University President Teresa Sullivan hosted a reception Thursday in the Special Collections Library to discuss the issue of sexual violence at the University. The reception covered a variety of issues, including the implementation of mandatory campus safety classes for students, how to better support survivors of sexual violence as a community and the issue of alcohol and partying.
About 150 students, faculty and members of the Charlottesville community attended the reception, which included a panel to facilitate discussion.
Law Prof. Anne Coughlin, a member of the panel, said rape and sexual assault are difficult subjects to teach, but whether mandatory or not, students should have access to a rich offering of classes on the subject. Attendees discussed the possibility of required academic classes in which campus life and safety are addressed.
Panelist Tim Davis, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said counseling is a valuable resource for sexual assault victims.
“Really, what we have to do is create an environment of introspection,” Davis said. “Counseling approaches are an amazing way to do that. Supporting survivors is a complex process. More resources are needed for counseling the survivors. We need more counselors. We need more resources to give that support to survivors.”
Panelist Susie Bruce, director of the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, said proper training for faculty, staff and academic advisors are key to dealing with instances of sexual assault.
“We want to make sure that all of our faculty and staff know to say ‘I believe you and it’s not your fault,’” Bruce said.
Panelists and attendants of the reception also discussed the role that alcohol, partying and “hook up” culture play in instances of violence and sexual assault.
“Alcohol is a contributing factor,” Bruce said. “It facilitates assault, but we could get rid of alcohol, and we would still have sexual violence. Though alcohol is related, it is not causal.”
Education Prof. Claire Cameron said she attended the reception to show support for her community and learn more about the issue at hand.
“I came because this is my community, and I care about it,” Cameron said. “I care about the young people especially. I think I learned the most from listening and especially from people that play different roles that are connected to the issue.”
Third-year College student Colby Wagenbach said he thinks the University has work to do to reduce sexual violence in the community.
“I decided to attend because it’s something that I think we’re not really getting to the heart of the matter about,” Wagenbach said. “I think the fact of the matter is, when you see something like the violence that was described, we need to ensure that we have a response that is equally powerful in terms of a willingness to act and affect change.”
Sullivan said she hopes the discussion will bring about real changes at the University.
“This is an issue that’s going to take the whole community,” Sullivan said. “I have hope that U.Va. will be a beacon to other communities because we’ll be a place that has figured this out.”