Trigger warning: Sexual violence and rape culture discussed
In the last week, my alma mater, American University, has been receiving a lot of attention in the media because of leaked emails from an underground fraternity containing details about widespread drug use, sexist, racist and homophobic language and most disturbingly, details about sexual assaults and plans to rape intoxicated women.
This ongoing controversy and the response from students and the administration has garnered coverage in the Washington Post, Jezebel, USA Today, The Atlantic, as well as in the local CBS and Fox broadcast affiliates, among others.
However, there is one aspect to this incident that has not been covered. It is only the most recent episode in the ongoing struggle between student activists (including myself) and the administration regarding the need for mandatory sexual assault prevention education programs for all students.
Three years ago, the AU administration announced that it would not be signing off on a grant proposal to the US Department of Justice for $300,000 in funding for sexual assault prevention resources because there would be a mandatory education component for students. They were concerned that the program, funded under the Violence Against Women Act, would prevent students from registering for classes unless they participated. Never mind the fact that students were already prevented from registering for classes if they have an overdue library book, do not meet with their academic adviser, or have any outstanding balance on their student account.
As part of the student protests demanding that the university apply for the grant funding and require this program, we held a sit-in in Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson's office for two hours. In the end, she still refused to submit the grant proposal, but agreed to continue working with students in order to increase the resources available to survivors of sexual assault and increase the funding for prevention programs.
While there have been increased resources put into sexual assault prevention and resources for survivors, including the conversion of a sexual assault prevention coordinator position from part time to full time, there is still no significant mandatory sexual assault prevention education program for AU students.
But of course, the problem of sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses is not limited to American University. Most recently, 23 students at Columbia University filed complaints against the school with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights contending that university administrators and staff routinely discourage students from reporting sexual assaults and that the school mishandles student disciplinary processes at the expense of victims. Brown University has come under fire for allowing a student to return to the school who had previously been punished by the school for sexually assaulting another student.
There is obviously a pervasive culture on college campuses and throughout our society that minimizes the impact that sexual assault has on its victims and survivors and that allows perpetrators of these crimes to escape any consequences and continue to perpetrate their crimes.
Freshmen students come to colleges and universities from a variety of backgrounds and with a wide range of knowledge when it comes to sexual health and the necessity of active, enthusiastic consent before engaging in sexual behaviors. As institutions that look to foster active citizenship and social responsibility, colleges and universities have the duty to include sexual health and sexual assault prevention education as part of their programs aimed at welcoming new students and helping them adjust to life away from home. Without education programs that target all students, in the beginning of their college experiences, the rape culture is going to continue to thrive on campuses.
American University has an opportunity to be a leader in the fight against rape culture and prevent future incidents like the current situation playing out on campus, but only if the administration listens to what students have been demanding for years and adopt a mandatory sexual assault prevention education program.