COLUMN: USC should join Biden’s sexual assault initiative

By now, you have probably seen videos or photos of a dewy-eyed then-Vice President Joe Biden receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama. Social media erupted with admiration for the emotional “bromance” between the president and vice president. This honor, indeed, marked a poignant end to Biden’s leadership as a new administration entered the White House. Despite Biden’s tearful departure from office, he has vowed to continue working on issues of public policy, particularly to convince President Donald Trump’s administration to prioritize sexual assault prevention. Though Biden is exceptionally prepared to take on new initiatives addressing sexual assault, he will undoubtedly need the support of universities such as USC.

“I’m going to be setting up a foundation that is going to devote the rest of my life to dealing with violence against women,” Biden said earlier this month.

Since 2014, the former vice president has spearheaded the White House’s work with the It’s On Us campaign, a nationwide effort to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. It’s On Us government studies have provided evidence of an epidemic in desperate need of attention. A 2016 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that approximately one in five women surveyed reported experiencing sexual assault since entering college. Biden came especially equipped to join this campaign. Twenty-two years ago he wrote the Violence Against Women Act. While in the White House, Biden, along with Obama, established the Council on Women and Girls and worked directly with the first-ever adviser on Violence Against Women.

Last year, Biden specifically addressed university presidents. He called on universities to respond more effectively to reports of sexual assault and gather information through surveys to understand the issues plaguing campuses.

“That message starts from the president on down at the university,” Biden said in a conversation with several university officials last August. “It really, really matters.”

The onus then falls on institutions, such as USC, to come alongside Biden and hold the Trump administration accountable in order to end sexual assault on college campuses. There are several practical steps that colleges and universities can take to prevent sexual assault. First, educational and prevention programming on campus is imperative. Programming and awareness campaigns that take on the issue of sexual assault could be the beginning of fostering a campus environment where gender equity and respect are core values. As an example of a successful program, last October, the USC Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services, in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Trojan Marketing Group and the Undergraduate Student Government, organized and hosted the It Ends Here run/walk to bring attention to sexual assault at USC. Second, colleges and universities should ensure that proper resources are made available to sexual assault survivors. Appropriate resources include materials explaining what steps to take immediately after a sexual assault and counseling and support services.

The USC Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services is home to the Sexual Assault Resource Center, which thankfully provides access to such resources. Third, colleges and universities should appoint a Title IX coordinator. Title IX requires that every school have at least one member of the faculty or staff who is responsible for ensuring the school’s compliance with the law, yet many schools do not have a Title IX coordinator. USC, fortunately, does. However, many coordinators lack the resources they need in order to do their jobs. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has released a list of resources Title IX coordinators should have. Faculty and staff can help by seeing that these resources get into the hands of as many coordinators as possible.

USC has the potential to stand at the forefront of sexual assault prevention and has clearly shown that it has what it takes in order to do so. The University must continue the good work it has started by enrolling in more expansive future initiatives like those promoted by Biden. As a new administration has entered the White House — one whose attitude toward sexual assault prevention remains unclear — USC and other universities must seriously consider the role they have in influencing the attitudes of both their campus communities and the Trump administration toward the necessity of ending sexual assault.

Bailee Ahern is a senior majoring in political science and international relations. Her column, “Vis-à-Vis,” runs every other Monday.