Request for Help

How technology can fight campus sexual assault.

GUEST COLUMN | by Danial Jameel 

CREDIT OOHLALAOver the past year, gender related assault and misconduct on college campuses has, rightly, generated a fantastic amount of attention, action, press coverage, debate and punditry.

Whether or not the volume of incidents is growing on campus, awareness clearly is. And awareness and education, as well as more visible and pro-active support structures, are all beneficial and predictable responses and preventions. Nearly every campus has recently reviewed their investment in education and support services. And I’m sure every campus has some level of professional security or police as well as emergency call boxes and safe spaces. These are good things too.

A well-designed app, connected to the college community and part of daily student life already, could harness important resources instantly – even sending location information to friends or authorities.

But, surprisingly, real tools seem to essentially stop there. And that’s not good enough.

Technology can’t solve every problem but here, it appears to me, is a real problem with a tech solution which could have a real impact.

Every college in the world should integrate their existing sexual violence resources – emergency assistance, law enforcement, treatment and support – with their growing online, mobile campus communities. I’m shocked it hasn’t happened everywhere already.

Over the past decade, schools have moved several of their academic and social resources online. Nearly every college and university has an online portal for registering for classes, checking or submitting assignments, navigating the campus or learning about social events. Today, that’s pretty standard. And more and more of those schools are moving those resources from online to mobile – putting these resources literally at the fingertips of their students and staff.

At the same time, the only thing growing more rapidly than college resources moving to online and mobile, is the ubiquitous nature of smart phones on campus. Few college students are without them – and students do everything on them from order food and exchange class notes to RSVP for parties.

That’s the world I work in – helping colleges consolidate and migrate their resources into mobile app-driven communities and connect those resources with their students. It’s why I’m surprised that schools haven’t yet insisted that the sexual and gender-based violence resources they already provide be available through a mobile campus community.

It’s seems so obvious and easy. And, for the most part, it is.

When conventional wisdom says that a sizeable number of sex and gender crimes take place in apartments and dorm rooms or at parties, it’s downright foolish to not put crucial resources there – in the hands of those effected. A callbox down the block, while important, physically can’t be in the places where a timely call for help could do the most good.

Since people (especially young people) are inseparable from their phones already, that’s where help should be, at the touch of a button.

A well-designed app, connected to the college community and part of daily student life already, could harness important resources instantly – even sending location information to friends or authorities. It could also do that without the same situational burden of actually calling for help. Discretely touching a button to request help – as easily checking a text message or the time – could make a real difference in a host of situations.

I know that’s possible because we’ve done it already. We build campus safety alerts and support resources into our campus community app and it’s being used on 50 campuses right now. But that’s not enough. Every college president, dean and parent should be insisting that safety features like these be part of online campus life — wherever or however those are actually made available.

There’s no excuse that I can see for not doing everything that can be done to stop sexual, domestic and gender-based offenses on campus. Since this can be done, it should be done. And immediately.

Danial Jameel, cofounder of OOHLALA Mobile, the largest mobile campus community, was recently named Forbes 2015 30Under30 – Education.

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