Most of us remember during our childhood that around this time in August we were getting ready to go back to school. Then it became time to get our kids ready for school and now, for some of us, its getting our young adults ready for college. We help them pack, deliver them to the schools of their choice and hope and pray they will not only get an education to prepare them for the next phase of their lives, that they are also able to do so in a safe and nurturing environment, where they can have a little fun and build new friendships.
The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has been investigating how colleges and universities handle sexual assault incidents that happen on campus. Recently Occidental College in CA has been under investigation by this very office due to several women having made complaints of harassment and abuse. While one of the perpetrators was found and identified, they were also allowed to continue their education and graduate on time, even though one of the victims felt unable to continue her education and subsequently left school without completing her degree. A female student of UMass Amherst, who was raped by a fellow student, was then treated callously by faculty when reporting the crime. The victim choose to report her story in the school paper, which led to it going viral in both online and offline media, as well as changes in school policy.
It appears that many schools across the country view sexual assaults as a PR problem and they’d rather treat these incidents as something to be swept under the rug, or dealt with as quickly as possible, to keep parents from sending their children (and tuition payments) elsewhere or, keeping these incidents away from alumni in hopes that donations will continue to pour in. Student activists are working diligently to change this dynamic as they push to bring attention to these issues, with the goal of bringing lots of media attention, pressure from various social networks, as well as the filing of Title IX complaints with the federal government. A new organization, KnowYourIX seeks to inform all college students across the US about their rights, as well as advocate for sexual violence survivors during any school’s grievance procedures and, whenever necessary, file complaints with the Dept of Ed Office of Civil Rights should a students rights be disrespected.
Title IX was enacted in 1972. Its main focus was to provide equal access to education regardless of gender or sex, and while it is easy to understand how this relates to sports, this federal law is also used to demonstrate that harassment and assaults made it harder for women to have the same colleges experiences as men. TitleIX means equality in education to ALL students regardless of sex, gender, gender non-conforming, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or trans gender. The Clery Act is another federal law which clearly states that colleges and institutions, that accept federal funding, must disclose campus crimes statistics. These laws are meant to keep our children safe.
Should your child find themselves a victim of an assault while at school, the best course of action is to report the crime to a rape crisis or sexual assault resource center first. These organizations are there to help and support the victim and will guide them as to whom to call next-either campus police or the local police department. Crisis centers will assign an advocate to the victim, one that can then make sure that a rape kit is done in a timely manner and be available to provide support additional guidance as it becomes time to talk with doctors and the police or school counselors and administration.
College should continue to be the rewarding experience that it has been for many. However, if an incident occurs that keeps it from being so, it is important that our children feel empowered enough to know that there are excellent resources available to help them cope with negative situations, without making them feel that they have no place to turn, or that there only recourse is to leave school and give up earning their degree .