As University of Tennessee leaders returned to Knoxville, the conversations from a two-day summit about sexual assault continue.
But now that conversation moves to the students to help change the campus culture, said Katie High, UT vice president of academic affairs and student success.
“The magic occurs when you get those young people in the room,” she said.
No students attended the Tennessee Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Summit, which was held at Tennessee State University in Nashville at the same time as a trial that found two former Vanderbilt University football players guilt of raping another student.
Instead it was a “train the trainer” event, High said. And it’s a training that is likely to continue.
“I already have emails in my inbox about next year’s summit,” High said.
The event brought together those on college campuses who regularly face this issue, such as police and Title IX coordinators, and those who don’t, such as faculty leaders and chancellors. Roughly 450 campus leaders — including more than 100 from the UT system — from 76 schools of all sizes in the state attended sessions that focused on both awareness and improvement of response and prevention of sexual assault and rape.
“It’s important for higher education to see that all of us are trying to deal with the same issues,” said Jenny Richter, Title IX coordinator and interim director of the Office of Equity and Diversity on UT’s Knoxville campus.
The summit sessions didn’t address specific groups of students, such as the Greek community or athletes, but rather about all young people and an underlying campus culture that needs to change, High said.
Some students are confused about what sexual assault is, what rape is, what’s legal and what’s not, she said.
To change that, one idea from the summit is a week of education for UT students where the university says, “Let’s talk about keeping you safe,” High said.
She said the second week of the fall semester is a great time for that because that’s when many students are experiencing freedom for the first time and are vulnerable, especially the freshmen.
Sexual assault prevention is talked about at other times like orientation, but this education week would be a time to stress it again, High said.
In the meantime, High is starting meetings that will bring students together to do their own awareness campaigns.
“That’s some traction,” High said. “The university can’t mandate a change in behavior.”
High said she thinks universities can also work with high schools and church groups to start that behavior shift at a younger age.
And bringing colleges and universities in Tennessee together for the summit helped campus leaders learn from each other and make connections, Richter said.
“Not one of us is dealing with this in the same way,” she said. “That’s not a bad thing.”
She said thanks to the summit, leaders at the schools can call each other to talk about best practices and answer questions. The summit also provided opportunities to learn how those in other areas of the campus work.
Richter said she went to a session about law enforcement training because it was the area she was the least familiar with and found it fascinating how different a trauma-based interview is from a typical police interview.
High agreed that the police session was especially powerful because it stressed how personal and embarrassing questioning can be to someone who reports a sexual assault or rape.
It’s something that people in counseling may understand, but others might not think about, and that’s why the session worked, she said.
“To have them all listening to the same thing and buying into it, that’s very powerful,” High said.