Our opinion: Expect more


The esteemed Ivy League School to the north of us has been in the news lately, and not in a good way.

Dartmouth College's administrators are under fire by critics for what they say is their failure to address the issue of sexual assault on its campus and by its students. In fact, the college is currently under federal investigation for potential violations of Title IX, the federal gender equity law that requires universities to ensure a safe learning environment for students, and a group of Dartmouth students and alumni have filed a Clery Act complaint alleging that administrators have failed to accurately report incidences of sexual violence and hazing on campus.

More recently, noted Tara Culp-Ressler for Think Progress, the college made national headlines after an anonymous individual posted a "rape guide" on the student site Bored at Baker.

"The post gave explicit instructions for how to find and rape a particular female student -- tips like 'just casually drink with her now and then,' 'prove you're not a dangerous person,' and 'she's easily persuaded; keep on going.' The subject, who was referred to as a 'whore,' was identified by name. At the end of February, just weeks after the post was first published on Bored at Baker, the female student said she was raped at a fraternity party at Dartmouth."

While the Bored at Baker site is not technically affiliated with the college, it does require a Dartmouth email address to participate.

In response, nearly 50,000 people have signed on to a petition spearheaded by the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, asking Dartmouth to "take action immediately to curb the sexual assault crisis" on campus, wrote Culp-Ressler.

"Student groups have asked the school to list expulsion as the punishment for rape in the student handbook and to block access to the ‘rape guide' website on campus. But school authorities haven't taken any of these recommendations seriously," UltraViolet's petition notes.

According to Think Progress, this isn't the first time Bored at Baker has caused problems on campus.

"Last spring, Dartmouth canceled classes after several students received rape and death threats on the student site," wrote Culp-Ressler. "Those students were targeted on Bored at Baker because they interrupted a campus event to protest their administration's lackluster response to incidences of rape, racism, and homophobia."

"Dartmouth has had a problem with rape and sexual assault for decades. They have a long history with this issue, and student groups on campus are finally fed up and are leading the charge," Karin Roland, the campaign director for UltraViolet, told Think Progress.

According to its website, UltraViolet is "a community of women and men across the U.S. mobilized to fight sexism and expand women's rights, from politics and government to media and pop culture. UltraViolet works on a range of issues, including health care, economic security, violence, and reproductive rights."

For the past year UltraViolet has been working with students to combat rape culture on campuses around the country.

"Women are really fed up with rape being excused. I think that's true on campuses, I think that's true in our justice system, I think that's true at the high school level, and I think that's just becoming true across the country," Roland told Think Progress. "The ability to connect over online networks has really empowered women to stand up and do something."

On Dartmouth's part, administrators have refuted the allegation that it doesn't take sexual assault seriously.

"We investigate every instance of sexual assault that is brought to our attention and offer multiple levels of support and resources to every survivor. Every day we work to make our community better and safer," stated Justin Anderson, Dartmouth's Assistant Vice President for Media Relations in a press release.

Tyler Kingkade, writing for the Huffington Post, noted Dartmouth has proposed sexual assault policy changes, including stricter punishments for offenders that may lead to more student expulsions. The changes won't go into effect until sometime after April 14, when the period for public comment ends. The Dartmouth Board of Trustees has voiced its unanimous support for the changes.

The new policy also calls for a "trained external investigator to investigate and determine responsibility for sexual assault."

Susy Struble, a 1993 graduate involved in Dartmouth Change, a group of alumni advocating policy reforms around student life issues, told Kingkade the policy proposal reflects "continuous problems with campus violence and harassment," and a 14 percent drop in admission applications -- the largest in 21 years.

Amanda Childress, the Dartmouth Sexual Assault Awareness Program coordinator, said recently at a conference on campus sexual violence at the University of Virginia, that most assaults are committed by serial offenders and Dartmouth might need to consider radical solutions.

"Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation?" she said. "It seems to me that we value fair and equitable processes more than we value the safety of our students. And higher education is not a right. Safety is a right. Higher education is a privilege."

"All universities need to begin to reckon with the reality that on each campus there are a small number of serial offenders who are actually responsible for a disproportionate number of the sexual assaults that occur on their campuses," said David Lisak, a national expert on the issue from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

But at least one professor at Dartmouth doesn't think it's as simple as that.

"We are not faced with the problem of isolated incidents or rogue individuals gone off on rampages," wrote Dartmouth professor Giavanna Munafo in a letter to the editor in the college newspaper. "Institutional report after report, incident after incident, campus outrage after campus outrage make plain that Dartmouth has a broader and more complex problem."

Kelsey Miller, writing for refinery29, said rape culture is not a new problem, particularly not on Dartmouth's campus.

"While an alarming rate of women have come forward to report assault or attempted assault, the administration's response has remained little more than lip service," wrote Miller, who noted a 2010 Clery Report listed Dartmouth as having the highest per-capita reported rapes of all Ivy League schools.

And what makes this even more disturbing is the fact the Department of Justice estimates that fewer than 5 percent of attempted or completed rapes on all college campuses are reported to authorities.

Andrea Jaresova, who graduated in 2012 and was director of Mentors Against Violence, told Bloomberg's John Lauerman, that while the proposed policy changes are a positive step, Dartmouth still needs to address cultural conditions on campus that make sexual assault seem permissible.

"It seems like they're becoming more strict, but that's not the whole picture," Jaresova said in a telephone interview. "They need to do more."

While we think it might be a little extreme to expel a student based on just an allegation (due process is important), college administrators need to take each and every allegation seriously. And Dartmouth College isn't the only college or university that is trying to address the issue of sexual assault and the most appropriate way to investigate and react to reported incidents.

But it's not just our institutions of higher learning that need to effect a paradigm shift. It's our society as a whole; prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate and even condone sexual assault and aggressive male behavior. Our society often blames the victim, objectifies the female body and trivializes sexual assault, while glamorizing the virile man who is rewarded with accolades for taking what he wants without regard for the damage he is causing.

According to Michael Parenti, rape culture manifests through the acceptance of rapes as an everyday occurrence, and even a male prerogative. It can be exacerbated by police apathy in handling rape cases, reluctance by the authorities to go against patriarchal cultural norms, as well as fears of stigmatization from rape victims and their families.

All of this needs to change and college campuses are a good place to start. But they're not the only place change needs to happen. Men need to take responsibility for the actions of other men and they need to tell their sons and brothers that sexual assault is unacceptable and inexcusable. If men don't take the lead in combating the problem, it will continue. And until it ends, our daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and aunts will continue to be victims of horrendous violence. It needs to stop.


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