New Sexual Assault Policy an Important Step
In a recent editorial I called for The New School to adopt the Feminist Collective’s proposed revision of the university’s sexual assault policy. This week the revision was approved by the board of trustees and is expected to be in place by next semester.
This is a great start, but there’s still a long way to go.
By now it’s well known that cleaning up the bureaucracy or, “improving customer service,” at The New School tops President David Van Zandt’s to-do list, and where better to start than by streamlining the way the university investigates sexual assault, takes care of victims, and punishes offenders?
Uninformed advisors and surly registrars can easily put a damper on a student’s day, but there’s something much larger at stake in our bureaucracy: the physical safety and psychological well-being of New School students.
The inadequate handling of sexual assault in higher education has been all over the news lately. The New School is not the only university that falls short of protecting its students from becoming victims and supporting them if they are attacked. The disciplinary procedures for assault cases at universities across the country have recently been called into question, as we report elsewhere in this issue.
Students at Yale are even filing a Title IX lawsuit against the university for creating a “sexually hostile environment.” The case cites a series of high-profile incidents at Yale; most recently a group of fraternity pledges marched through the campus chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal!” and no disciplinary action was taken by the university.
But while I might expect behavior like this at Yale, a notorious promoter of the “boys’ club” attitude, I expect more from The New School, an institution famous for its history of strong social consciousness. For whatever reason, awareness of sexual violence on college campuses seems to be on the rise, and I would like to see The New School stay ahead of the curve and set an example of how a progressive university deals with assault.
Six months worth of investigating the way this university handles assault has left me with an impression that silence is promoted above awareness.
The convoluted system currently in place for reporting sexual assaults on New School property leaves RAs and students feeling helpless. Students are getting up the courage to come forward and tell their stories of sexual violence, and after repeating their stories over and over again, not enough is being done to help them. Investigating accusations is one aspect of handling assault, but support for victims is important, too. Crisis counselors trained in dealing with rape should be on call and the entire student body should be notified whenever an assault is reported. RAs are doing their part, but being kept in the dark on the progress of the cases, which prevents them from helping victims through the process beyond the initial reporting.
Situations like this are complicated, partially because it often comes down to “he said, she said,” but investigation beyond a couple of interviews is necessary. And if a student is found to have sexually assaulted another student, whether or not law enforcement is brought in, the punishment should be more extreme than having to move mid-semester. Even expulsion seems a bit soft.
There is a long list of things that this school could stand to fix, but properly handling sexual assault should be among the top priorities.
If that means that students will still have to ask three different people before getting a straight answer about graduation requirements, fine. A few delays during registration are acceptable, but leaving a rape victim to cope alone is not.