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 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT