Last Friday night, as I was leaving a student production on my college's campus, I noticed an unread email in my inbox on my phone. With the subject line reading "CAMPUS ALERT," I was compelled to open it on the spot. It read:
"On February 28, 2014, Campus Safety received a report that a female Colgate student had been the victim of a forcible sexual offense. The incident is alleged to have occurred during the course of a social event in a Colgate owned residence facility while the student was temporarily alone and out of the sight of other attendees. The facility in which the incident is alleged to have occurred is unknown, and there is no additional information available at this time."
What I find to be most troubling about this incident, aside from the actual incident itself, is how the school chose to handle it and how we chose to handle it as a student body.
The Campus Safety Alerts that are sent to all Colgate students via email are, according to the school, standard protocol. At the bottom of the most recent Campus Alert email, in italicized form, read, "To aid in the prevention of crime and to keep the campus community informed about safety and security issues on an ongoing basis, an institution must alert the campus community of certain crimes in a manner that is timely and will aid in the prevention of similar crimes."
It then referenced the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act [20 USC 1092 (f)0], Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, and subsequent amendments, to say that the kinds of crimes reported that mandate a "timely warning notice" are categorized by "aggravated assault, arson, burglary, murder and non-negligent homicide, robbery, sexual offenses (forcible and non-forcible), and motor vehicle theft." OK, so the university is following through with what it has established to be the required standard operating procedure for such an incident. But my question is: what happens after that? Students have been alerted, check, so that's it? We students received the information, thank you Colgate, but is that all that needs to be done?
I can be annoyed at how the school handled the dissemination of information all I want, but really, shooting the messenger does little. Rather, it falls on our community as a student body more than anything. We still see it happening time and time again, but the silence is deafening. We still don't have much of a reaction, at least not in a large way, coming from our students.
And this is not something that is unique to just Colgate. The handling of sexual harassments and assaults on college campuses is widely debated. In a recent post on Bwog, it detailed the experience of assault survivors at Columbia University, in which the school's judiciary hearing process to handle the offenses has left many frustrated and perplexed.
Is it a situation of being bad press for the school to shed light on such situations? Well, it's not going to help bring in student admissions, but covering it up or putting the larger issues aside is just wrong.
A school can only do so much to alert us students to the risk of these kinds of incidents, but students remain the victims. What environment have we created such that it is possible that someone could be cornered when alone on campus and sexually assaulted? I am aware that these kinds of emails are not something that are sent out every day at Colgate. But what about the dozens of other smaller incidents of sexual aggression that happen and don't make it into the email alerts? How have we, as a student body, allowed these incidents to be tolerated?
In this recent case, my school's prescription was perfunctory. Included in the email alert was the following: "As always, we encourage all students to remain aware of their surroundings at all times and to look out for one another at social events and in other settings. Immediately report any suspicious activity to Campus Safety." I suspect the school could do more, including a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment in all its forms.
And we, as students, could do more as well. Let us take a hard look at the social environment we create that permits -- consciously or subconsciously -- assaults like the one on my campus last week to occur. If we all just accept when something like this happens, I don't understand what hope anyone has to protect themselves or people they care about.
Let's all be louder about this.