A presidential push to combat sexual assaults on college campuses nationwide was welcome news Wednesday at the University of Minnesota, where two recent assaults have unsettled many students.
"Whenever an executive call like this is made, it requires institutions to examine what they're doing — or not doing," said Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center at the U, which helps victims of sexual violence and advocates for more education and prevention.
The White House reported Wednesday that one out of five female college students are sexually assaulted, a statistic that President Obama said was "unacceptable."
At the U, officials recorded 25 reports of forcible sex offenses in 2010, 18 in 2011 and 22 in 2012 at the U's Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. Statistics for last year aren't complete yet.
The president's memorandum establishes that has 90 days to:
• Devise suggestions for colleges to improve prevention of and response to sexual assault.
• Recommend measures that more easily allow the public to monitor how well individual schools deal with sexual violence.
• Promoteworking to combat sexual violence
The document by the White House Council on Women and Girls highlighted how many campus assaults are fueled by drinking and drug use, often at parties, that leave victims vulnerable and how many rapes go unreported.
, a junior majoring in political science at the U.changes in how students and school officials deal with sexual assaults, preventiveon consent for first-year students.
If more women are going to report assaults, Eichele said, victims need to know that resources are available to help them, and also trust that their reports will be believed.
In October, the national advocacy group Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) and other anti-violence activists released a study that analyzed almost 300 sexual-assault policies across the country and graded them based on survivor resources, disciplinary procedures and other factors. None of the policies scored an A; nearly one-third did not fully comply with federal law.
Obama's initiative will be a chance for colleges and universities to reassess their policies and programs dealing with sexual violence, Eichele said.
"The federal government really has the opportunity here to see what campuses are saying in their policies and what they are [actually] doing," said Tracey Vitchers, communications coordinator for SAFER.
Rachel Sadowsky, a U sophomore, co-authored a petition in the fall asking for an increased police presence on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods after numerous crimes on and near the campus, including two sex assaults by stranger.
In one, a university student was sexually assaulted by a man impersonating a police officer. A few hours before the incident, Sadowsky said, she'd been walking with a group of people near the area where the attack occurred.
"It's hard to imagine, honestly, that we can't walk in our own neighborhood, and we have to be at risk for something like that," she said.
The university announced Tuesday several safety changes in response to the recent crimes, including the addition of security cameras on busy pedestrian routes and requiring electronic-card access to all academic buildings on the Twin Cities campus by the end of spring semester.