- Associated Press - Sunday, October 1, 2017

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The University of Tulsa’s campus security department has a standing order: Dr. Gerard Clancy wants to be telephoned immediately - even in the middle of the night - if one of his students is sexually assaulted.

“It’s very upsetting; you don’t sleep the rest of the night. But I want the student - the victim - and their parents to know I’m involved and I care enough about it to want to know right away,” Clancy said. “I need to be disturbed about it.”

The Tulsa World reports that amid a shocking string of assaults on and around campus, Clancy became TU’s new president in November. He immediately took the helm of the university’s plan to prevent sexual assaults and encourage greater reporting of sexual harassment and violence.

“If you look at universities that have struggled with this, one of their greatest demerits is often a lack of institutional awareness and education,” he said.

Clancy’s motivation isn’t only the headline-making cases involving intruder attacks and student athletes. It’s also that he is a psychiatrist who has seen firsthand the devastation sexual assault can wreak on a victim’s mental health and relationships for years to come.

“There is almost always shame and the question of ‘Do I have the strength to go through this?’” Clancy said of victims and the process of reporting and counseling. “But if they put this off, it torments them through nightmares, depression, isolation and sometimes alcohol abuse to calm their nerves.”

In his first address to the incoming freshman class of 127 students and their parents, Clancy said he drew from his physician experiences to talk about the serious need for students to be more aware of risky situations for themselves and classmates.

“I want this freshman class to be a role model for this, and the parents appreciated the honesty and straight-forwardness of it,” Clancy said. “I challenged them to 1. Take care of yourself, 2. Take care of each other and 3. Step in.”

Multiple students said TU has significant ground to make up in restoring students’ faith in the administration’s attitude toward victims and commitment to combat sexual assault.

“There were some efforts before - but it didn’t feel like it was the university’s priority,” said Kayleigh Thesenvitz, editor-in-chief of TU’s student newspaper, the Collegian, referring to TU’s previous administration. “This has been a shift where it’s not just students involved.”

Results of TU’s recent campus climate surveys indicate the tall order that Clancy, faculty and student advocates say lies ahead.

According to the survey, 23.4 percent of students believed TU officials are “not at all” or “slightly likely” to take corrective action against an offender. Nearly 61 percent felt administrators should do more to protect students from harm.

Clancy said the survey results have informed his administration’s efforts, and he will use future ones to gauge their progress.

“In the past, there was a more formal process,” Clancy said. “From surveys, we learned that student perception was that the victim was needing to defend yourself and that blame was involved.”

Students take the survey anonymously to gauge the prevalence of sexual violence, rates of alcohol and drug use, symptoms of mental health needs, and perceptions of prevention programs and response efforts. Results repeatedly show far more students counting themselves as sexual assault victims than TU’s tally of officially reported cases.

“What I’ve learned about being in leadership over the years is you’ve got to start by being honest with the numbers,” Clancy said. “Let’s be honest about what’s not right now and, with that, we can make things right moving forward.”

In TU’s most recent survey in 2015-16, 9.1 percent of students reported experiencing sexual violence while being a student at TU. And the survey notes “often survivors are reluctant to endorse victimization even on anonymous surveys. Therefore these estimates are likely an underestimation of the actual rates at the University of Tulsa.”

Such a disparity isn’t uncommon, as research has shown sexual assault to be a chronically under-reported crime.

Clancy said he fully expects TU’s number of reported forcible sex offenses to climb if efforts to improve reporting rates are successful.

“We’re averaging 14 or 15 (reported) assaults each year, and they vary in severity,” he said. “National surveys show that between 1 in 5 and 1 in 4 women on campuses experience a sexual assault during their college years, so for a campus of our size, it’s possible there are 50 assaults a year.”

Clancy said TU has increased channels for reporting assaults. And individuals taking those reports have received new training in being “trauma-informed” in their approach to victims.

MadisenFae Dorand, a TU senior in charge of the school’s leading student advocacy group, said student perceptions have not caught up with the changes Clancy has been implementing.

“I know many survivors, and there definitely was that sense that if I say anything, I will be blamed. Unfortunately, there is still that attitude from certain parts of the student body,” said Dorand, president of the Student Alliance for Violence Education, or SAVE. “Right now, there is a complete revamp of TU’s policies to reflect the administration’s attitude and that victims are in no way responsible regardless of whether they have consumed alcohol.”

The TU campus was left shaken after a series of on-campus sexual assaults and burglaries between February and October 2016, leading to the arrest of Luis Alberto Molina, who is facing charges of first-degree attempted rape, sexual battery and peeping tom.

Then this June, a TU student athlete was arrested on felony charges of raping an intoxicated fellow student after a summer party. Thesenvitz, a senior, and last year’s Collegian editor, Hannah Kloppenburg, responded by publishing an open letter to Clancy to raise red flags about TU’s current assault prevention programming and to offer help with campus communications.

“A lot of students did feel unsafe,” Thesenvitz said. “We wanted more openness - to know exactly what their plans were. Luckily, that’s what we got.”

Clancy quickly organized a meeting with all of the university’s vice presidents, who are now involved in the effort to combat the problem.

What did TU’s student journalists learn?

“They really are making an effort,” Thesenvitz said. “What they’re trying to do is change the culture. We’re apathetic - there’s not much student unity at TU.”

Cpl. Julie Friedel received special training to become the TU Department of Campus Security’s dedicated sexual assault investigator - focusing on investigations, giving safety talks to students and training new security officers in “trauma-informed response.”

That approach, in a nutshell? “Start by believing - it’s a whole different way to look at a victim,” she said.

