By Dr. Michelle Johnston
One year ago, Ohio’s colleges and universities came together to collectively address an issue that called for great attention and great change. The conversation about sexual violence on Ohio’s campuses was elevated thanks to the launch of the Changing Campus Culture initiative, a collaboration between the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) and all of Ohio’s colleges and universities enhanced by a $2 million legislative appropriation in the 2014 state budget.
Ohio’s bold approach is one of the first comprehensive statewide efforts of its kind in the nation, and I’m proud to say that this first year was bolstered by the enthusiastic support of college administrators, campus safety personnel and student leaders intent on changing the culture on their campuses for the better.
When we launched last fall at the Ohio Statehouse, we announced five key recommendations aimed at preventing and responding to campus sexual violence. Today I’m happy to report that colleges and universities across Ohio — public and private — have responded to the challenges presented by Ohio’s leaders. Accomplishments to date set the stage for even greater progress in year two.
The first-year efforts focused on completing benchmark and campus climate surveys; providing training for prevention, intervention and response geared to campus safety professionals and other staff; and elevating awareness efforts on campus. To date, 100 percent of Ohio’s public colleges and universities and more than 80 percent of Ohio’s private colleges participated in the climate survey, which provides important data on perceptions and environments from the perspectives of students and employees. Of equal importance, the effort heightens awareness of the issue and sends a message of zero tolerance that is crucial to culture change on our campuses.
Much of our initial year’s activity focused on awareness and training of safety professionals and administrators charged with prevention and intervention. This included training for investigation as well as intervention and response. This fall, our campus partners will build on those efforts while also focusing on additional awareness and bystander intervention training, some of which has already begun at our colleges and universities.
Through this work, Ohio campuses have drawn a line in the sand, and stand united in the effort to communicate and demonstrate an attitude of “one case of sexual violence is one too many.” Awareness is important, and changing attitudes and responses on campus is the most effective way to eliminate sexual violence.
I’m proud to be a part of this effort and proud of the enthusiastic embrace Ohio college leaders have demonstrated. The public should applaud this effort, and encourage further progress in this important conversation.
Ohio is leading the charge to make its campuses the safest in the nation, and to promote more effective learning environments for each and every college student. And that’s important to all of us.
Dr. Michelle Johnston is the president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College