By LAURA CARRELL
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — When President Barak Obama formed the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in late January, colleges and universities began the wait to see what would be required of them.
Looking over the policies they already have in place, some schools are finding they already go above and beyond what is currently required.
In the Jan. 22 announcement, Obama gave the task force 90 days to compile recommendations on how schools can do a better job with prevention and response of sexual assault. Chris Bowser, dean of students at Indian Hills Community College, says the school believes they are ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting and supporting students.
"I'd be shocked if one came out contrary to what we're already doing, but we would do everything we can to enact their recommendations," he said. "We believe we are very well governed (on compliancy), and they will be things we would do regardless of the issue."
Iowa CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) reports that in the United States, about 22 million women and 1.6 million men have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Those who have been sexually assaulted are also more likely to have depression, battle substance abuse or suffer from a wide range of physical ailments.
"Much like Ottumwa, a college is a community themselves, and they're at no more risk than any other community," Bowser said. "But this is very much on our mind as a student service team. We think we're doing a pretty good job, but that doesn't mean we can't implement what they recommend."
Much of what colleges do now to prevent and report sexual abuse on campus stem from the Clery Act and SaVE Act. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE) is a 2013 amendment to the federal Jeanne Clery Act. SaVE was designed to help bolster the response to and prevention of sexual violence in higher education.
The first step, Bowser said, is preventing sexual abuse on campus in the first place. Students are notified before classes even begin about resources that are available and the campus' safety information. This year, this information will also be part of the mandatory student orientation. The model program will include informing the new students of their rights on campus and how the SaVE Act affects them personally. Bowser stresses that this is already being done, but it will now be part of the mandatory orientation.
There are also more than 100 security cameras on campus, but that technology is coupled with some good, old-fashioned reporting skills.
"The best eyes and ears are still our students and faculty themselves," Bowser said. "They know they can call the security number. It really does take a village — we're all the eyes and ears."
Perhaps most importantly, Indian Hills officials meet once a week for a threat assessment. Bowser says that directors of each department talk about potential threats on campus, often based on reports given by students, teachers and faculty, and make plans on how to handle them. This may mean talking to a student individually or reviewing policy on specific situations.
Jackie Greenfield, director of student health and wellness at Indian Hills, says one important piece of the puzzle is providing as much information about preventing sexual abuse as possible.
"We do a program here once or twice a year with nationally recognized speakers. They talk about what true assault is and advocacy," she explained. "SaVE makes us, and other schools across the country, accountable. It's about education and prevention."
The second part of the plan is to handle situations as they arise. When assault is reported on campus, it is reported to the Ottumwa Police Department. Greenfield says that health and wellness services, including counseling, are available.
"It's our job to advocate, to go to law enforcement. We'll circle back as many times as necessary to take care of our students," Bowser added.
For public knowledge, schools are required to have many different kinds of information available, including reports of sexual abuse. These records can be found at www.indianhills.edu/about/consumerinfo.html.
"We're required to have this information out there, and it also includes our policies on drugs, alcohol, crime security and fire safety," Bowser said.
Preventing sexual assault on the Indian Hills campus didn't begin with a task force — it began with providing for the students' needs.
"We value every student so much, treat them like family," Bowser said. "We're not perfect, but we work to do what we think is right, following the rules, policies and procedures. I hope they feel like family when they come here."