As one of two fraternities signed on to the White House’s “It’s On Us” initiative, Tau Kappa Epsilon is working to spread awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. A key goal: Help students learn intervention skills to stop an attack before it starts.
Although the credibility of a scathing Rolling Stone report on an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity crumbled last week, the article brought into the spotlight an issue that has dogged college campuses for years.
It’s an opportunity for us to be innovative, to be an industry leader, and to get ahead of and hopefully prevent some of these cases of sexual assault.
UVA isn’t alone in its struggles with addressing sexual assault: A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that nearly one in five college-aged women experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault, and a Department of Justice study released last week found that college students are less likely to report such assaults.
In a letter to UVA last week, national fraternity and sorority organizations outlined legislative steps that they were taking to address the issue, but one Greek organization is taking a different route to raise awareness and boost prevention.
The Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, a recipient of an ASAE Foundation 2014 Innovation Grant Program award, is one of two fraternities that has teamed up with the White House for the “It’s On Us” initiative launched by President Obama earlier this year. Some of the funding that TKE received from the IGP award will be used to develop programming for the campaign.
“The White House is working toward having a big program next summer and inviting folks from around the country, and the plan right now is for us to help create part of that program that would focus on sexual assault on college campuses,” said Donnie E. Aldrich, executive director at TKE. “It’s an opportunity for us to be innovative, to be an industry leader, and to get ahead of and hopefully prevent some of these cases of sexual assault.”
Aldrich said he’s glad the issue is finally getting the necessary attention. “The great thing is,” he said, “just like with the NFL and domestic abuse, this story has shined a light on this issue, and it’s something that really needs to be addressed.”
The details of the TKE program are still being worked on and eventually need to be approved by the White House, but Aldrich said the group has already identified bystander intervention as a focal point.
“I think a lot of times, folks don’t step in because they’re scared of ridicule or of the relationship that they might have with the individual, but we’ve got to get in a position where folks feel empowered and they’re comfortable doing just that,” he said. “And our hope is that this program will give people the skill set needed to feel comfortable having those discussions and to step in to prevent a very serious situation from happening.”
Colleges and universities have introduced other similar programs, but Aldrich believes the resources behind the TKE program and the “It’s On Us” initiative as a whole could eventually have a much wider application.
“If it’s done right, I think that this is something that could evolve into a much larger-scale program,” he said. “We’ll have to see as we do iterations of this, and as it continues to evolve and grow over the next six, nine months, if that’s something that college campuses have an appetite for. But I don’t see how they wouldn’t.”