President's Blog

Raising awareness of sexual assault on campus

As the senate judiciary committee hearings continue, I’m struck by the staying power of the myths that surround sexual assault and the treatment received by those who choose to come forward to speak their truth.  Colleges and universities have been in the spotlight consistently over the last few years as many of us have attempted to create environments where victims feel safe to tell their story without recrimination, and where respondents are afforded true due process.  Whatever your views on this senate confirmation case may be, the controversy that is playing out in front of all of us offers an opportunity to raise awareness of the sad reality of sexual assault on college campuses and beyond.

My colleague Rose Pascarell, VP of University Life and a career veteran in combatting campus sexual violence, recently offered the following thoughts on social media:

Some of what I know from working with countless numbers of students over the years who were/are victims/survivors of sexual assault/harassment:

Victims rarely lie about what happened but sexual harassers/rapists, like most other criminals, often do;

Memories don’t fade for most victims no matter how long ago the assault occurred; in fact, many victims remember very specific details – smells, sounds, facial expressions, color of the walls, etc. – surrounding the actual attack;

The courts have historically lacked a full understanding of the dynamics of sexual assault, there has been implicit and explicit bias; this implicit and explicit bias has benefitted the accused;

Victims who choose to come forward are often re-victimized and their character is called into question; the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the current #WhyIDidntReport movements have helped counter the victim blaming and character assassination narrative…but only some…;

Due process, fair and impartial and informed, is critical and necessary but often difficult to ensure; the courts are a great (and tragic) example of this failure over the years;

Some universities, just like some corporations, just like some institutions, just like some politicians, have made egregious errors in minimizing and disregarding victim accounts;  No excuse for this, none;

Universities that genuinely try to create strong victim-focused, trauma-informed practices, paired with a commitment to due process, understand how challenging this can be.  We are up to the challenge because our students demand that we be.  And because it’s the right action to take.