LSUS and Southern University at Shreveport will be affected by a state-level policy being drafted to address how claims of sexual assault are handled on Louisiana’s college campuses.
The new guideline, being drafted by a state Board of Regents committee, is expected to require colleges and universities to institute regular campus-wide sexual assault climate surveys.
The policy also will call for the state’s four higher education systems — Louisiana Technical and Community College, LSU, Southern University and University of Louisiana — to develop stronger, more specific campus policies.
Uma Subramanian, Board of Regents deputy higher education commissioner for legal and external affairs, said during a task force meeting in Baton Rouge Tuesday the proposal is “light years away” from where leaders started in October, when it was revealed that there was no statewide policy for schools.
An approach to handling sexual assault is already in place at LSUS, where its 4,500 students are advised to notify campus police immediately upon being attacked and to preserve evidence by refraining from showers or brushing teeth. According its annual security report, LSUS strongly urges students to work with campus police who can assist in reporting a rape or sexual assault to the Shreveport Police Department or the Caddo Sheriff’s office, if appropriate, or to the university’s administration for disciplinary proceedings.
Paula Atkins, LSUS director of student development, said students are free to choose whether to go directly to local police or to university officials in the event of a sexual assault. Atkins isn’t involved in the crafting of the new statewide policy, but said she’ll help ensure LSUS’ policy is consistent with the guidelines.
There were no reported sexual assaults on the LSUS campus for the years 2011-2013, according to crime statistics provided by the university.
No student groups at LSUS are known to focus on speaking out about sexual assault, according to several faculty and administrators.
“This might be due to the fact that LSUS is a commuter campus in that most students do not reside on campus during the academic year,” wrote criminal justice professor Bernadette Palombo, in an e-mail. “I know that sexual assault is a problem on residential campuses, but am unaware of the problem on commuter campuses.”
Angie Pellerin, a graduate assistant in student development at LSUS, said her office is coordinating outreach programs to educate the student body about sexual assault through films and discussion panels. In addition, freshmen are required to complete an interactive online sexual assault prevention program.
At SUSLA, a similar policy is in place stating students should notify campus police in the event of an assault. From 2011-13, there was one sexual assault reported on campus, 10 reported occurrences of dating violence and two reported cases of stalking, according to the institution’s 2014 annual report.
Representatives authorized to speak about campus sexual assault at SUSLA did not respond to requests for comment.
Kate Pedrotty, Centenary College of Louisiana spokeswoman, said it’s not clear how or if the draft policy would affect the small liberal-arts institution, as it is private. The school maintains a 24-hour sexual assault hotline for students and regularly sponsors free rape aggression defense classes, she said.
The new policy from the Board of Regents could be the basis for more concrete legislation that will be proposed in this year’s legislative session.
Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault executive director Ebony Tucker said that it’s common for sexual assault victims to report to campuses, rather than police, because the burden of proof is lower and the legal process can be traumatic.
“At least you don’t have to go to class with the person who sexually assaulted you,” Tucker said some victims decide.