Dear Universities, Check Your Priorities

University of Montana

When a friend of mine brought this article to my attention, she was rather upset by its content.  Though I’ll leave you to read it yourselves, this is the general gist of what it says: the Vice President of the University of Montana was revealed to have tried to punish a student through the Student Code of Conduct for speaking out about being raped on campus.  According to the Huffington Post, the school and its campus police are currently under investigation by the US Dept of Justice for their handling of sexual assault cases, indicating that this is not in fact a one-time problem but likely just one point in a series of mishandling of sexual assault cases.  The school has been trying desperately to put a better spin on the scandal, but really, how do you make this not look as bad as it is?

The truth is, this used to be the kind of story that upset me.  The reason it upsets me less is that this student obviously knew how to handle it-~-she spoke out, she is getting help.  People are on her side.  But the University of Montana is hardly the first university to try to cover up the issue of rape on campus, and it won’t be the last…and so the problem that really gets me is that THIS story, this school, is also just one point in a series of incidents wherein universities priorities their image over their students-~-and this needs to change.

Immediately.

The reality of the situation is that no one wants to go to a university that has a rape problem, but if you look at the patterns of rape statistics, just about every university has a sexual assault problem.  Let’s be honest about the situation: 1 in 4 girls gets raped during her college years.  There is no “at state schools” or “at large schools” or “at small colleges” addendum to that.  There is a problem.  So if you ask me-~-and if any of our readers are currently considering colleges they might want to attend-~-the real issue SHOULD be that no one should want to go to a university that doesn’t know how to handle sexual assault.  I would much rather be at a school that is open about the fact that sexual assaults happen and isn’t afraid to bring in the police and help their students find the resources that they need in the aftermath than a school that wants to pretend that nothing is going on.

I’ll give you a perfect example: my own university likes to say that the blue help boxes on our quad have only been used twice, once by the women’s initiative during a test run and once when a girl just wanted a ride back from the campus police.  This makes it sound like we don’t have a problem, when in fact, most sexual assaults are not random strangers attacking people on the quad; they are date rape, they are acquaintance rape, and they often take place in dorms (think about it: in college, you are always in people’s bedrooms at all hours of the night, all you HAVE is a bedroom).  Colleges are fantastic at obfuscating the issue, but less fantastic at dealing with it.

The story that REALLY got me, though, came through the blog STFU Conservatives.  The name of the university involved was not provided, but the story was this: a girl was raped by several frat boys at a frat party.  When she went to her school’s health center and asked for a rape kit, they told her they didn’t believe her.  She insisted on them giving it to her.  Her friends in the Greek system asked her not to report it because it would reflect badly on Greek life.  Feeling alone and unsupported, she did not come forward.  She was harassed by boys from the frat that raped her and called a slut, a whore, and a liar.  Eventually, she confided in a friend.  She went to the police, but by this time, it was too late to press charges and besides, the health center had somehow lost her test results.  With no evidence, she could not do anything about her rapist.

Her parents are suing her university and she is now in counseling getting the help she needs.

But this is what I want you to take away from that story:

  1. Her school did not want to help her because doing so would impact their rape statistics negatively.  They prioritized their image over the health and safety of one of their students.
  2. Their actions have helped to result in a group of rapists continuing to walk around their campus unchecked.  It is not unreasonable to believe that these boys have already or will in the future rape again.  And the next girl will likely be just as afraid to report what has happened.
  3. Her friends in the Greek system ALSO prioritized the image of Greek life on campus over her health and safety.  Especially when groups already feel they have to defend against a bad reputation, they are unwilling to report anything that might reflect badly on them.  We as a society need to realize that it is NOT the groups in question that are the problem, but rather individuals within that group are the problem, so that people DON’T feel afraid to report what has happened. (This is true of certain racial groups, too, not just campus Greek life)
  4. She was sexually harassed on campus by her rapists and their friends, and STILL nothing was done about this.  People were willing to accept that she had done something to deserve this without stepping in to help.

These stories are unacceptable.  Universities cannot be allowed to prioritize image over helping people-~-and when they do so, they send the message to students that incidents which are ugly, which are unpleasant, should be hidden, covered up, often at the detriment to other students.  If this girl’s friends had all banded together, if the Greek system had rejected the boys that did this, then rape would become less of a problem, and it wouldn’t reflect badly on fraternities and sororities; they would have been the heroes of this story.

Rape is an ugly part of our reality, but sweeping it under the rug is not a solution.  Attacking it in the open and making it clear that we have NO tolerance for this kind of behavior is the ONLY way we can fix this.

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~ by Randi Saunders on May 22, 2012.

One Response to “Dear Universities, Check Your Priorities”

  1. […] the subject of the Stanford Daily article, was luckier than most: she reported the rape, evidence was gathered, and even though the judicial paralysis that has […]

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