After a massive survey produced volumes of data about unwanted sexual encounters on 27 university campuses, including most of the Ivy League, presidents of some of the country’s leading research universities said they were mobilizing to combat the problem. The Association of American Universities survey of more than 150,000 students suggested that more than one in five female undergraduates at some of the country’s best universities suffered some kind of sexual assault or misconduct during their time there.
The survey had its skeptics, concerned about issues such as low response rates and the ways that incidents were defined, but college administrators at the 27 institutions involved were quick to pronounce the results alarming, and to promise dramatic changes.
But what did the students think about all this?
In campus newspapers, many wrote immediately after seeing the numbers, offering opinions ranging from sorrow, to anger at administrators, to pleas to their classmates to change their behavior.
Here’s a sampling of some of their thoughts:
In the Harvard Crimson, the editorial “A National Epidemic Hits Home” called for change.
“Close to one in three female seniors at the College reported some form of unwanted sexual contact during her time at Harvard. More than half of that number, 16 percent, reported completed or attempted penetration. Put simply—and shockingly—one of every six women who received a diploma last May was raped. Queer students experienced these violations at even higher rates.
“…Also worrying, final clubs were home to at least 15 percent of incidents of attempted or completed penetration by force and incapacitation. David Laibson, the chair of the Department of Economics and of the survey design committee, called this number an ‘alarm bell.’ He is right. This adds urgency to the call for College-sponsored social spaces on campus, where all undergraduates can unwind in an open and safe environment.
“… this survey, Laibson said, has shown him “another Harvard, a sad and painful place.” The Harvard we experience is, in large part, up to us.”
(For more insight into that social world, read Eli Wilson Pelton’s haunting piece on walking away from a final club, “Why I Left the Spee.”)
“And so when I found myself, months later, standing outside on Mt. Auburn telling two girl friends they couldn’t come in because they weren’t on “the list,” or—another time—when I barely followed up with the friend who drunkenly confessed that she “might have” been sexually assaulted in the upstairs bathroom, I knew I was too late. The gyre had widened and I had failed to get out in time….”)
In the Yale Daily News, sophomore Aaron Sibarium urged his classmates to “Reject hook-up culture.” He writes about how every culture has put some limits on sex, but at Yale it’s treated like “froyo, a pleasant and altogether inconsequential good…”
“This insouciant attitude flies in the face of human history, public safety and, most of all, common sense.
“Expectations and norms will never eradicate sexual assault, but they might help keep men and women safer.
“…Why on earth would we expect people, least of all 20-year-old men, to show the same respect to someone they have just met as they would someone with whom they are in a committed relationship? Wouldn’t a culture of obligation make us less likely to mistreat our sexual partners, as opposed to a culture of instantaneous gratification and emotional repression?
“This should be especially clear to anyone who has seen the sobering results of Yale’s recent sexual climate survey. Our campus has a justifiably strong aversion to victim blaming, but that ought not prevent us from recognizing that some patterns of behavior are more likely to cause harm than others.
“When nearly a third of young women have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault on this campus — a THIRD — it is hard not to conclude that our ‘enlightened’ sexual norms have utterly, utterly failed….”
In the Iowa State Daily, the editorial board wrote: “The numbers prove it, we know nothing about how to deal with sexual misconduct.”
“The simple fact that more than 20 percent of students who witnessed both of these types of sexual misconduct and did nothing do not know how to respond or help the survivor, is a shocking, deeply-concerning statistic that shows a clear lack of education among ISU students or education provided by the university.
“…Only 34 percent of ISU students know where to get help if they experience sexual assault or other sexual misconduct while only 28.1 percent know where to report a case.”
The Brown Daily Herald’s editorial board called for action:
“The sexual assault statistics released Monday by the University are atrocious but not unexpected. From the rape lists scribbled on the bathroom walls of the Rockefeller Library in 1991 to the Imagine Rape Zero movement of the past few years, Brown has a long history of students demanding justice for survivors of sexual assault.
“Students have marched, protested and held press conferences demanding that the Brown administration and culture change to address this problem, instead of simply pretending it does not exist. While we are excited that this groundbreaking national study now exists to empirically confirm what so many students have experienced and fought against, collecting data is only a small part of creating an institutional and cultural solution.”
And at the University of Virginia, the Cavalier Daily’s editorial board sounded hopeful as it responded both to the numbers suggested in the survey and a report that university officials had violated federal rules in its response to sexual assault complaints:
“Both the campus climate survey results and the OCR findings affirm just how significant the issue of sexual assault on our campus is, and we can already see concrete steps being taken in response. We have many reasons to anticipate positive change in the near future.”