The University of Richmond updated its website near the end of the fall semester as part of an ongoing process to increase transparency of Title IX policies and campus resources. Despite the increased internal transparency, the website fails to effectively communicate information about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Instead, it protects UR business interests, hindering sexual assault education and prevention.
At the bottom of the university homepage, under the category of “health and safety,” there is a link titled “Sexual Misconduct Policy” that redirects the user to prevent.richmond.edu, the new site for the Center for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. This is the new location for all the information on reporting, campus resources and Title IX procedure.
The new website adequately provides students with the information to report incidents of sexual violence and sex and gender-based harassment through a sexual misconduct reporting form. The visibility of the Sexual Misconduct Policy along with the Standards of Student Conduct provides all the information on the University's policy — a policy that has been going through changes after an immense call for change by students, alumni and faculty in the fall of 2016.
The location of the site, and its content, effectively communicates to people who are already familiar with navigating the website and familiar with Title IX, namely, students, faculty, staff and recent alumni. This limited scope communicates internally and not externally. External members of the University, including the thousands of prospective students, parents or guardians; and potential employers or potential donors, will view the UR homepage, but the vast majority of them will not click the links at the bottom, and will miss the information entirely. The link to the Center is also available in multiple locations on wellness.richmond.edu, but the placement of the links still minimizes visibility to external members unfamilar with the UR website.
The logic behind minimizing the visibility of the issue is to make parents feel safer about sending their children to UR. Unfortunately, no matter what university students attend, the issue of sexual assault will be present. By hiding the information on sexual assault at UR, the university is chooses to remain silent. This silence is intentional, and only serves to protect UR’s admissions rates, rankings and finances.
I propose that, under the main tabs of the UR homepage, along with categories such as “About,” “Academics” and “Giving,” the University create a tab that redirects to the Center for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Additionally, the first page of the Center should be used with the intention of educating the community about the issue.
Information on reporting, campus resources and policy should still be visible. However, rethinking the prevention website as a chance to educate will ultimately increase the scope of our education and prevention efforts towards the issue of sexual assault. After all, what good is a prevention website that only educates current students? We have to get ahead of this issue and ensure information is communicated to prospective students, parents and the public.
It is important to think about what information could go on the website that will not undermine the prevalence of the issue. For example, the first page of the Center currently highlights the values of UR, but fails to reflect on the ways we are falling short of those values.
From reading the website you would hardly guess that sexual assault is a problem at UR. Instead, the website should include statistics such as 1 in 5 and information on how LGBTQ students are disproportinately affected by sexual assault. Doing so would appropriately communicate how UR is a part of systematic gender violence, and not an exception to the problem.
The University of Richmond is not alone in its choice to minimize visibility of sexual assault issues on its homepage. Adding a tab on the homepage would make UR one of the first institutions to place the issue of sexual assault as a priority that goes beyond empty promises and public relations. Rethinking the website as a chance to educate people about the institution, rather than brag about the school, would show a real commitment to the high moral standards that UR prides itself on.
As it stands, the only thing the prevention website prevents is education and an honest conversation about the prevalence of sexual assault.
Contact contributor Jayson Vivas at firstname.lastname@example.org.