Ball State student gives WKU sexual assault awareness report card

Emma Collins

After receiving a request from the WKU Forensics team, Ball State University senior Brianna Kirkham has given WKU a sexual assault awareness report card based on her own opinion and research.

Kirkham received the request to create a sexual assault awareness report card for WKU from Ganer Newman and Ben Pyle, two coaches for WKU Forensics.

“[Kirkham] gave a persuasive speech at a forensics tournament critiquing some of the sexual assault awareness programs on university campuses across the country,” Newman, the team’s director, said. “Part of her advocacy was soliciting emails for audience members to learn more about their university’s federal mandate programs.”

Newman said he reached out to Kirkham despite the fact that she is not a professional because he believes it is important to understand the resources provided by WKU.

“It is important to note that Brianna is not a professional, nor is her assessment official in any capacity whatsoever,” Newman said. “However, it is crucial to know as much as we can about the mechanisms we have in place in order to ensure our campus is as safe as possible and to provide the best resources available.”

WKU received a D with a score of 66 out of 100, the lowest score Kirkham said she has given any university so far.

Kirkham ranked WKU’s sexual assault awareness in three categories: the presence of a sexual assault education or awareness program, victim services and extracurricular awareness programs and organizations.

Kirkham said in her opinion, WKU was lacking in all three areas, but she was particularly concerned with the lack of a separate victim support services office. Currently, WKU’s sexual assault support services are a part of the Counseling and Testing Center.

“Clumping [victim support services] together with the counseling center, it just isn’t as effective,” Kirkham said. “It just really does need to be a separate office.”

Elizabeth Madariaga, sexual assault services coordinator, said many other universities the size of WKU have a separate office, and WKU has tried to start a separate program for sexual assault victims.

“We have applied for grant funding to start an interpersonal violence center on campus but have been unsuccessful at securing the funding at this point,” Madariaga said.

Despite the absence of a separate office, WKU still has a number of resources for victims of sexual assault or rape.

Andrea Anderson, Title IX coordinator, said any victims of sexual assault can reach out to the Office of Judicial Affairs for help reporting an assault or obtaining resources.

Anderson said in the past, the office has helped students change their class schedules or obtain a different parking pass if there is a chance the victims will run into the perpetrators at those locations.

Other resources on the university’s campus include victim advocacy services and counseling.

Kirkham said all her research was based on information she could find on the Internet with most of the information coming from WKU’s 2015 Annual Campus Safety and Security Report.

While reading the report, Kirkham said she came across information about the Rape Aggression Defense System, which is a self-defense class offered by campus police.

According to the Safety and Security Report, R.A.D. is a “program of realistic self-defense tactics and techniques for women” that teaches techniques to reduce and avoid rape.

Kirkham said the program, which is offered by a number of universities across the country, has received criticism for victim blaming.

“It’s been under national criticism because it puts basically all of the blame and the responsibility on the victim,” Kirkham said. “It’s saying, ‘This is what you need to do to not be raped,’ or, ‘This is what you need to do to not be assaulted,’ instead of telling perpetrators not to sexually assault anyone.”

In the report card, Kirkham listed a 2015 Jezebel article as a source for criticism of the program. The article’s author, Susan Schorn, wrote that the R.A.D. manual used in the program “encapsulates the stone-age approach to sexual assault” that involves educating women about what not to do as opposed to focusing on educating perpetrators about not committing assault.

At the time of publication, campus police could not be reached for comment about the program.

Kirkham placed R.A.D. under the category for education and awareness programs mandated by the government. According to the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, any postsecondary education institution receiving Title IV money must offer at least one education and awareness program about sexual violence. In her report, Kirkham counted R.A.D. as the only education and awareness program offered by the university.

WKU, however, does offer another program that Kirkham failed to mention. The program, Green Dot, is shown to all freshmen during M.a.s.t.e.r.Plan.

According to WKU’s website, Green Dot encourages “choices big and small that in the end create a culture less tolerant of violence.”

Kirkham also said she does not believe WKU offers enough extracurricular events or programs aimed at sexual assault awareness. In her report card, Kirkham did acknowledge Take Back the Night, It’s On Us and Report It, all programs at WKU designed to decrease sexual violence; however, she said she thinks the university does not have a sufficient number of educational programs.

“That’s not really educational, and it doesn’t really get the people who don’t understand what sexual assault is [or] who don’t understand rape culture involved,” Kirkham said. “It’s just really good people applauding each other for already knowing what they know.”

Madariaga said she thinks events such as Take Back the Night and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, two events held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, have a purpose.

“We do this to educate in a multitude of ways to get people talking about sexual violence,” Madariaga said. “In turn, this will shift rape culture, support victims and send an intolerance message to perpetrators.”

Kirkham said the shift towards blaming perpetrators needs to be part of sexual assault awareness.

“It’s not a matter of telling the victims what they should do or how they should dress or what time they need to be back home or to not walk alone at night or learning all these self-defense training tactics,” Kirkham said. “It’s the perpetrator.”

Kirkham said she thinks moving away from R.A.D. and increasing on-campus awareness programs such as a peer advocacy program, which Ball State University has, will help WKU improve its sexual assault awareness program.

Madariaga said she does not know how WKU’s sexual assault awareness program compares to other universities.

“Perhaps I should know more about other campuses’ programs, but I really focus on here,” Madariaga said. “This is our campus; this is our climate … What we have here might not work somewhere else, or vice versa.”

Ultimately, Madariaga said she thinks WKU needs to focus more on what works best for the university.

“We just try to focus on what works here and how we can move forward to focus on WKU and our Hilltoppers,” Madariaga said.