THE BLOG
12/24/2014 08:20 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2015

Why Are College Faculty Quiet About Campus Sexual Assault?

By now, you have surely read the Rolling Stone article detailing the harrowing tale of the gang-rape of a first-year at the University of Virginia. And, by now, you have also surely read that the story is being called the "error of the year" - a truly staggering lapse in anything resembling that near-extinct fauna we call journalism.

But here's the important takeaway: those of us who work on college campuses all read the original story and accompanying (and unsatisfying) response from the UVA administration's and thought, "Yup. Sounds about right."

The story reads like a case-study of an on-campus sexual assault, one that could happen anywhere, even if this particular "any" didn't happen in that particular "where." And, like every case-study we use on our campuses when we discuss sexual assault, all the major players are represented.

The administrators are waffling and evading, the students are demanding and deflecting, the parents are hovering and defending, and the Board/Trustees are smiling and pandering.

And the faculty are...well...um...the faculty...see...er....the faculty? Yeah, the faculty aren't saying very much. In fact, aside from the "The faculty's afraid of us" line in the UVA fight song and a mention that they serve on a Conduct Board in that Rolling Stone piece, there is absolutely no reference to faculty voice. Like, at all.

And this non-response by faculty is common. Why? As Admissions tours and guidebooks and fundraising appeals tout the paramount importance of the education we faculty provide, where is faculty our voice decrying sexual violence? Faculty are living with a series of myths ingrained in our system that work to suppress that voice. It's time to tell the real story of sexual assault on campus.

Myth 1: Sexual assault is an issue that lives outside of the classroom.
Any faculty member who believes that students leave their issues on the doorstep of the classroom, lecture hall and lab is just plain delusional. Let's start this debunking from a place where we acknowledge that students' lives outside the classroom affect their learning in our hallowed halls. Calculus exams rock. But students' preparation for them is affected by what went down in the dorms and frat houses the night before. The classroom is not a vacuum and to pretend otherwise is irresponsible.

Myth 2: Faculty do not have the expertise to be a part of action around sexual assault.
There is an old school model currently in place stating that non-academic issues are best left to those student affairs administrators who are best trained to address said issues. Let us not forget that preceding that model was the original structure where faculty were those student affairs administrators. There is not an academic subject taught on campus where sexual assault and gender dynamics is not relevant. Not one. Whether we're discussing the dearth dirth of women in sciences, the politics around shaming a female political candidate or the transparent-but-oh-so-glass ceilings that suppress women in, y'know, all the fields, this dialogue must be incorporated across the curriculum. It should not be left to others, but instead embraced by faculty in the unique way that they deliver their own course content. Note: this isn't about giving a faculty member a script to deliver, but instead about surfacing these conversations from every possible academic angle.

Myth 3: To get involved would be to blur the boundaries between faculty and students.
And yet, to ignore them is to deny students access to individuals who can provide support, guidance and, oh-so-importantly, context. We should not be putting students in the position of having to look around campus and distinguishing which adults (much as I hate that word) are the ones they approach about sexual misconduct and are which ones they can't. Students should be able to approach any university employee and expect the same engagement. This requires that faculty be able to identify the Title IX coordinator without blinking. This requires that faculty be able to accurately articulate the sexual misconduct complaint process without hesitation. This requires that faculty be able to have a conversation with a student about sexual assault without reservation, judgment or silencing. And we have to get there. Now.

One of the great byproducts of Rolling Stone's crap journalism was a statement issued by UVA's faculty condemning violence and advocating action. Would faculty have used their voice if this article had not been released? Dunno. The more important question is: Does each individual campus need to enter the limelight of shame before faculty will use their voices? I say we step up and do what we should do: teach.