Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers pointed out that the group spends a lot of time talking about academic quality at the state’s public and private universities, and that discussion has expanded to include quality of life for students.
Lubbers says if the goal is for students to be successful, a lack of safety could be a barrier to achieving that goal.
“We think this [needs] an all-hands-on-deck approach, and as the coordinating body for higher education in the state, the commission has an obligation to do that,” Lubbers says.
A report by Southern Indiana’s News and Tribune pinpoints why the Commission decided to call the meeting:
Prompting the commission’s interest are increasing numbers of sexual assaults reported on the state’s campuses. That includes IU-Bloomington, which has been under review by the U.S. Department of Education for possible violations of federal law in how it handles sexual violence.
Adding impetus, Indiana University-Bloomington police charged three men in connection with an off-campus attack last Sunday.
State legislator Christina Hale, who is an advocate for sexual assault prevention legislation, works to address the issue of campus sexual assault. Along with her colleagues, she amended Indiana’s Lifeline Law to grant students amnesty from legal action if they cooperate with local law enforcement in cases of sexual assault.
Hale says it’s important to include the Commission in on the conversation because there is so much work to be done.
“They said so many important policies statewide that impact students’ daily lives,” Hale explains. “It’s kind of like generals in battle back in the war room – they need to know what’s happening on the battlefield firsthand.”
Rachel Green is a student and sexual assault awareness advocate at Indiana University. She says students need to know that policymakers are really trying to make a difference.
“Coming to this sort of meeting really brings the issue a lot of credibility, and I think that when students hear about that, they’ll think like okay people are really talking about this,” Green says.
The Centers for Disease Control reports one in six girls in Indiana is raped or sexually assaulted before entering college. Once they reach college, that statistic rises to one in five. Those numbers rank second worst in the nation.
Hale says she doesn’t really understand why Indiana has this problem at such a high rate. Legislators hope to get some insight through a study they commissioned to learn more about the root causes of sexual assault in Indiana.
“There’s so much work to be done and Indiana is so far behind,” Hale says. “First we need to drill down on these big numbers in aggregate to find out what are the problems exactly. The crime we saw in Bloomington is very different than the type of on-campus assault we have been discussing, in terms of date rape or underage drinking. We need to see the reporting and have a better idea of what solutions are actually going to be effective.”
A survey went out this week to students at IU Bloomington to get a better understanding of the environment on the college campus.