College campuses are at their heart places of hope. They are usually beautiful in design, and filled with students at the beginning of their adult lives searching for the tools that will launch their careers. In addition to this are faculty members in their pursuit of discovery. Often faculty research leads to major societal changes, whether in the form of a cure for a disease or any number of breakthroughs. This should not be news to anyone.
But what is becoming stunning is the sheer number of stories coming out about how universities and colleges of all types are dealing with an epidemic of sexual assaults being mishandled. Sexual assaults happen and they are chronically under reported already according to NOW. It is bad enough that in our society such assaults can happen in the first place, but no one in search of help should be unable to find it or discouraged from doing so.
Numerous groups including established national organizations and growing student led campaigns have been raising these issues and fighting for change, media attention has also been fairly steady, including the Huffington Post which runs stories on the subject nearly everyday.
In Connecticut, Wesleyan is not far removed from a settlement with a victim regarding an assault at an infamous fraternity house (Huffington Post). A timeline of the events at Wesleyan can be found here.
Yale is facing challenges from multiple fronts including the aftermath of a lawsuit, and questions over how sexual assault is punished, as well as how certain faculty members charged with harassment were handled (Yale Daily News). These include allegations that victims were told to keep quiet (The Guardian). There is also a timeline of the Yale cases and the ongoing quest for resolution.
Just down the street from Yale at Southern Connecticut State University, students marched on the President’s office (New Haven Register) demanding answers to why a faculty member charged with harassment was given a small punishment, in a case where facts are very hard to find. Clearly there is a belief that not enough was done though. Developments in the SCSU case are tracked here.
Just recently however attention shifted to UConn in a major way, as students represented by Gloria Allred filed a lawsuit regarding that UConn violated Title IX in failing to protect and respect students from sexual violence. For further reading there is a detailed timeline of events and links. These include Carolyn Luby who’s different viewpoint on the UConn mascot change led to hideous responses (Hartford Courant). The situation turned even darker when UConn’s President in an attempt to defuse the situation defiantly declared the university was taking care of these matters, (Hartford Courant) but did so in a way that drew media and political scorn from all sides.
Connecticut is by no means the only place this is happening, but it is also troubling that these four institutions, three of which are within minutes of each other, could be going through such problems.
Colleges are often a shelter from the rigors of the real world, before students are unleashed into what can be a harsh place. They should not come with this gigantic caveat that if an individual of any gender is attacked, that they will not have anything but the best of care and support from a place they are likely paying quite a lot of money to attend. This seems like a no brainer, in an age of tight budgets, and rhetoric that public safety is so important, one would expect other potential expenses to be avoided in the face of supporting crisis, and not just monetarily but in terms of culture. Everyone is well aware that we have not by any means destroyed sexism especially in it’s most violent form. It should not take this long for change, nor should their be baffling results like there have been at UConn recently. It is true that federal privacy laws do inhibit colleges from speaking about cases, but that should incentivize them to try even harder to avoid problems as their ability to defend themselves is even less. Never mind that pricey lawsuits will cut into budgets at a time when universities are struggling. Students shouldn’t have to sue their colleges to get results and protections they deserve. University administrations should be responding with major speed and vigor, while preserving due process, as they deal with sexual assaults and harassment cases.
Note: the CT State Legislature has a hearing set for November 13th regarding UConn.