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Taking the Lead in Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment on Campus

Professionals from colleges and universities across the Greater Philadelphia region convened on the Main Campus for the 2018 Judicial Affairs Best Practices Conference.

Randolph Merced, the College’s director of safety and security, said this year's programs centered around sexual assault and harassment with the intent of creating a collaborative learning experience for "everyone who works with our students in any academic or social setting throughout their journey as a learner . . . I created this conference in 2009 from an idea of getting professionals from the judicial affairs, student affairs, campus police and conduct administrators together as an information sharing activity."

 Merced said he took a slightly different approach with the planning of the 2018 conference. Community members were invited to join the conversation and attendance was free, part of his continuing emphasis on security as a shared responsibility.

 “This symposium is an exchange of ideas and best practices and too important to leave people out because of limited resources," said Merced. "I kept it as a collaborative effort so we can generate a powerful audience who appreciate the networking and information sharing without incurring any cost."   

Kelley B. Hodge, Esq., who served as the 25th District Attorney of Philadelphia on an interim basis, delivered a keynote address on The Responsible and Listening University with a message focusing on "supporting victims, reducing victimization, and being fair to all involved" in instances of sexual assault, harassment and violence.

She explained that this is made possible when institutions take intentional steps to improve chain-of-communication, enhance preventative measures, and ultimately increase campus safety and the student’s sense of safety.  

"Sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence—is enveloping our society [and] has enveloped our communities. No one, no place is immune to it," said Hodge in an interview. "It requires us to be vigilant, to share information, to try and do everything that we can to...improve our systems to create accessibility so that hopefully we can reduce it—if not eliminate it; that would be ideal."

Using high profile cases and personal experiences as examples, Hodge explored the importance of self-awareness, cultural competency, implicit bias awareness, and identifying the gaps within each attendee's higher education institution.  

"This conversation is part of a layering that needs to be ongoing. I think with education, when you're talking about prevention, you need to layer. And so, this shouldn't end today," said Hodge. "As long as the pain of being a victim of violence exists, this is a conversation that needs to remain at the top of the leadership board in terms of what needs to be addressed and focused on by schools and universities."

The day-long program featured numerous breakout sessions including one led by Merced, one on the importance of including the LGBTQ community when addressing sexual violence on college campuses and another addressing Title IX best practices.

The symposium was among the various workshops and lectures included in the 19th Annual Law and Society Week, presented by the College’s Fox Rothschild Center for Law and Society. The other activities engaged students and guests in topical issues such as gerrymandering, immigration, restorative justice and more. Attendees received insight and practical advice from experts, including District Attorney Larry Krasner, who discussed the high rate of incarceration and his strategies for a fairer criminal justice system Additionally, this year, conference organizers built a public service component into its sessions. Students and guests showed their generosity by donating clean new or gently used professional attire to a clothing drive benefiting Career Wardrobe.