Campus sexual assault is a nationwide epidemic that happens at all universities. The University of Mary Washington is not an exception to this. I say this not because I do not love my school, but because I do, and want to make it a safer place for all students. We must take big steps in order to create campus wide change. For me, this means that combating sexual assault must be our next president’s top priority.
A recent study done by the Association of American Universities (AAU) affirms that 20 percent of women and 5 percent of men have faced sexual assault on their college campus. According to the Fredericksburg Police Department’s Annual 2014 report there were four reported sexual assaults last year. Although this number is low, it should not necessarily be celebrated as there are a multitude of reasons for students not to report sexual assault, such as well as guilt, shame and fear of being disbelieved. Consider also the fact that 98 percent of rapists will not spend a day in jail according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
The AAU survey also concluded that of the cases that were reported, 20 percent of undergraduate women reported that the handling of their sexual misconduct was “very or extremely problematic,” which is not all that surprising. Colleges are in the business of selling a specific brand to its students, (and by extension its tuition payers), and that brand suffers if the reported rates of sexual assault are high at that university. Since victims are already unlikely to report, it makes sense for universities to makes the process as difficult as possible. It is unacceptable that a survivor of sexual assault should have to go through a hostile environment when reporting what may be the most traumatic experience of their lives.
We at UMW need to make sure we take action to match our rhetoric of taking the issue “very seriously.” This is not to say we should not applaud the efforts the University has already taken; however, there is more that needs to be done. The new “Tuesday’s with Title IX” Program, the hiring of a Sexual Assault Prevention Specialist, as well as the required online Campus Clarity course are all good starts. Yet the question we should be asking ourselves as a community is not, “Haven’t we done enough?” but rather “What more can we be doing?” We have the opportunity now, as an institution to step out in front of this problem and become a leader, a school for others to look up to.
“I have not yet seen a college president anywhere that’s been a national leader in this area.” says Chris Kilmartin, UMW psychology professor and internationally recognized expert on gender and on violence prevention at a panel discussion of the documentary “The Hunting Ground.”
As a side note, it is also interesting to note that in our 105 year history we have only had one female president, and for 2 years. This is not to say that a woman is inherently better suited for this position, however it does not make sense to me that a university president does not represent its history and population.
The presidential search committee wants the input of students, parents, faculty, and alumni. I for one believe the next president should be a part of making the University of Mary Washington a leader against sexual assault on college campuses. Let your voice be heard here: http://president.umw.edu/search/share-your-thoughts/
Additional Resources and Sources:
Washington Post Article, “Survey: More than 1 in 5 female undergrads at top schools suffer sexual attacks” : http://wpo.st/OaWb0
RAINN Website: https://rainn.org/
Rachel Tiemann/Feminist United