Leadership & Governance

A University for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Takes Action

October 01, 2014

Video and editing by Julia Schmalz
The university for the deaf and hard of hearing has been praised by the Department of Justice for its work in educating staff members and students on sexual-misconduct issues.

Gallaudet University, the Washington, D.C., institution for the deaf and hard of hearing, has been praised by the Department of Justice for its work in educating staff members and students on sexual-misconduct issues. Aided by a 2012 grant from the department's Office on Violence Against Women, the university has already trained 40 staff members and 100 students in bystander intervention—an essential program, administrators say, that's now gaining traction with students.

Sexual Assault

Gallaudet University, the Washington, D.C., institution for the deaf and hard of hearing, has been praised by the Department of Justice for its work in educating staff members and students on sexual-misconduct issues. Aided by a 2012 grant from the department's Office on Violence Against Women, the university has already trained 40 staff members and 100 students in bystander intervention—an essential program, administrators say, that's now gaining traction with students.

 

TRANSCRIPT

NARRATOR: At a college for the deaf and hard of hearing the word is out.

Signs on campus support effective consent.

Yes means yes.

No means no.

Gallaudet University recently made news when it was determined that it had the highest rate of reported sexual assaults in the country.

CHRISTINE GANNON: I think any marginalized community faces its own set of challenges and own set of dynamics when it comes to sexual assault.

NARRATOR: The numbers, campus officials say, are hard to interpret. Lower numbers don’t necessarily mean fewer assaults are happening. It might just mean that victims aren’t coming forward.

In 2012, 18 cases were reported at Gallaudet, the highest number in three years for the school of 1,500.

A grant that same year from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women has set off campuswide momentum to address sexual misconduct.

So what does change look like?

CHRISTINE GANNON: We’re looking at sexual assaults, we’re also looking at dating and domestic violence, we’re looking at stalking.

NARRATOR: They are using the money and requirements of the grant to set up extensive training and new teams and new ways of communicating.

The grant has helped create:

Mandatory online education for students.

Faculty and student trainings throughout the year.

Three Sexual Assault Response Teams, known as SART.

CHRISTINE GANNON: So when we were writing the grant they require you to have a SART, well, we decided that this was a really fabulous idea and it would allow us to coordinate our services, it would allow us to have a space where we could regularly discuss the issues that come up, look at what are some new strategies in prevention education.

NARRATOR: So far 40 faculty and staff have had bystander training, meaning they learn how to intervene to try to prevent an assault. One hundred students have been trained, and the goal is to have 500 trained by the end of the 2016 academic year.

The sensitivity and accessibility to students who use sign language is why many of them opt to report assaults on campus rather than to local authorities.

CHRISTINE GANNON: When a student comes to any office on campus, they can talk directly to that person. If they go off campus, say to a social-service agency, or to the MPD, they may have to use an interpreter. Which means they have to talk through somebody else, and when you’re looking at sexual assaults, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, with the level of sensitivity, having any additional people makes it less comfortable.

NARRATOR: Faculty and staff are listening to what students want—more alcohol-free events such as this Friday-night party. Alternative parties begin the first week of classes, and activities are scheduled throughout the year.

The university is also sponsoring health and wellness fairs, such as this one called “Are You Sure?,” which brings community resources together so students can learn how to keep themselves safe.

One program gaining traction with students is a national bystander-intervention program called Green Dot.

CHRISTINE GANNON: This bystander-intervention component is huge. In terms of sexual-assault prevention, for so many years we looked at how do we educate people how not to rape, how do we educate people how to protect themselves, and for the first time we’re really taking a look at—there’s so many people in between, you know. And for the first time we’ve recognized that the majority of cases have lots and lots of people who could have stopped it or could have reduced it, and this really reduces the burden on that victim.

NARRATOR: This is personal for Gannon, who is the daughter of two Gallaudet graduates.

CHRISTINE GANNON: People know me personally, they have pictures of me when I was a baby, and now I am working with them in a professional capacity. That’s a really huge component about Gallaudet and about the deaf community, and that has its strengths and has its challenges.

NARRATOR: As a faculty member for 30 years, Associate Dean Carl Pramuk says he’s seen changes not only in policy but culture as well.

CARL PRAMUK: The policy in the past, because of various laws that were passed in the early 60s and 70s, focused a lot on how to protect the rights of the person who was charged and who's responding to the violations. So we’ve seen a shift where we see a lot of focus being put on the victim and victim advocacy, and giving that support to the victim and their rights. So it’s much more balanced than the policies that were in place back then.

NARRATOR: Pramuk says new technologies are prompting the university to think about new ways to get the message out that sexual assault has no place on campus.

CARL PRAMUK: Obviously during my time communication was always being in person. The social gatherings were always in a visual environment where people were together, where everyone signs—use sign language and use the phone [not] so much. Right now we have a variety of options on how students get together and socialize.

They also have Twitter and Facebook and social media in the picture now, compared to back then. So how we deliver our programs have to change, and they had to change to fit the populations as well as the trends.

CLAIRE TUCKER: And today we’re asking you, "Are you sure?" This is a question you should be asking yourself everyday.

NARRATOR: In just a few years, senior Claire Tucker has also witnessed cultural change at Gallaudet.

CLAIRE TUCKER: When I first came to Gallaudet, I had a lot of new experiences, being in a new environment, meeting lots of new people my first year, and I developed a lot of friendships. Some folks had been through some experiences, and I’ve seen a lot over my time here, and one thing I can say is that the attitude and culture at Gallaudet has dramatically changed. I see a lot more positive change happening on campus, and it’s really exciting to see that and also to look forward to what the future holds.

NARRATOR: As a sophomore, Rebecca Szynkowski didn’t realize how soon she would use her training.

REBECCA SZYNKOWSKI: I had my Green Dot training, and then that night I was reflecting on how much I had learned during the training and over in Clerc Hall, one of the dormitories, there was a party—there’s always lots of parties going on. People end up there under the influence. I had a good friend of mine who in fact was under the influence. I was trying to take her back to her room so she would be safe, but there was another person who didn’t want to let go of her, and they were kind of tugging her back, and we sort of had a tug of war between this person. I finally got my friend back to her dorm room. The next morning she thanked me because she didn't remember anything had happened the night before.

CHRISTINE GANNON: We have all these numbers, and we have all these stats, but at the end of the day it’s really hard to measure effectiveness, and it’s really hard to show—OK, we’re making a difference here. But when we have a student story like that—if I could have a hundred stories like that, then we would really know that we are doing the right thing.