President Barack Obama announced late last month that he is establishing a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, taking a more proactive approach to address dangers and incidences of sexual assault at colleges and universities across the nation.
The new task force will include the combined efforts of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, amongst other federal departmental heads, and the team will have about three months to submit a report on how federal government officials can better combat sexual assault. In a statement about the new task force, Obama stated, “the prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation’s institutions of higher education is both deeply troubling and a call to action.”
According to Jill Dunlap, director of Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) and Women’s Center Programs, President Obama’s new force will hopefully bring national attention to the reoccurrences of sexual assault on campuses nationwide.
“It is a solid step for Obama to recognize [sexual assault on campus] nationally,” Dunlap said. “It gives a lot of credibility to people, like us, who have been raising awareness about it on campus. It’s a problem on every college campus across the country and national focus is important.”
Earlier this quarter, Associated Students passed a resolution looking to change sexual assault policy on campus. Dunlap said the resolution is the student government’s response to a new expanded policy — regarding sexual harassment, sexual violence and stalking — that the UC system has recently adopted.
According to A.S. Senator Beatrice Contreras, President Obama’s task force will change the parameters of discussion surrounding sexual assault.
“It will change the type of conversations we have. Isla Vista is a very unique place and the kinds of assault and environments that assault happen in our school are very different than at other schools,” Contreras said. “We are working with administration that know our environment. It will allow us to work with what we have around us and what our community needs.”
Contreras said it is crucial that UCSB staff know how to respond when dangerous or sensitive situations arise, and she added that it is crucial for students to know all the available options for assistance.
“Some of the things we are doing is a possible revision of the UC policy, creating a social media campaign, and increasing awareness of the resources,” Contreras said. “We have a lot of resources that are available that the University doesn’t make known that we have.”
Additionally, the A.S. Senator said the conversation surrounding sexual assault at UCSB needs to include more active support of victims.
“We need to take care of each other and not put the survivors accountable for what is happening to them,” Contreras said. “We need a community to foster healing and comfort and doing what we can to help. We need to be proactive in changing the arguments regarding sexual assault.”
Currently, A.S. is working with Dunlap to create social media platforms that will better reach out to students. But Dunlap said UCSB is already taking positive steps by creating awareness programs like Gaucho FYI.
“I think we have done a good job being proactive … Gaucho FYI has already been implemented,” Dunlap said.
[Editor's note: A previous of this article misquoted Beatrice Contreras as having said "victims" rather than "survivors."]