Informing state response: New state sexual violence coordinator solicits campus feedback

Anna Landsverk

In a section of the CMU ballroom on April 12, a quiet but critical discussion was happening around sexual violence on college campuses.

The community listening session was the second of several hosted by the State of Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education throughout the month of April. This was in coordination with Governor Dayton’s proclamation of April as Sexual Violence Prevention Month.

“I just wanted to highlight the last statement that he says in this proclamation: ‘The State of Minnesota and all Minnesotans must take action to work together to change cultures, systems and environments to stop sexual violence from happening and lessening the immediate and long-term harms of sexual violence,’” host Melissa Kwon said.

Kwon, the first-ever Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, initiated the sessions in order to hear from colleges and universities which aspects of sexual violence response and prevention are most important to them.

“The reason behind why this position was created is to serve as that state-wide resource to do that prevention and response piece,” Kwon said.

At the event, a small group of educators and local nonprofit workers put their heads together to discuss the topics ranked as higher priority from a list provided by Kwon. The top subjects included the following:

  • Engaging men
  • Prevention programming
  • Campus sexual violence toolkits and best practices
  • Staff and faculty training

Other areas of interest included party culture, athletics, victim rights, local law enforcement response and campus response.

After an hour of soft conversations, each attendee shared what they saw as a goal for the new position and for sexual violence response in Minnesota’s higher education sector.

Some of the needs identified by the groups were having a comprehensive database of information, reframing conversations around assault, gaining necessary funding and networking with other campuses and area professionals.

This last point was especially important for campuses outside of the Twin Cities for whom the higher education offices are too far away to be as useful.

“I think just meeting colleagues within the region has been super helpful,” MSUM Title IX Coordinator Ashley Atteberry said. “I think we don’t always network with others in the region, especially in the University of Minnesota system versus the Minnesota State system.”

Atteberry explained this is partially because Minnesota state law requires different things of the two different systems, but there is still much to be gained in collaborating.

“Even today’s conversation was, I don’t want to say improvement, but just a huge opportunity for that connectivity,” Atteberry said. “Thinking about what potential information is shared at other listening sessions or developed at other listening sessions that can be shared with us (is important). Recognizing that there’s an office and a resource for it is very important, and that increases that level of thinking about greater connectivity within the state.”

Kwon’s comments echoed that sentiment, saying that in her work so far, she’s witnessed a lack of collaboration between schools and public agencies, but not a lack of motivation.

“There’s not a lot of connection, necessarily, or facilitated conversations across the state, especially among similar types of institutions,” Kwon said. She gave the example of community colleges talking to each other about mandatory practices like student training “so not everyone is having to reinvent that wheel.”

As part of that statewide collaboration, one of Kwon’s early initiatives was creating a free online toolkit for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). It includes fliers, logos, “I Wear Teal Because” write-in posters, strategies for social media engagement, fundraising ideas, fact sheets for students and a statement about the initiative.

At MSUM last year, there was at least one, but no more than nine, sexual assaults reported to the institution, according to a state report. Of the assaults reported, at least some were punished with more than a warning. The state does not specify any numbers under ten, allegedly to maintain student privacy.

Universities with especially high amounts of reported assaults include the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (68), St. Olaf College (30), Hamline University (27), Minnesota State University Mankato (26), Winona State University (25), Gustavus Adolphus (24) and the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University (24). Combined, 400 sexual assaults were reported to institutions in Minnesota last year, of which 172 were investigated, 101 resulted in action greater than a warning and 89 found the perpetrator guilty of sexual assault.

For staff members around the state, efforts to lower these numbers are a continued battle—one that will see increased awareness for the rest of the month.

“It takes time and energy and persistence to make sure that those things are happening or continuing to happen,” Atteberry said.

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