On an early morning in October of 2016, Dana Branham shook the administration to its highest. Creating a stir on campus that required attention as students and faculty that refused to be left unanswered.
Branham wrote and published ‘New sexual assault research not acknowledged by OU administrators,’ the article focused on a research project created by Lisa Frey and Denise Beesley from the OU Psychology Clinic. The research exposed damning evidence that the university, like most others, had a problem with students becoming victims of sexual violence by choosing not to report their crime. The researchers in the article expressed wishes that the OU’s Administration and Title IX office would take the situation more seriously when working to prevent gender-based crimes.
Branham told me that the researches provided the study to The Daily the semester before its publication. Choosing not to publish immediately as the evidence within the research pointed to something more serious and worth investigating.
She told me that the topic of gender-based violence is a topic that she took seriously and had a passion for pursuing, expressing to me that as a result, she took ownership of the reporting and investigation within the article. She approached the Gender+Equality Center (GEC), OU’s Title IX office, and the President’s office for comment on the research’s findings and why the University had made changes as a result.
The report by Lisa Frey and Denise Beesley reflects the same findings seen within dozens of similar studies produced by researches across the country. Mutually stating that universities foster an environment for gender-based crimes to take place and rarely are these crimes reported to the authorities. The interviews Branham conducted with the Title IX office and GEC reflect their acknowledgment of this along with an understanding of what is being done and needs to be done to curb these issues.
The interview with the president, David Boren, reflected something much different. Branham described his comments during the meeting as “surreal” when I spoke with her. Describing a story to me about how she even turned to the president’s press secretary, Corbin Wallace, mentally asking herself “did the president really just say that?”
Boren said, “We try to really train students about (sexual violence), and you try to also say, ‘Don’t get yourself in a situation where you’re incapable of saying no.’ Can we eradicate the problem? Not any more than we can eradicate human nature.”
To any person, these comments are meek. To any expert on sexual violence, these comments are what normalize sexual crimes for our society. Excusing them in a way that suggests that nothing can be done to prevent or altogether stop these crimes.
Branham’s article made news. The president’s comments did not sit well with students and faculty. A protest would take place in the days following. The president would hold a ‘public’ meeting with students but excused the press before it started. In that meeting, Boren tried to clarify what he had said but fell flat with most in attendance, as they felt like the president didn’t understand how these crimes are perpetrated and are excused by our culture.
Branham’s article was the start of a long line of events that would result in the administration requiring all freshman students to attend the University’s in-person sexual violence prevention program, ‘Step In, Speak Out.” Along with the GEC receiving more funding to carry out these pieces of training and begin paying their peer educators.
Without Branham’s diligent work to understand the research, the article would not have carried the weight that it did. She first met with one of the researchers of the study off the record to outline her intent and learn about their concerns. This meeting created a level of trust among both parties, both her and the researchers before they held an official interview.
She continued that same tedious work to understand the many ways how students are expected to report and how to interpret both the Clery Act and the annual Sooner Fire and Safety Report. The level of concern to purely understand is what established credibility to her article, preventing her from misusing terms or phrases and in result taking away from the article’s full credibility.