Skip to main content

Stop sexual assaults on campuses

By Chloe S. Angyal
updated 10:33 AM EDT, Sun May 4, 2014
Will colleges and universities do more to stop sexual assaults on campuses?
Will colleges and universities do more to stop sexual assaults on campuses?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Government will investigate 55 universities and colleges on sexual assault cases
  • Chloe Angyal: As alumnus of Princeton, which is among the list, I feel grim satisfaction
  • She says universities seem to care more about reputation than protection
  • Angyal: Alumni should hold donations if colleges don't sexual assault more seriously

Editor's note: Chloe S. Angyal is senior editor at Feministing, an online community that addresses issues affecting women. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Education announced recently that it is investigating 55 universities and colleges for their failure to properly handle sexual assault cases on campus.

The list includes a number of prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Emory, UVA, William and Mary, Tufts, the University of Michigan, and my alma mater, Princeton, where a 2008 university survey found that one in six women students had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact while enrolled.

As a young alumnus, I feel a grim satisfaction at seeing my alma mater on the list. By the time I graduated, in 2009, two of my close friends and one of my former roommates had been sexually assaulted during our four years on campus, and I had watched another friend go through the labyrinthine and largely ineffective student disciplinary process in an attempt to see her rapist held accountable.

Chloe S. Angyal
Chloe S. Angyal

Like so many other survivors of campus assault, she was discouraged from reporting to the police, and her case was instead handled internally, away from real law enforcement. This is, of course, part of the problem: If there's no real punishment for sexual violence, assailants know they can get away with it, and survivors won't report it. And if survivors don't report, universities can plead ignorance.

When it came to sexual violence, it seemed that Princeton's priorities were misplaced -- it was more interested in preserving the university's reputation than ensuring the safety of the students. This is not to say that, within these institutions, there are not well-meaning individuals who work hard to keep students safe. But a few individuals can only do so much when they're up against an institution whose primary goal seems to be to protect the university's good name, even if that means providing cover for students who do terrible things.

So far, Princeton has not commented on the Department of Education's investigation. With so much at stake -- money, prestige and reputation -- on the line, it should not surprise us if Princeton, like the 54 other institutions on the Department of Education's list (and the numerous other at-fault schools, like Yale, that have, for now, avoided censure) do their best to explain away accusations that for years, they've allowed their students to get away with sexual assault or rape.

One survey of two universities estimated that female students had a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted during their undergraduate years. By failing to protect their students and not properly disciplining assailants, universities are in violation of Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments. Title IX, so often associated with athletic funding, also requires universities receiving federal funding to provide equal access to education for all students, regardless of gender. University administrators are falling short if they allow a culture of sexual violence to flourish.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of young activists -- like the students and recent graduates who founded the Know Your IX campaign -- this issue is finally getting more attention. A new White House task force has released policy recommendations for campuses (and two star-studded PSAs) and the Department of Education has stepped in.

The Obama administration's strong support for survivors of campus assault -- not just the usual platitudes and policy band-aids -- is a crucial step in the right direction. But other stakeholders -- namely alumni and parents -- need to join this fight as well.

In June, alumni of all ages will be heading back to their alma maters for college reunions -- an exercise of school pride and, in many cases, hefty alumni donations. At Princeton, the event is a three-day booze-soaked party of self-congratulation, and a chance to celebrate "the best damn place of all."

If alumni, in good conscience, want to wear school gear or stick school bumper stickers on their cars, they must take on the issue of campus sexual assault. To do that, they will need to speak the language that these institutions understand: Money, and press.

If alumni with the power to pull large donations refused to give money to their universities until sexual assault is taken seriously, we'd see an immediate change on campuses. Similarly, if parents were vocal about their concerns at sending their kids to a place where they might very well be assaulted or raped, or spend four years being covertly (and overtly) told that committing rape is acceptable, universities would scramble to improve and, more to the point, enforce, their policies.

Ultimately, efforts to prevent sexual violence on college campuses have to be motivated by something beyond a desire to protect a university's bottom line, or to avoid negative press coverage. Universities have to be motivated by the sincere belief that all students have a right to an education not marred by fear of violence or memory of violence, and by a deep and genuine investment in the safety of all students.

As it stands, the words we hear from some of our nation's top universities don't match their actions. They have spent years letting down students, parents, and alumni, by making it easy for their students to commit assault or rape. It's time to hold them accountable.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
updated 12:42 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
updated 4:29 PM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
updated 5:00 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
updated 11:57 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
updated 9:55 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
updated 8:58 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
updated 3:14 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
updated 1:21 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT