Among the challenges facing higher ed institutions in addressing sexual violence on their campuses is this one: There will never be enough people specifically assigned to this task to handle the need.
That’s why Sarah Hurtado says confronting interpersonal violence is everyone’s responsibility.
“I joke with people that you can give me any topic in the world and I will connect it back to interpersonal violence,” Hurtado said. “I will find the thread. I will find a way because we are all connected to this issue, whether we like to think we are or not. And that’s why I’m a huge advocate of helping people see how they’re connected and what they should do about it.”
Sarah Hurtado will visit the U campus on Feb. 23 to give two presentations—one to faculty and a workshop open to the entire campus community. To register for the faculty session, see this link. The second session, “Preventing Interpersonal Violence is Everyone’s Responsibility,” is from 12-1:30 p.m. in the Union Den. Register at this link. Hurtado’s visit is being sponsored by the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research & Education and the Martha Bradley Evans Center for Teaching Excellence.
Hurtado is an assistant professor in higher education in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Her research is centered on the ways institutions maintain inequity that contributes to the perpetuation of rape culture and identifying strategies for transformative change.
A shared responsibility
Hurtado said her primary goal at the workshops will be to get participants to shift their thinking so they recognize the shared responsibility in preventing and addressing sexual violence.
“Regardless of your role on campus—student, faculty, staff, whatever that might be—my hope is that everyone can think through these different tips and say, ‘Here are one or two things that I can do’ and feel good about it,” Hurtado said.
Rates of sexual violence have not changed on college campuses since the 1950s—and the University of Utah is among institutions spurred by highly prominent tragedies to seek better approaches to prevent violence and protect and support students. Since 2016, five women affiliated with the U have been killed by current or former intimate partners, most recently Zhifan Dong and Lauren McCluskey, for whom the McCluskey Center is named.
The University of Denver, Hurtado’s institution, took numerous actions after three students started an Instagram account in January 2020 called “wecandubetter” as an anonymous forum for sharing experiences with sexual assault or harassment. Among the changes: having the Title IX office report directly to the chancellor and, with help from Culture of Respect, performing a campus audit of its services and response protocols, Hurtado said.
As highlighted by the students’ Instagram campaign, which was subsequently implemented on several other campuses, most sexual violence takes place out of the public spotlight. In 2021, for example, at the U there were 73 cases of stalking, 20 incidents of domestic violence, four cases of dating violence and 22 rapes. Experts say the number of unreported cases is far higher.
Making a difference
Faculty are classified as mandatory reporters, meaning they are required to relay information shared with them about incidents of sexual violence to appropriate campus authorities. But Hurtado said more can and should be done to help faculty be more comfortable and confident about how to share information and offer support when that happens, but also just naturally as part of their activities.
“We just don’t see it as something that we can do or should be doing because we’ve never been told that we should think that way,” said Hurtado. “We just don’t think about it in our day-to-day because we have a million other things to do. And so when I talk to faculty, a big part of the conversation is having everyone see that their content is related to this. I think there is a lot of potential there in terms of how we get faculty to want to build more trusting relationships and be less scared of ‘What if someone tells me something.’”
Her hope, Hurtado said, is to get U campus members to see that even the smallest little thing they can do is more than nothing.