Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law new rules designed to help protect college students from sexual assault on campus. New York is just one of many states passing or considering legislation on the topic, and experts predict more will take up the issue in the months to come. In Washington, D.C., for example, a bill would give students found responsible for sexual assault a permanent “scarlet letter” on their transcripts.
Kevin Kruger, the president of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, wrote that he feels college officials are already working hard on this problem, and that a patchwork of state legislation may only complicate those efforts.
After reading his piece, Sarah Merriman, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group SAFER, Students Active for Ending Rape, was compelled to respond with her own opinion:
By Sarah Merriman
Recently, New York Gov. Cuomo signed legislation designed to help student survivors of sexual violence get help, including bringing clearer paths to accountability, while also trying to reform the campus culture that classifies rape as a youthful indiscretion.
While legislating prevention is not a blanket solution to the issue of sexual and interpersonal violence, it is a start to reducing the statistic that one in five college women are assaulted each year.
This statistic, which ignores the immense swath of people who do not report, as well as those students who do not identify as women, is still incriminating.
Though the past year has been an astonishing one for gaining attention and momentum for the student-led anti-rape movement, there is still a long way to go.
Kevin Kruger, the president of NASPA, Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, would have you believe we have all but reformed most campuses, that sexual violence is on its way to eradication.
SAFER is an organization that works directly with students, trying to make their brave activism even more effective. We interact with students, administrators, and prevention experts daily.
Not one college campus in America is doing enough.
Colleges’ reputations are inextricably linked to their funding, and many of those running these institutions believe that acknowledging campus rape mars the idyllic image of higher education.
In only the last two months, a prestigious university president refused to acknowledge the art project of a student who turned her experience of sexual assault, and the university’s mishandling of her case, into a performance art piece.
At another university a student followed the letter of the law of her school’s judicial proceedings to address her attacker, only to have his suspension mysteriously erased by a senior school administrator.
In the minds of many administrators, rape is bad for business, and it looks bad when they are named as negligent.
While there are certainly dedicated school administrators and faculty working alongside campus activists, at many schools, anyone who dares to imply that the university hesitates to punish an attacker is considered to be attacking their school.
Last year a professor, was suddenly denied tenure after speaking up on behalf of one of her students, a sexual assault survivor seeking recourse through the school’s judicial proceedings.
This is incongruent with the university’s reputation as a leader in prevention efforts.
How are these administrators and faculty supposed to fight alongside survivors and advocates when their own livelihoods are threatened?
Further, while the exact wording of definitions of consent changes from state to state, it is foolish to ignore the commonalities between each state’s revised definitions: an emphasis on active and affirmative consent.
Prevention activists in California agree with those of us working in New York state, regardless of the small differences in wording between varying pieces of legislation.
If we truly have nothing to hide, if universities are always doing what is right for their student survivors, then we would not need to add “public image” and “due process for the attacker” to the list of our battles.
SAFER’s job is already difficult, as we battle against rape culture and deal with roadblocks from administrators.
Let us not add NASPA, a national organization of school administrators who should and often are fighting alongside us, to the list of the unenlightened.