Arkansas lawmakers are trying to get a grasp on the incomplete picture of sexual assaults on college campuses. One legislative effort is in an early stage that will stretch until July of next year.
Hailing from the heart of the University of Arkansas system, Fayetteville, Democratic State Representative Greg Leding is leading the effort to analyze how Arkansas colleges deal with issues of sexual assault on campus.
“One of the reasons we launched this study was to drill down and find out what the students are seeing that maybe the rest of us aren’t,” said Leding.
Leding and the Higher Education subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council are trying to line up the facts on sexual assaults on state campuses.
“A couple years ago a White House task force on protecting students from sexual assault issued a set of recommendations. Among those recommendations, included conducting a campus climate survey,” said Leding. “I’ve been working with a professor to put together a survey like that and out of curiosity reached out to Dr. Powell about a month ago to find out if any of the campuses in the state had undertaken one of these surveys. Out of the campuses that responded none of them yet had.”
But Dr. Brett Powell, the director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, did say information could be gleaned from national surveys. Responding to a question from Rep. John Payton (R-Wilburn), Powell said it’s possible up to 20 percent of female students in Arkansas higher education institutions believe they’ve been sexually assaulted on campus.
“If you look at national statistics, I don’t think 20 percent is out of the norm of what gets reported,” said Powell.
Powell said some Arkansas colleges have participated in a different type of national survey, Everfi’s Haven online orientation and training program. He said 35 percent of students exhibited unhealthy profiles.
“They were more likely to be male, younger, athletes, or members of Greek association,” he said.
University of Arkansas officials were also on hand to testify to legislators. Tamla Lewis, associate general counsel with the UA, said when an athlete is involved in a Title IX case it can complicate how a victim responds.
“If something occurs with an athlete, I think they [complainants] want to remain as anonymous as possible because they don’t want to be perceived as interrupting someone’s life,” said Lewis. “That’s just the sad truth.”
Lewis said of the 121 sexual misconduct complaints received under Title IX over the past three years at UA, less than 10 have been to be unsubstantiated. She also acknowledged that the university has some cases under federal investigation.
“As you may know, our campus University of Arkansas Fayetteville, received a notice of three complaints that had been filed last year,” said Lewis. “In 2014 there were 55 investigations open, in 2015 there were 94, and as of today there were 243 [nationally]. I think the numbers might be because there is increased awareness on our campuses and students are starting to file complaints.”
While the UA did not complete a sexual assault campus climate survey last year, Lewis said they did in 2014 and have planned to do so again this fall.
Representative Leding hopes to get more colleges to do the same next year – under a single survey - to help inform how he and the legislature will act in July of next year – when the committee finishes its look at sexual assault on college campuses.