College community fails on handling sexual assault

Michelle Carroll and Arissa Brown || Contributing Alumnae Writers

In the years since we’ve graduated, we had hoped to see a shift in the campus dialogue regarding sexual violence. However, based on the recent debates taking place in The College Reporter, it seems that the community is still divided on who is more responsible for sexual violence– the administration or the fraternities.

We are not interested in pointing fingers at fraternities or the administration. Every member of the F&M community is to blame, because fraternity culture has seeped out of the basements and infiltrated almost every sports pre-game, off campus party, and dorm party– under all our noses. This happened because we as students, alumnae, and administrators allowed this problem to spiral out of control. The truth is, if you are not actively fighting sexual violence, you are allowing the continued victimization of your peers. It is time that we all come together, to focus on this one commonality, this one desire to fight against sexual and gendered violence, and actually begin to make progress.

It is not a debate that one in five college women will experience an attempted sexual assault. For F&M, that is 241 women who will not be able to focus on their education, their sport, their club–their life, because of the actions of another community member.

Studies have shown that fraternity men are more comfortable than their non-Greek peers to approve of coercing a woman into sex. However, a recent study from the University of North Dakota showed that 1 in 3 men, regardless of fraternity affiliation, would rape a woman if they could get away with it. Of course, the University of North Dakota is not F&M, but a raucous fraternity culture of irresponsible, self-centered, and destructive partying is not unique to F&M. These studies show us that there is something sinister simmering behind the surface of our campus, and it’s not just in the fraternities.

We would be remiss in only examining Greek life and ignoring the larger student culture for the source of sexual violence. A previous article authored by Delta Sigma Phi president, John Ancona, argues that a discussion during freshman orientation is just not enough to educate the community on sexual violence.

We hear you, Mr. Ancona, but please do not minimize efforts of F&M activists to organize Take Back the Night, or ‘It’s On Us,’ events that aim to further educate the community. You are right, it does seem that students “choose to skip out” on these education activities. At least in our day, we rarely saw a majority of the campus supporting these educational endeavors. It’s possible that the administration could mandate annual educational seminars. But it is neither reasonable nor appropriate for students to wait on the administration when we are a campus community that builds and supports leaders in various clubs and organizations. It is also on you–student activists and leaders to be the driving force in change and creating a social environment in which it is unacceptable for students to miss these activities.

In another Reporter piece, Mark T. Harmon-Vaught carefully describes the many changes the administration has made to address sexual assault, claiming that F&M has gone above and beyond the efforts of other colleges. And we agree, the administration has admirably made several efforts to make the campus safer. However, we were disheartened to find in the sexual assault policy that, should an accuser be found responsible for sexual violence, F&M does not necessarily respond by sanctioning the individual. Rather, the Senior Associate Dean of the College, or the Dean of the College, makes that final decision.

We were also unable to find any documentation or discussion of how frequently sanctions are given. By failing to clearly and openly discuss the punishments that are given, the administration neglects to show the community that there are consequences for deliberating harming a peer. Without transparency, the administration does not prove itself worthy of our confidence.

When faced with these facts, it is clear is that the entire F&M community is failing itself.

As alumnae, we are community stakeholders and our concern for the safety of F&M students did not stop after we walked across the stage on Hartman Green. Our love for our alma mater is strong, but so is our frustration. It is hard to watch current activists struggle against the same issues we ourselves railed against. Worse, it is hard to see F&M destroy itself, because as Jessica Valenti said, “it takes a village to create the environment for rape to thrive.”

A note to the F&M community: We are compiling a list of issues urgently needing to be addressed as well as creating recommendations. Current and former students, faculty, administration, staff, trustees and governors are all welcome to help identify safety issues and make recommendations — please email ThisProblemEndsNow1787@gmail.com. Names and involvement will be kept confidential.

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