According to Pacific University’s Campus Climate survey in 2018, 1 out of every 11 students have experienced some form of interpersonal violence while attending college. Out of this number, more than 86 percent go unreported.
“It’s so hard to come forward partly because there’s this perception that nothing will happen or you won’t be believed,” said Kathleen Converse, the Director of the Center for Gender Equity and the Coordinator of Pacific’s Confidential Advocacy Network. “There’s so much victim blaming in our culture. [But] we do have a lot of people on this campus who will believe you and support you.”
The aim, Converse says, is to give choice back to those who have had choice taken from them. Pacific University offers many resources available for students who have faced such trauma.
Following an experience of sexual assault, the best places to start are Pacific’s two confidential networks. SARC is an off-campus partner that is available to meet with students 24/7 to talk through resource options, navigate health care systems, or even take them to the hospital (they can be contacted at 503-640-5311); Pacific’s own Confidential Advocacy Network is a group of six staff and faculty members that offer a space for survivors to talk through options and understand the next steps.
“What’s nice about that is you can really talk through your options without having to make a decision about what to do,” said Converse. Pacific generally sees around 20 to 30 students making use of the confidential networks per year.
If a student decides to file an official report, the next step would be to sit down with the Director of Student Conduct, Lindsey Blem, and open up an official investigation.
As soon as the investigation begins, the entire process must be filled within 60 days, wherein each party gives their statements, suggests witnesses, and the board collects information to form a full picture of the incident, concluding with a hearing where testimonies are given and a final decision is made.
“I’ve been really impressed with our conduct process,” said Converse. “If there wasn’t consent, you don’t have to prove there was a no. The other person has to prove there was a yes. And if they’re found in violation of that, people do get expelled or suspended.”
Pacific also offers many resources for students to deal with the trauma of the situation. One of these resources is the Counseling Center, which offers resources such as short-term therapy, group therapy, or can connect students with other outside support.
“There’s so many toxic messages in our culture that don’t believe survivors, so oftentimes survivors engage in a lot of self blame that can be really toxic for them and their healing,” said Director of the Student Counseling Center Laura E. Stallings. “Having support to make sure their experiences are validated and to minimize some of that self blame is so critical.”
If students who make use of Pacific’s reporting system feel like the process wasn’t effective or still feel unsafe, Converse encourages them to make their voices heard and help the campus become a safer space for all students and survivors of sexual assault.
One of the ways the school hopes to further improve their system is through their latest Campus Climate survey, which went out to all students in early February. The survey will be available until the week before spring break. So far, only 6 percent of students have filled it out.
“We are constantly adapting our processes to try to make them better and better to support survivors,” said Converse. “It’s so scary and brave to come forward, but the more that people do, the more we can actually change this.”