Friedel said seeing and listening to a victim with a trauma-informed lens requires that officers understand the effects on a person’s memory, emotions and behaviors.

“To someone who is not trauma-informed, they might hear certain information and think, ‘Oh, they’re changing their story,’ but when you’re subjected to trauma, how your memory stores events is different,” she said. “It’s also important to understand that victims respond differently to trauma. Some get angry, while some laugh nervously when they’re talking.”

She added, “It’s not our job to be judge and jury. We’re just the fact-finders. That can make all the difference with whether they go ahead with criminal charges or school charges.”

That’s another change in TU’s practice, officials say. The victim is now in the driver’s seat when it comes to the pace of reporting and how to pursue against the perpetrator.

“We work really close with the Tulsa Police sex crimes unit,” Friedel said. “They’re amazing folks, so we get them (victims) to try to at least talk to the sex crimes people. But sometimes they absolutely are like ‘No, no, I don’t want this,’ for whatever reason.

“We always tell them they can file a report with Tulsa Police that does not carry criminal charges. It comes off like a field report instead of an actual criminal report. I encourage them to do that, at the least. That way if the suspect does another sexual assault, there’s at least a trail there.”

One victim, who recently shared her story in a piece published in the Collegian, said this change was a major factor in her decision to report the fellow student who attacked her, after a year of agonizing.

Dr. Clancy has made it really clear that he’s not going to tolerate this,” the woman told the Tulsa World, which protects the identities of sexual assault victims.

The woman said she had consumed too much alcohol on an empty stomach at a party before an acquaintance sexually assaulted her.

Why didn’t she tell officials sooner? Because she didn’t feel emotionally capable in the wake of her assault and because of TU’s initial handling of the Molina case.

“Before the Molina case broke in the news, students had gotten two or three emails from campus security,” the woman said. “They stated that ‘someone entered an apartment through an unlocked door, no one was injured, we encourage everyone to lock their doors.’ To me it sounded like a drunk student stumbled into the wrong apartment. The fact that it said ‘no one was injured’ and then it comes out that this man was following women home and entering their apartments and assaulting them - that complete disconnect made me question the administration.”

Before, awareness campaigns and prevention efforts were left to campus groups like SAVE and the Advocacy Alliance. Now, TU has funded the hiring of a Title IX coordinator to oversee the university’s compliance with federal law in cases of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Kelsey Hancock was recently hired as TU’s first full-time violence prevention program coordinator, thanks to new grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The most important thing about what I do here is every piece of our programming is geared toward the idea of prevention,” Hancock said. “Dr. Clancy has tasked every member of our community with being a respectful, responsible and helpful citizen.”

Hancock is delivering “bystander intervention” training to every student group on campus, plus in classes that might otherwise be canceled because of a professor’s absence.

Hancock said she has had “so many people say, ‘What’s going on? There have been so many assaults at TU.’”

Her response? “Assaults happen everywhere. The more people report, the more our work is working because they feel safe coming forward and they feel like they can get help. For people to come forward and have someone say ‘I believe you’ is the first step in that healing process.”

Hancock noted that colleges and universities need look no further than the national scandal that has enveloped Baylor University for good reasons to encourage victims to come forward and to be proactive about sexual assault awareness and prevention.

The country’s largest Baptist university has been slapped with lawsuits by 15 women who claim the school turned a blind eye to their claims over the last decade, and its board of regents reported that 19 football players have been accused of sexual or physical assault.

So far, the school has fired its head football coach and accepted the resignations of its athletic director and its president, Ken Starr.

Hancock said: “That’s what we’re hoping for not only at TU, but across the country. Baylor just had this investigation. The whole idea of prevention is we don’t need to get to their level.”

Student leaders are still playing a vital role in educating their fellow students.

The Collegian is designing an advertisement with sexual assault reporting avenues for every edition of its weekly paper so readers’ eyes won’t pass over an old, possibly familiar one.

SAVE’s next panel discussion, called “Man to Man: Let’s talk sexual assault,” is set for 7 p.m. Monday in the TU Tyrrell Hall Auditorium.

“Ninety-five percent of the people who come to our events are the women of TU,” Dorand said. “We don’t look at men as the problem; we look at them as the solution.”

One panelist, Jack Emory Wood, is a TU senior and member of SAVE who helped the Lambda Chi fraternity become a leading advocate for prevention on campus.

“A lot of people don’t take action until it becomes real to them, like when a friend or someone they know is affected,” Wood said. “Bringing men into the discussion is really powerful and not just because of the heteronormative stereotype that assaults are only men assaulting women. But also because men can step up and be a force for good, even with things like sexist language is not OK and contributes to an unsafe environment, ultimately.”

If TU students’ most persistent messenger comes off like a concerned parent, it’s because Clancy wears that hat, too. He said his two children - one a TU student and the other a recent law school graduate - recently convinced him that banning alcohol on campus wouldn’t keep anyone safer.

“I come at this as a parent, a clinician and a university president,” Clancy said. “They warned against unintended consequences (of banning alcohol) - you may drive it underground and off campus. Then you’ll have students driving under the influence and have no control over social situations.”

For now, he’s anxiously waiting to see if TU’s new strategies will yield progress on the next campus climate survey. And he’s taking a personal, albeit paternal, role in reaching out to students regularly.

“We look forward to a great Golden Hurricane win on Saturday,” Clancy wrote in a Sept. 8 campuswide email, “but weekends with home college football games can spell trouble for some. As a physician, I can’t help caring about your well-being and your future. … As part of your fun this weekend, remember to take care of yourself, take care of each other and step in before trouble happens.”

___

Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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