nearly 3,000 Oregon State students participated, including all student athletes, all student body officers, all residence hall advisors, and hundreds of members of sororities and fraternities.

Oregon State's annual "Take Back the Night" event has grown from about 50 people participating a few years ago to crowds numbering between 400 to 500 students, faculty, staff, and community members of all ages. 

Creating a culture of safety and its relationship to student success takes on many forms. At Oregon State, we recognize the link between alcohol and drug use, abuse, sexual assaults, and student achievement. Up to 85% of sexual assault cases on college campuses involve alcohol, according to the American College Health Association. We also realize that students at risk are less successful academically and face many challenges to graduation.

Up to 85% of sexual assault cases on college campuses involve alcohol, according to the American College Health Association.  

In 2014, Oregon State's Student Health Services opened an Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention Center. This center is part of the University's growing Prevention, Advocacy and Wellness Team—also known as PAW—which works to combat high-risk alcohol and drug use and violence. The PAW team is an integral member of Oregon State's Prevention and Advocacy Coalition, which was created last fall. In early November, a town hall meeting to address high-risk and underage drinking was attended by members of the Prevention and Advocacy Coalition as well as students, public safety providers, university officials, and community leaders. The coalition works to address the causes of alcohol and drug use and dependency, as well as support students in recovery.

In the fall of 2013, Oregon State launched the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) to provide a nurturing environment in which students recovering from addiction can obtain recovery support while working toward their educational goals. Students participating in this community are presented with opportunities that offer long-term academic and career growth. Students are supported in their decision to live a life centered on recovery. This also encourages academic improvement and helps to build positive life skills. The program started with one student in 2013; 44 students have now been served. In the fall of 2014, the program expanded to include a Collegiate Recovery Community residence hall in partnership with University Housing and Dining Services. Campus-wide, Oregon State offers substance-free living environments in 25% of its residence halls.

In addition, new online modules are helping to educate students about drugs, alcohol, and sexual assault. For example, approximately 12,000 Oregon State students annually participate in required AlcoholEdu and Haven online courses aimed at combating alcohol abuse and sexual assault.

New online modules are helping to educate students about drugs, alcohol, and sexual assault.  

Oregon State's approach is not a go-it-alone institutional strategy but a comprehensive effort that engages students, faculty, staff, the Pac-12 Conference, state lawmakers, and others. 

For example, an educational and response partnership engages OSU, the city of Corvallis Community Relations Advisory Group, and the Corvallis Police Department to achieve these goals:

  • Improve community livability
  • Reduce the incidence of sexual violence and other violence associated with high-incident and underage drinking
  • Reduce high-incident drinking among students
  • Improve student and community safety associated with social events and alcohol consumption
  • Reduce student success risks associated with high-incident and underage drinking and drug use
  • Promote responsible behavior

Changes are occurring within Oregon State's academic colleges as well. The colleges of Pharmacy and Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences have implemented sexual harassment training and reporting systems with the goal that all faculty, staff, and students would complete prevention training every three years. Last spring's training involved approximately 50% of the faculty, staff, and students in each of these two colleges. This fall, additional trainings have taken place. I expect that other OSU colleges will adopt these programs as well.

These trainings enable Oregon State faculty, staff, and students to be able to report unwelcome verbal or physical sexual conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, unsafe, or offensive environment, whether on campus, off campus, or even in research field work. For example, participants in these programs receive "where do I report and refer" cards that provide listings of valuable resources, including website and telephone information.

In Oregon and nationally, the landscape of sexual violence on college campuses has evolved on many fronts.

In fall 2015, Oregon State instituted a nationally acclaimed policy prohibiting the admission of any transfer student who is not able to re-enroll for student conduct reasons in a post-secondary educational institution that they had attended in the past seven years. This policy applies to all transfer students, student-athletes, and graduate students. A similar policy for student-athletes was adopted by the Pac-12 Conference last spring under the sponsorship of Oregon State.

Oregon lawmakers voted to extend the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases to 12 years. Ms. Tracy was key in this significant action. Additionally, Ms. Tracy and I individually — and in some cases jointly — have spoken on this issue in Ohio, Nebraska, Texas, and Washington, D.C.  

These efforts are imperative for advancing a culture of campus safety and enabling a campus environment that supports student success.

The No. 1 goal of Oregon State University's Strategic Plan is to provide a transformative educational experience for all learners. Two key strategies to achieve this goal are Oregon State's Student Success Initiative (SSI) and a system of aligned and integrated health and wellness initiatives.

Earlier this year, I announced the Student Success Initiative, which will make an Oregon State degree an affordable reality for every qualified Oregonian by 2020. Through this effort over the next four years, Oregon State will better serve students of diverse backgrounds and ensure that all students achieve success "regardless of their economic status, the color of their skin or their family background." By 2020, the first-year retention rate for all students will be raised from 83.8 percent to 90 percent, and the six-year graduation rate will increase from 63.1 percent to 70 percent for all students.

Oregon State is focusing on four program areas for improvement in the early stages of the SSI:

  • Expanding access to experiential learning for undergraduates, including internships, study abroad, and other educational experiences
  • Enhancing academic advising through the use of data analytics and changing the focus of academic advisors toward a stronger outreach model for student success
  • Transforming the way donor scholarships are given to focus on grants for at-risk students, emergency grants for financially vulnerable students to stay enrolled, and completion grants for students nearing graduation
  • Ensuring that all student success data is disaggregated by key student demographic markers to address the achievement gap between white and underrepresented minority students and creating a specialized diversity student success role in every college to focus on the needs of historically underserved students

Oregon State continues to measure and observe the results of its many efforts. In the past three years, OSU has seen an overall decline in reported Clery Act crimes related to sexual violence and harassment and in Title IX cases managed by OSU's Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. At the same time, a growing reliance and engagement with the University's Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center is occurring. We realize that it is too soon to declare that meaningful change has occurred and will be sustained.

In the past three years, OSU has seen an overall decline in reported Clery Act crimes related to sexual violence and harassment and in Title IX cases managed by OSU's Office of Equal Opportunity and Access.  

But I can ensure that from the highest levels of University leadership to growing student engagement, Oregon State will continue its comprehensive efforts to provide for the safety of our campus community and success for all students.

*Note: Oregon State University has rigorous confidentiality policies that it adheres to in assisting survivors of sexual violence. However, the name of this survivor was shared given her significant and very public leadership role in telling her own story and advocating for change both in Oregon and nationally.