Viewpoint: Improving Campus Sexual Assault Policies Must Become a Priority

When the White House releases a PSA featuring Obama, Biden, and a bunch of famous actors lamenting that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in college, you know something serious is up. While rape comes in different forms, the college campus rape story is starting to sound familiar: a victim, usually but not exclusively a female freshman, gets raped at a party or on a date, sometimes to the knowledge of unsympathetic peers, reports the rape to the school administration (sometimes with hesitation due to lack of information), faces harassment and mockery from peers, administrators, or even campus police, drops the case due to unfair processing or pressure from the school, loses friends, and eventually leaves school. Meanwhile, the rapist may attack again, as most are repeat offenders, yet goes on to happily graduate with his class.

circle-600x375This spring, the US Department of Education found my school, Tufts University, in violation of federal law regarding handlings of sexual assault. In response, students launched a social media campaign, started a petition with over 1,600 signatures urging Tufts to support survivors, and organized what seemed to be the largest student rally of the year. Around the same time, the Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for poor handlings of sexual assault cases (the number has since been revised to 64). Tufts was the only school to deny violating a federal law, known as Title IX, though it later acknowledged its violation.

Tufts President Anthony Monaco then announced he was making changes to campus policy, training everyone on Tufts’ three campuses about sexual assault and hiring specialists for two new positions.

This was good news, but colleges need to go further than simply hire trained, sensitive specialists—something they should have done long ago. Schools need to educate students about rape culture. The only information I received at Tufts was a presentation during freshman orientation that depicted sexual assault as a comical, blurred-lines mess. It included excessive alcohol consumption, perpetuating the misconception that rape is just a product of the larger problem of binge drinking. The presentation’s “interactive” element, in which the actors asked the audience for feedback, invited some mocking, victim-blaming responses. It did not mention resources for sexual assault victims or the consequences of rape at Tufts.

I praise the Federal Government’s recognition of the problem and my school’s overdue first steps. But Tufts, along with the 64 schools under investigation, still has many improvements to make. Too many schools care more about their reputations than the safety and well-being of their students, sometimes silencing sexual assault victims in order to boast that the problem does not exist at their school. But $50,000 in tuition per year merits the safety and justice of each student on campus.

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