In Spring 2017, UT released the Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments report, which highlighted the shocking prevalence of sexual assault on the 40 Acres. Among many striking statistics, it revealed that 15 percent of female undergraduates reported having been raped during their time here.
The report sounded an alarm, validating the pleas of concerned students and throwing the University into a full-on defensive strike against sexual assault. A multitude of grassroots student organizations have also risen up alongside the University on the front lines of this fight.
These organizations, from Not On My Campus to the Men Can End project and Student Government’s Women’s Resource Agency, do the bulk of the ground work in the fight against sexual assault. They host campuswide events, educate organizations in all corners of campus and advocate for policies that will make UT a safer place. Yet most do not receive any direct support from the University. UT must bolster its fight against sexual assault by providing resources to these smaller student organizations.
Isabella Fanucci, SG interpersonal violence prevention director, says some student organizations struggle with finding committed members to fuel their fight.
“If the University would increase its support in more than just a vocal manner behind IPV organizations, you could really see the impact (they) make,” she said. “There are two elements that need improvement in the interpersonal violence prevention community. The first is manpower. The second is funding.”
If the University provided adequate support to allow these organizations to advertise, recruit and stage frequent events, their membership and efficacy could increase.
UT already provides many resources for certain interpersonal violence-related organizations, including Voices Against Violence, SURE Walk and recently, It’s On Us. According to the Counseling and Mental Health Center, Voices Against Violence operates on $161,480 annually, and the University has allocated $3000 in prevention programming, $2500 in SSBC funding, and $5000 in program costs for the IPV Peer Support Program, prevention programming and marketing — $10,500 in total. So the problem is not necessarily the lack of funding, but its allocation.
Most of this new funding goes to well-established University programs that deal with recovery and counseling. Little effect is felt on the ground. While these services are certainly vital, the University should allocate more money to the preventative side of interpersonal violence.
“Not to say the University hasn’t made substantial steps towards change, but we actually need to prevent (assault) from happening,” Fanucci said. “You can put so much funding into therapy or bystander intervention methods, but in the end, we truly need preventative education.”
Necessary preventative measures include bolstering the way we educate new students about the definitions and risk factors of sexual assault, popularizing effective bystander intervention methods and providing more streamlined processes for reporting, investigating and prosecuting assault. Grassroots student organizations do indispensable work in these areas, and they could do even more with direct University support. More money will only be effective with more members, however. That responsibility falls onto the student body.
“Everyone understands sexual assault is a rampant problem,” Fanucci said. “But somebody actually has to tangibly do something and dedicate themselves to being a force of change, rather than just a voice.”
These organizations are the powerhouses that can drive UT’s sexual assault rate down. While the University has made impressive strides in this fight, it should foster more direct partnerships with these passionate and effective organizations. Even without more funding, however, we can alleviate some of these organizations’ setbacks by joining the fight alongside them.
Chandler is a journalism and government major from Houston. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanChandler98.