Dean of Students Dr. Robert Dana announced Wednesday that the University’s Safe Campus Project has been reconfigured as a new Sexual Violence Response, Education and Prevention Program to be located within the Division of Student Affairs. In October, Dana stated that the Safe Campus Project would continue to find a replacement coordinator after the previous coordinator, Carey Nason, resigned in June.
In an email to the University community, Dana wrote, “We have been well served by the Safe Campus Project and its commitment to serving all members of this community by making this a safer and more productive campus community.”
The Safe Campus Project was located in the Women’s Resource Center in Fernald Hall, founded on a six-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001 to focus on sexual and domestic violence awareness on campus for the entire community. It specialized in confidential, on-campus counseling specifically designated for sexual and domestic issues. After 2006, the University decided to continue the program, due to its success. In the email, Dana stressed the programs under the Safe Campus project will continue in the new program, located in the Office of Student Affairs.
“The new program will contain all of the elements and more,” Dana said. “It will have more coverage because sexual violence prevention is now being discussed in Residential Life Programs, Greek Programs and many more. We didn’t want to take the name of the Safe Campus project because it was proprietary. The new Sexual Violence Response, Education, and Prevention Program will allow us to connect the dots in ways that the Safe Campus Project could not.”
Concerns have been raised that the new program, located in the office of Student Affairs will not be as forthcoming to those who have been a victim of sexual assault. Studies show that victims of sexual assault and violence report less often to administrative organizations like the office of Student Affairs, and report more often to free-standing bodies like the former Safe Campus Project, where they feel more comfortable. A 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that less than 5 percent of those who have been a victim of sexual assault on a college campus report to the proper authorities.
Alex, an undergraduate student who wished not to reveal her last name for personal reasons, expressed that she felt more comfortable in freestanding organizations, like the former Safe Campus project, rather than the new Sexual Violence Response, Education and Prevention Program located in the office of Student Affairs. “I would feel uncomfortable going into the office of Student Affairs to report something,” she said. “Going to the counseling center on campus, I feel more comfortable because I know that everyone in the center is going through the same thing that I am. It is intimidating going into an office where there are many things going on, and someone could see me.”
Dana said this was a concern when the Presidential Working Group made the decision to move the responsibility to the office of Student Affairs, but they had to make sure that the University complied with the Dear Colleague Letter and the Clery Act, the operative laws that lay out guidelines for universities nationwide to tackle sexual violence. Dana indicated that a new interpretation of both the Clery Act and the Dear Colleague Letter required the University to change its practices.
“If a University knows, or reasonably knows that sexual violence has occurred, then the University must to X, Y, and Z,” Dana said.
A review of the Clery Act and the Dear Colleague Letter gives universities “Discretion in their statement wording and how the policies and procedures are put into practice.” While the law does require universities to take action to address sexual violence, it does not state that a freestanding body, like the former Safe Campus Project, is prohibited.
The email sent by Dana said that students and employees may also continue to access confidential services provided in the community by Rape Response Services and Spruce Run, both based in Bangor, Maine, but did not say whether the Sexual Violence Response, Education and Prevention Program would be confidential.
“By process of exclusion, I read this to mean that the new program is not confidential,” said Renate Klein, co-chair for the Safe Campus Advisory Committee and an internationally renowned expert on Gender Conflict. “The former Safe Campus Project specialized in providing what is called victim advocacy services, in which there are two keys: The first is that you can be assured that you can talk to someone who is well trained in the type of specialized support needed, and the other is that your information will remain anonymous and in control at all times. I fear that the new program under the office of Student Affairs does not do the latter.”
Dana later said that the new program would be anonymous and now complies with The Dear Colleague Letter and Clery Act.
“There is a provision in the law that states that if a sexual assault is such a heinous threat to the community, and the victim did not want to do something about it, the law requires that we report it to the authorities,” Dana said.
“We feel that the Clery Act and the Dear Colleague Letter did not require the university to eliminate the Safe Campus Project, and that the law is left intentionally ambiguous, and gives discretion to universities to decide best practices,” said Sharon Barker, director of the Women’s Resource Center at UMaine.
Barker said the Safe Campus Project was required under university policy to use identifying features on forms to report sexual violence when the program was in existence, but it refused to fill out the forms.
“The Clery Act just requires that we give statistics. We felt like we were protected under state and federal law, so we did not fill out those identifying features and left them blank,” Barker said. “If women are not guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity, then they are less apt to report. I think the office of Student Affairs, under good intentions, have tried to connect the dots, but I think less students are going to report sexual violence and assault because of these barriers.”
However, both sides agreed that the culture of sexual violence on college campuses nationwide was increasing and preventative programs must be put in place to change this culture. Dana, Barker and Klein all agree that sexual assault needs to be victim centered.
“It is one of the worst things that can happen on a college campus,” Dana said. “Everyone is doing all they can to stop it.”
Student-victims to sexual or domestic abuse can contact the Campus Police Station, the on-campus Counseling Center, Spruce Run or the office of Student Affairs.