It’s been one year since Briana Torres, a Plan II and English sophomore, read an eye-opening campus-wide email, stating 15 percent of undergraduate women at UT-Austin reported they had been raped. Eight months later, Torres created the UT chapter of It’s On Us.
“It was just so heartbreaking to me,” Torres said. “It definitely had a direct impact on me as a UT student, taking initiative, trying to see where to close the gap to help that number to go down.”
It’s On Us was just one of the actions taken by the UT community since the release of the Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments, or CLASE, report in March 2017. The report detailed the prevalence of sexual assault on campus and included a “Next Steps” section detailing action items, many of which have been implemented in the past year.
One of the actions was expanding non-mandatory reporting options outside of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, or CMHC. Non-mandatory reporting options allow students to explore information about resources, services and remedies available without automatically requiring a Title IX report.
Since August 2017, students can meet with two confidential advocates at Student Emergency Services and the Title IX office. Bree Van Ness, a confidential advocate and peer advocacy coordinator, provides crisis interventions for students impacted by interpersonal violence. Van Ness said her role was created because some students see going to counseling as a daunting process.
“(Students) wanted alternative options from the mental health center just because I know there’s still unfortunately a negative stigma of going to a counselor,” Van Ness said.
Confidential advocates are not licensed clinicians, and all serve on UT staff, Van Ness said. Instead of the long term support that CMHC provides, confidential advocates help students get connected to reporting options and resources on and off campus.
In addition, undergraduate and graduate students can seek help from expertly-trained students through the Interpersonal Violence Peer Support, IVPS, program launched last fall. Mia Goldstein, radio-television-film and Plan II Honors junior and IVPS student coordinator, said she proposed her ideas to Voices Against Violence, the Title IX office and Student Emergency Services in 2016, and the program became a reality a year after.
Goldstein said that although she wishes more funding could be allocated to support interpersonal violence prevention, the amount of effort the University puts into the creation of IVPS showcased its commitment.
“I think IVPS is a testament to the fact that the University does care,” Goldstein said. “I think funding could be allocated differently sometimes, but I do think they are doing their absolute best with what they have.”
CMHC has also taken steps on the issue. In summer 2017, CMHC hired a full-time coordinator for BeVocal, an initiative focusing on bystander intervention. VAV also added “I like, LIKE you,” a Theatre for Dialogue performance on healthy relationships, to their permanent program for the 2017–18 academic year.
Katy Redd, CMHC associate director for prevention and outreach, said CMHC is also in the process of hiring a full-time healthy masculinities coordinator to oversee MasculinUT, a program of VAV.
The “Next Steps” section also included the implementation of a collaborative Title IX awareness campaign to educate students on reporting. Krista Anderson, associate vice president and Title IX coordinator, said the creation of UT’s chapter of It’s On Us last November assisted with the Title IX office’s prevention and education efforts.
Torres said many students are unaware of the resources from the Title IX office, and It’s On Us will help to connect students with those resources.
“We really want to show people that the Title IX office is here for them and what a difference it can make in navigating your life as a survivor,” Torres said.