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Addressing Sexual Assault, Westporters Create A National “Culture Of Respect”

A Columbia University undergraduate hauls a mattress around campus to protest the school’s lax handling of her sexual assault charge against a fellow student.

At Yale, fraternity members taunt advocates of a strong sexual assault policy: “No means yes! Yes means anal!”

Nearly every day, it seems, there’s a new twist on an old story: sexual assaults by college students on classmates.

But despite all the talk — and countless task forces, reports, videos, workshops and whatnot — there has not been one national, coordinated, clear and comprehensive place to gather facts, offer resources and provide help to everyone affected by college sexual assault: victims; their friends and parents; university administrators, professors and coaches.

Now there is. It’s called Culture of Respect — and the social norm-changing organization that launches officially tomorrow is spearheaded by a strong, committed group of Westporters.

Culture of Respect board members (from left) John and Sandi Fifield, and Anne Hardy.

John Fifield is an architect. His wife Sandi is a photographer. But they — and a corps of friends and strangers-who-soon-became-friends — quickly became experts on federal, state and local law; police and medical procedures; brain development, alcohol, fraternities, athletics, and politics as practiced at the national, state, local (and university) levels.

“We wanted to do something positive for young women on campuses,” John explains. “It didn’t take long to realize how much was lacking.”

They reached out to the best people they could find: legal experts, educators, folks at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Westporters opened doors for the Fifields, and the equally dedicated Anne Hardy. There were introductions to college presidents and deans. Leads to marketers, fundraisers, publicists. An invitation to a small roundtable discussion with Vice President Joe Biden.

All agreed on the need to provide one place where anyone could find information on what to do in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault; how to follow up; which prevention programs already work — even how parents and other adults can talk to young women (and men) about the issue.

And it’s all free.

So was the website design. Gina Nieves of MarkNet built it all, pro bono.

The Culture of Respect home page.

Through it all, the Culture of Respect organizers kept their focus on “culture.”

“We go beyond what happens in one relationship,” Sandi says. “This is about changing a culture. It includes all students, and all adults in a college. It speaks to parents of boys and young men too.”

Culture of Respect is not about looking backward or pointing blame, Anne says. The emphasis is on moving forward.

That’s not easy. Every college is different. But they’ve created a flexible framework. Schools as diverse as Dartmouth, Brigham Young, the University of Florida, Prairie View A&M and Kalamazoo Valley Community College can find something there that will work for them.

Users find an impressive array of information. One section offers help and resources for victims of sexual assault, friends and parents. Another is aimed at college administrators, in the form of vast research and over a dozen successful programs already in place.

A section on “activism tools” provides links to powerful videos. Here’s one example, from the University of Arizona:

Amazingly, none of the data and resources has been available in one place before. It’s a fantastic, surprising — and, unfortunately, eye-opening — website. It’s stunning in its depth, powerful in its breadth, and inspiring in its potential for a true cultural shift.

College sexual assault is a national problem. Today, the best tools to fight it are offered from right here in Westport, by a passionate, well-organized group of neighbors. They believe every college and university in America can must create a true “culture of respect.”

(For more information, and to see the website, click on


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