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Unsigned Editorial: Colleges Should be More Upfront About Campus Crimes

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   It’s the time of year when seniors in high school are finishing up submitting their college applications. In August they will leave home, many for the first time, to a new city, a new environment. That in itself is stressful, but add on how colleges deal with sexual misconduct issues, and that stress is multiplied.  Colleges should be openly addressing issues and coming up with solutions instead of dealing with these cases as PR problems. They need to protect the students.

   In terms of sexual misconduct cases, colleges have a history of doing very little to help the students. Online, colleges seem extremely helpful and understanding in trying to provide aid to both the victims and the accused. However in reality, the process is much more complicated and difficult. Often times the victims of sexual assault and/or harassment have to fight to get notice and to enact changes. In the 2014-15 school year, at Columbia University, Student Emma Sulkowicz accused a fellow student of raping her. In an article from Time Magazine, Sulkowicz describes how the university was pressured to find the accused not guilty due to concern over their public image. Before, she explained, “Columbia could just push these things under the rug and no one would know” (timemagazine.com). To protest the results, she carried a 50 pound mattress every time she was on campus. This project was meant to provide commentary on how the university handled her case and to highlight her mistreatment.

   Instead of addressing the root of the problem in policies and rules, colleges choose to treat sexual misconduct as a PR issue. According to The Odyssey, “The problem lies in the fact that college officials, athletic directors, and campus police have been brushing these cases under the rug in order to save face and continue to generate revenue from the influx of students to their schools” (theodysseyonline.com). No parent or students wants to pay thousands of dollars to attend a school where they may be sexually assaulted or harassed, so instead, colleges hide these allegations. By setting the precedent of limited, if any, consequences for rape or sexual assault, administrators who are in power are perpetuating rape culture on college campuses.

   Due to long, complicated processes, many victims decide not to speak up. Time Magazine explains how rape victims often don’t report the crime to police because of low conviction rates (timemagazine.com). This results in a misrepresentation of how often sexual misconduct occurs. According to the Washington Post, in this past year,  Baylor University’s “…governing board demoted the school’s president, Kenneth Starr, and fired its football coach following an investigation that found the school had failed to respond effectively to reports of sexual assault involving football players and others” (washingtonpost.com). Just because a college has a low number of reported rapes, does not mean that it is not happening. Colleges know how to hide cases and create a nice, clean public image when they need to. The Huffington Post describes how up until 2013, USC would label rape as “personal injury, domestic dispute, injury response” (huffingtonpost.com). By relabeling this crime, USC under-represents how much of it is actually happening, and they don’t validate the victim’s cases, discouraging them from reporting.

   Recently, colleges have been working on improving their policies; however, there is still plenty more that they can do. Although the majority of colleges have improved their sexual-assault prevention and awareness efforts, The Guardian describes how the policies focus more on how potential victims (specifically women) can avoid rape (travel in groups, don’t put down your drink), and less on discouraging men from committing violence (theguardian.com). This is at least something, but it makes it the responsibility of solely the victim.

   Instead of only providing incoming freshmen with self defense and safety classes, colleges should be targeting the people most likely to commit this crime. There needs to be more than a 45 minute video describing sexual assault and harassment, more than a 15 minute lecture. By having these classes and lectures, colleges do not solve the issue. They only create an illusion that the colleges are a safe environment for the students. Senior Jodie Nelson explained how instead of focusing so much on tiny campus improvements, colleges should “…improve security at night, have more lights on campus, and maybe create help stations or kiosks where people can run in if they feel like they’re being followed.” In general, greater provisions for student security overall should be created.

   Colleges need to stop addressing campus issues just to save their reputations; instead, they should acknowledge the problems and go forward to create new and improved rules and policies. Their main focus should be protecting the students; and when the students are assaulted, they should not have to fight to have their voices heard. Instead of only treating the symptoms to the issue, administrators should be going to the root of the problem, creating policies and classes that teach students respect for one another and have serious consequences for those who commit the crime.

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