It’s been a busy news cycle when it comes to discussion of rape and rape culture on US college and university campuses. Read on for the good, the bad, the infuriating, and the (cautiously) optimistic.
The Oxy Diaries. Things continue to heat up at Occidental College, where 37 students have filed two lawsuits and two federal complaints over the college’s mishandling of sexual assault cases on campus. On the heels of the lawsuits and accompanying press conference, as well as visible campus activism by survivors and supporters, more than 100 Oxy faculty signed an open letter of support demanding policy change. On May 6, the faculty voted overwhelmingly to express No Confidence in both the college’s campus attorney and Dean of Students.
On May 8, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights formally opened an investigation into Occidental’s handling (or mishandling) of assault allegations. (This is the second such investigation by the DOE this year: In March, it opened a similar investigation into the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s sexual assault reporting and adjudication process.)
While the investigation should not be taken as a determination of guilt, survivors and their supporters at Oxy are seeing it as a positive step forward. Said Caroline Heldman, chair of the department of politics at Occidental and one of many faculty who have worked with the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition to bring attention to the issue of sexual violence on campus,
“In a sense, it’s a vindication of the survivors’ stories that their claims are real and legitimate,” Heldman said. “I’m just really happy that all of our work has led to this, this day, the start of a real investigation and not one run by the administration.”
Where Is Your Line? will continue to watch and report on developments at Oxy. Sociology professor Lisa Wade, who has also been active in bringing the issue of assault at Oxy to the fore, regular updates at her blog Sociological Images as well, for those who want an inside perspective.
A “decline in civility” at Dartmouth? On Wednesday, April 24, Dartmouth College took the unusual step of cancelling classes to deal with what it termed a “decline in civility” on campus. The previous Friday, several members of Real Talk Dartmouth had disrupted an assembly of prospective incoming students to bring attention to Dartmouth administration’s perceived inaction in cases of sexual assault. Declaring “Dartmouth has a problem!” members of the group shouted alarming statistics about sexual violence on campus, including the troubling fact that in the past 10 years only three rapists had been expelled from the institution and the steady rise in sexual assaults on campus (from 10 to 22) between the academic years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. (Members of Real Talk Dartmouth, which is not affiliated with the college, also report that 95% of assaults at Dartmouth go unreported.)
In response to the protest, members of Real Talk Dartmouth received threats of rape and murder on social media.
The college responded by canceling classes on Wednesday and issuing an email assuring the campus community that both the protesters and the people who threatened them would be subject to disciplinary action through approved college channels.
Hold up a second. Yes, that’s right. The email from the college officially equated the actions of protesters, who were trying to draw attention to violence on campus, with the actions of those who threatened them with sexual assault, bodily harm, and death for daring to speak out. Dartmouth administration characterized the escalating situation as a “decline of civility on campus.” (Just a thought: Maybe the real “incivility” on campus comes from a) having an administration that deals ineffective with sexual violence, and b) the attitude that threatening people with rape is an effective way to silence them.)
The full email from the chair of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees reads:
April 26, 2013
To the Dartmouth community:
As some of you know, a small group of students disrupted the Dimensions Welcome Show for prospective students on Friday, April 19, using it as a platform to protest what they say are incidents of racism, sexual assault, and homophobia on campus. Following the protest, threats of bodily harm and discriminatory comments targeting the protesters and their defenders ran anonymously on various sites on the Internet.
With tensions high across the Dartmouth community, Interim President Carol Folt, the Dean of the Faculty, and other senior leaders across campus agreed that the best course of action was to suspend classes on Wednesday, April 24, for a day of reflection and alternative educational programming. This decision was made to address not only the initial protest, but a precipitous decline in civility on campus over the last few months, at odds with Dartmouth’s Principles of Community.
This unusual and serious action to suspend classes for a day was prompted by concern that the dialogue on campus had reached a point that threatened to compromise the level of shared respect necessary for an academic community to thrive. The faculty and administration together determined that a pause to examine how the climate on campus can be improved was necessary. This was an important exercise that the Board supports. It is also important to note that there will be an opportunity for faculty to hold the classes that were missed as a result of Wednesday’s events.
Neither the disregard for the Dimensions Welcome Show nor the online threats that followed represent what we stand for as a community. As Interim President Folt indicated Wednesday in her remarks in front of Dartmouth Hall, the administration is following established policies and procedures with regard to any possible disciplinary action in both cases. As in every case regarding a disciplinary investigation, this process is confidential and respects the privacy of our students.
Dartmouth is not unique in the challenges it faces concerning campus climate and student life. We aspire to lead in responding to these challenges.
The Trustees and I are committed to addressing and supporting efforts necessary to resolve these issues, improving the campus climate and strengthening the institution. The Board’s Committee on Student Affairs is working with senior leaders and consulting with outside professionals to make progress on this front.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions with me at Stephen.F.Mandel.Jr.78@Dartmouth.edu
Steve Mandel ’78, P’09, P’11
Chair, Board of Trustees
In case you missed it, the administration is on record as saying that staging a protest against sexual assault on campus is the same as threatening another student with rape or other violence.
And that, right there — that’s what rape culture looks like.
SMU Task Force Reports Back: After months of meetings and discussions, the task force appointed last fall by Southern Methodist University president R. Gerald Turner has reported back with its recommendations. SMU has been accused of a secretive culture around the handling of sexual assault on campus, including an “opaque system of on-campus hearings known as ‘student conduct panels.’” When a (male) student was sexually assaulted by another (male) student in one of the University’s parking garages in the fall of 2012, SMU suddenly seemed to become aware of the culture of sexual assault on campus, prompting Turner to appoint the task force. (The charges against the student who was accused of the assault have since been dropped.)
As an SMU alum, I was frankly surprised that the campus administration suddenly cared. As I have reported, there was an undeniable rape culture on the campus while I was both a graduate student and an instructor there.
Turner’s task force returned 41recommendations for changing the campus attitude and approach to sexual violence. Among them are instituting anonymous reporting of sexual assaults on campus, providing all staff with a wallet card listing resources for students who have been sexually assaulted, funding of an after-hours sexual assault counselor on campus, and clarifying of policies and procedures surrounding investigation of sexual assaults. (You can read the full report here.) While these may all be positive steps towards better adjudication of sexual assaults that do occur, it remains to be seen whether these steps — many of which are focused on after-the-fact dealing with assault or prevention efforts that appear to be the same “how not to be a victim” tactics that characterize rape culture in the first place — will change the campus culture.