“The next question I have for you is about a subject I know is very important to you….We take very seriously our obligations under Title IX to protect our women on campus and all of our community members on campus. At times it feels like an uphill battle because the causes of sexual violence, of sexual assault, of sexual harassment, are so bred in the bone of our culture….So what do you think needs to change in society? What is the genesis of this societal problem, you know beyond the kinds of great things that we’re doing as a result of the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter and our obligations under Title IX? What do you think has to change at the very core of this culture?”
President Baenninger posed this question last week to former Vice President Joe Biden, which sparked a lot of conversations throughout campus. Drew, like many colleges, has a problem with sexual assault. College campuses tend to cover up these issues as best as they can as to not hurt their reputation. Sexual assault and rape has increased on Drew’s campus in the past three years, partially, the student body feels, as a result of Drew’s inaction. There were seven reported rapes on campus in 2016, seven in 2015, and two in 2014. Additionally, there were seven cases of fondling in 2016, one in 2015, and one in 2014. While this could potentially be due to an increase in reporting of incidents, it also does not look great for the university. This may be why it is buried so far down on Public Safety’s website.
Angry conversations surrounding Drew and Title IX have been overheard on the paths, in classrooms and in residence halls throughout the last week. Many students can name at least one person with one (or multiple) Title IX case opened against them. A number of these people, known rapists or harassers, are not only still allowed on campus but actually live in the residence halls. Many of them continue to be part of sports teams, student groups and clubs that encourage close bonds amongst their members. The emotional stress of having to go to class and walk through campus knowing that your rapist is walking free and unpunished is both unbearable and unacceptable.
However, the most worrisome part of the question posed last Wednesday at the Forum Lecture is not what the university is doing (or not doing) regarding sexual assault, but the rape culture that it brought up. The administration is not the only guilty party in the normalization of sexual violence in our campus. This is a two way street. When people huffed and puffed at President Baenninger and Joe Biden’s conversation about Title IX, they were fast to point fingers even when it was the fault of most everyone sitting there. How many people on campus actually know where the Title IX office is? Who can name the Title IX coordinator? Who has ever gone to a non-mandatory Title IX workshop? Who has actually stood up when they see one of their peers perpetuating rape culture with a joke, a comment or even a violent action? It is easy to fall back and hide behind the fact that Drew handles sexual assault and other Title IX offenses poorly. This fact may be true, but it does not excuse the student body to sit down, pout and expect things to change without sparking change themselves. By constantly criticizing Drew and its innaction, a culture of distrust is created, which leads people not to report incidents because “they will not care anyway.”
Talking about sexual assault is uncomfortable. It is even more uncomfortable to look back and think that we are all partly guilty for the hostile environment in our Forest. Being upset about the lack of action towards stopping sexual violence on campus is understandable, but this anger should be translated into proactive and constructive actions stemming directly from the student body.
Graphic by Caroline Polich