Monday, April 29, 2013

Students raising visibility around sexual assault

Disturbed by a recent spate of sexual assault and homophobic and racist incidents on their campus, a group of Dartmouth students staged a protest during Prospective Students Weekend. A video of the protest can be found here at Jezebel along with a commentary about the effectiveness of such a disturbance. I am not going to comment on whether it was "rude" or effective in making incoming students aware of the climate on Dartmouth's campus or if just deterred students who might be victims from coming at all.
I will say that visibility and voice are crucial components to raising awareness of campus climate. With so many schools misreporting data about sexual assault, how can anyone--including the students--be expected to stay silent? Some called the protest at Dartmouth rude. But deliberate indifference and misreporting are illegal. I do not know what students had done prior to this protest to raise these issues with the administration. But if something illegal and dangerous is happening on their campus--whether it is one incident or a series of them--and these are not being openly addressed by administrators, then students have every right to protest--loudly even. There has to be transparency.
When sexual assault and discrimination occur administrators should not be telling students (and I am not suggesting this is happening at Dartmouth rather that it happens frequently) that things will be handled. There needs to be a balance between privacy and transparency. Dealing with individual cases in accordance with privacy laws is fine. But the measures that will be taken to deal with a hostile campus climate need to be developed cooperatively and openly. And every student needs to be made aware of campus policies regarding sexual assault and incidents of discrimination.
I was browsing the Amherst College website today and found a page titled Sexual Respect and Title IX. It was under the "About Amherst College" tab on the front page of the school's website. Students can easily find information about reporting sexual assault and seeking counseling. It also notes the steps Amherst has taken to deal with an arguably hostile climate for female students. It also shows prospective students and their parents that Amherst College does have sexual assaults on its campus. I think that is a pretty bold move. They are not hiding that fact. (Arguably after all the negative press last year, it would be hard to do so.)
So many schools are hiding the extent of sexual assault that occurs on their campuses, though.
In another effort to increase visibility of these issues, a group of students and recent alums are trying to fund the Know You IX Campaign which will be aimed at informing every college student about her rights under Title IX. More about what the group will do and how to donate can be found at the above link.