By Samantha Reid
We’ve all heard the scary statistic that one in every four college women will be the victim of sexual assault before they graduate. Even more concerning, the Justice Department states that an estimated 95 percent of these attacks go unreported, and upwards of 80 percent are committed by someone the victim knows.
With numbers like these, sexual assault on college campuses is an issue that should be garnering more attention. Most of the attention it has gotten thus far, however, has come from scandal and controversy when a university mishandles the aftermath of an assault on a student. Administrators tend to shy away from such a potentially sensitive subject, staying mum on a topic that needs to be addressed if things are going to get better anytime soon. Without education on the subject, victims feel alienated and are less likely to report their attack and seek justice and support.
Roosevelt is no stranger to this particular brand of controversy. Last year, Examiner.com criticized the school’s handling of sexual assault in the dorms, citing their delay at releasing a statement as administrative incompetence. Students and faculty alike were also upset with the way the situation was handled, which prompted President Charles Middleton’s inundation with letters from concerned parties wondering how we can prevent these issues in the future. With thousands of young students housed in such close quarters, sexual assault seems to be a sad statistical inevitability, but how we choose to handle it is within our power.
Since last year, Roosevelt has made attempts to better handle issues as they arise, but not without the growing pains one might expect from a university transforming from a commuter school to a live-in campus school. Years ago, when Roosevelt had mostly off-campus students, the focus was placed on safety in and around the city. But now the school must readjust to fit the needs of a new crop of students all living in the close quarters of the University Center and Wabash Building dorms. The danger to students is not necessarily only lurking out on the streets of Chicago. With the statistics on acquaintance rape being as high as they are, the school needs to focus additional attention on preventing attacks within the campus walls.
For the first time ever, Roosevelt integrated a sex education seminar into freshmen orientation, which was met with lackluster reviews from students. The attempts are being made by administration, but there is clearly more work to be done going forward.
Roosevelt can look to other institutions, such as Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, for as an example of how campus sexual assault should be handled. Rather than wait for a scandal to hit, Cornell President David Skorton decided to take a proactive approach in revamping the university’s sexual assault policies. Where most administrators avoid the subject, Skorton took the opposite approach, writing an op-ed for Cornell’s student newspaper in an effort to start a dialogue amongst students about the issue that plagues college campuses around the country. This type of support from administrators could make the difference in the mind of a victim debating over whether or not to report his or her attack.
Additionally, Skorton put together a student and faculty led committee to examine the already existing policies and look for ways to improve. Cornell even has an entire section of their student health website devoted to providing resources and information to victims of sexual assault, from medical assistance to rape trauma counseling. The belief among the administrators and students at Cornell is that prevention is just as important than response, if not more. Universities should not be simply dealing with sexual assaults after the fact on a case-by-case basis. Colleges across the U.S. need to develop a comprehensive approach, reinforcing a culture among students that attempts to prevent rape and sexual assault. Sadly, Roosevelt and thousands of other universities have not yet caught on to this concept.
In a time when so many institutions are fumbling to properly handle issues of sexual assault, it’s refreshing to see a prestigious university like Cornell set the right example. Roosevelt and schools around
the country should take note, opening the floor for students to have a say in their own student services policies. Revamping sexual assault policies at Roosevelt would require the university’s time and money, but it would be a small price to pay to ensure that students feel safe on campus, a place that is supposed to be their home away from home.
With the staggering statistics on sexual assault, student health and safety should take top priority. Hopefully, the trend Cornell has started will take root in Chicago and across the country in an effort to decrease assaults and increase reporting when attacks do occur.