The Sexual Assault and Gender Issues Council has revamped some of its initiatives, both in the wake of the arrest of Leigh-Anne Royster, coordinator for personal health programs and community well-being, last spring and as a new initiative in general.
Royster was arrested by The Town of Elon police last spring for refusing to give officers confidential information about a victim of sexual assault.
The council, which is comprised of two student members and faculty, has been around since the implementation of Royster’s position but has remained fairly dormant until now, said Anne Cahill, council chair and philosophy professor.
“Reviewing of our protocols made us feel ever more confident that we were really doing the right thing,” Cahill said. “We are very committed as a university to protecting the confidentially of any survivor of sexual violence.”
The council exists to provide programming and education about sexual and interpersonal violence as well as provide response to incidents of assault. It also seeks to address other issues including body image and substance abuse on campus.
Last spring, the council decreased in size to better accommodate scheduling for meetings, and it began initiating new conversations about programming for prevention and response.
“It’s primarily a sounding board for Leigh-Anne,” Cahill said. “But it’s a place where a small but representative group of people can learn what we’re doing as a university both in terms of programming and in terms of response.”
One of the new initiatives has been the distribution of information about sexual violence to faculty and staff. Royster created a flyer listing resources one can use to respond to an incident and has given them to the members.
She is also planning to host information luncheons, which would include training for response and take any questions faculty and staff members might have.
“The hope is that we’re working toward developing a community where the people don’t necessarily have to feel as if they’re trained or equipped to deal with issues of sexual violence, but they know where to go if they see a red flag,” Royster said.
The council is also hoping to add more self-defense classes.
“Women take daily measures to protect themselves against sexual violence,” Cahill said. “It is a constant part of their life whether they’re conscious about it or not. Most of the things women do on a daily basis are about stranger rape, which is the least likely form of rape that’s going to happen, and they’re not taught a lot of skills for the kinds of sexual violence that they’re most likely to face.”
Another new initiative has been the addition of two emergency responders. Before the reorganization, Royster was balancing programming and education with responding to situations all by herself.
This summer, the council implemented a state-wide search to find adequate responders who are not staff employees. They switch off week-to-week to attend to calls. Students can still speak to Royster if they choose to, she said.
Before the council’s reorganization, it was overwhelmed with faculty, staff and law enforcement inquiries, Royster said. Now, Royster sits on the Alamance County Sexual Assault Team and corresponds with law enforcement that way.
“It’s a better model,” Royster said. “Someone is always present for (survivors) and someone is always present to educate the community.”
Both Royster and Cahill said they are hopeful about what the new initiatives may bring to the university.
“I think one thing that’s important about our policies … is that confidentiality is an absolute cornerstone of our response and that our commitment to it is deep and strong,” Cahill said. “Because it is, survivors should feel very comfortable speaking to a university official on whatever basis.”
Cahill said if the council is to succeed in its goals, there will be more reports of sexual violence, not fewer.
Royster feels this awareness of resources from the council as well as a commitment to confidentiality is of the utmost importance.
“I hope that the re-envisioning of this council and having people in the community thinking about this actively and regularly will ensure that we do continue to have a community where people are educated,” Royster said. “People are aware that there is an issue of sexual violence, and people feel empowered to respond to and speak out about those issues.”