At Monmouth University, confronting sexual assault by discussing sexual assault

With statistics showing that one in five female students in New Jersey has experienced sexual assault during their college years, schools like Monmouth University are equipping staff and students with better education on prevention, reporting procedures and building healthy relationships.

The school hosted a panel of experts for a two-day series and led a number of campus-wide events to get students thinking about how they should respond in the wake of a sexual assault incident. The panelists drew from hypothetical scenarios based on real-life situations and walked the audience through the complexities of responding to sexual assaults in an academic setting.

The conversation also focused on the issue of bias in sexual assault cases.

“There’s evidence that shows we are less likely to believe women of color. We are less likely to believe low-income women. We are more likely to believe women of a higher social class and we are more likely to believe white women,” said panelist Jennifer McGovern, who’s also a political science and sociology professor at the school.

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With pending changes to the federal law known as Title IX, which protects people from gender-based discrimination in education, the Monmouth event took on another level of relevance. A proposed change to the law would relieve schools of their obligation to respond to incidents that happen outside campus programs and activities.

“It really provoked my thought process on how we separate sexual assault that happens on campuses versus the ones that happen out in society and how that might actually change the outcome of sexual assault cases,” said senior Chanell Singletary.