Obama's call for safer campuses highlights changes at UM


MISSOULA, Mont. - President Barack Obama announced of a new task force aimed at protecting students on college campuses from sexual assault.

Obama called attention to the ongoing issue and created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. He announced the plans last week, and mentioned them again during his weekly address Saturday.

"We're going to help schools do a better job of preventing and responding to sexual assault on their campuses," said President Obama.

It's all part of a new plan to help campuses across the country and one that hits close to home for the University of Montana. In May 2013 after a yearlong investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office for Civil Rights, the DOJ made it clears UM had a problem with the way it handled sexual assault cases.

But it also announced an agreement, nearly 20 pages that outlined ways for UM to improve; everything from training, to policies and how to treat victims. It also presented an idea that the University of Montana would serve as a model for other schools. Now that could be the case as President Obama has pledged to make campuses safe and help schools find ways to improve.

"We're going to keep working to stop sexual assaults wherever they occur," he said.

UM's been there and its top officials are more than willing to help.

"If there's anything we have learned or anything we have done that can be a model or a lesson for someone else, we're more than happy to share that information," said UM's Vice President for Integrated Communications Peggy Kuhr.

In fact the school's already set an example others want to follow with its mandatory sexual assault education program. The online course PETSA, personal empowerment through self awareness, is one Kuhr says other campuses have asked for.

"We have received over the last year a number of inquiries from other college campuses," she said. "Now Vanderbilt University has essentially used PETSA."

It's part of an ongoing goal to prevent sexual assaults and bring awareness to the problem, not just for the University of Montana but for campuses nationwide.

"This is an issue for all campuses," said Kuhr.

"College should be a place where our young people feel secure and confident," said President Obama.

According to data compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls one in five women is sexually assaulted at college, but only about 12 percent of student victims report the assaults. The report also said that women in college settings are at high risk for sexual assault.