Looking back on it now, Valerie Jarrett would handle things differently when sending her daughter off to college.
The senior adviser to the president said on Tuesday that 10 years ago, she was unaware how big an epidemic sexual assault was at some of the nation's academic institutions. Were she to do it again, she said, she'd sit down with her daughter to discuss the perils that can come with being in certain environments.
"I still vividly remember the moment I let go of an embrace with my daughter on her college campus -- that in her opinion, probably lasted far too long," Jarrett said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "I left the most precious thing in my life in the care of an institution, and that's a very hard thing to do. Ignorantly, I had no idea when I sent her off to college 10 years ago the incidence of rape on college campuses. I just had no awareness of it."
"A physician friend of mine cautioned my daughter about date rape, but I didn't take it in," she added. "And now, knowing what I know, I would still certainly send her to college, but I would probably spend a lot of time talking through with her ways of protecting herself."
Hours before sharing her own trepidations with the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, Jarrett and others in the White House unveiled a new report and series of recommendations to address this very issue. The report, issued by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, is accompanied by a new website, NotAlone.gov, which contains a comprehensive list of location-specific sexual assault resources for students and school administrators.
The task force recommends that all colleges conduct an anonymous "climate survey" of their students to get a sense of how big the sexual assault problem is on each campus and whether students feel comfortable reporting assaults. The administration is providing colleges with a sample survey they could use now with the hopes of standardizing it and making it mandatory by 2016. The Department of Education is also offering guidance to colleges on how to encourage students to report assaults while protecting confidentiality, and the department's Office of Civil Rights is providing a lengthy FAQ document with detailed instructions on how to write a sexual misconduct policy.
The new website will contain a map of rape crisis centers around the country and will show students exactly how to report sexual assaults at their schools.
In her interview, Jarrett called Tuesday's announcement a first step, saying that the administration will continue to pursue "additional legislative or executive actions" that it "can take to root out sexual assault and better protect students." But, she also noted, much of the change in campus culture will be a result of a free-market effect -- with families adjusting their application habits based on sexual assault data.
"Our hope is by shining a spotlight on this issue, the ones that are willing to be transparent are going to be rewarded in the marketplace," Jarrett said. "I think that as information starts to come out and as parents are more aware of the issue, they're gonna start to ask questions. And when examples surface where colleges and universities have tried to brush this under the rug because it involves the star of an athletic team for example, that has a real extraordinary blemish on that university's reputation."
Already, there is evidence of market forces having an effect, with applications to Dartmouth College declining dramatically after an uproar over assault on campus and alleged mistreatment of female students.
But the federal government isn't entirely without resources in trying to implement the recommendations made by the White House task force. The Department of Education has cracked down recently on a number of colleges it has found to be in violation of Title IX with regard to their handling of sexual assault cases. Schools that fail to address the problem adequately are first given a period of time to work with the federal government to improve policies and practices. If the school fails to comply, the government can revoke the school's federal funding-- but that is a consequence the administration has yet to impose.
Jarrett said the task force's new report does not impose any tougher punishments on schools that sweep their sexual assault problems under the rug. And with any set of government-authored recommendations, there is always the concern that institutions simply won't comply if they feel it's in their self-interest not to do so. But the White House task force and Jarrett are also hopeful that by elevating the issue to the president's level, they can help weed out some bad behavior and systematic deficiencies.
"Part of what the president wanted to do with this task force, by being so inclusive in our outreach, was to put the spotlight on this issue so parents would begin to have this conversation with their children and with their college counselors," said Jarrett. "“Government, colleges, students and families all have a role to play in ending sexual violence on our college campuses -– and our new recommendations are the next important steps of an ongoing commitment that President Obama and our Administration have had since day one."
This post has been updated to include an additional quote from Valerie Jarrett.