Colleges Nationwide Make Progress on Sexual Assault Reform

Pressure for sexual assault reform is coming from every corner these days—students, alumni, women’s’ rights groups, lawmakers, and even the White House. This momentum is finally pushing college administrations into taking a hard look at current sexual assault policies to create support systems that do justice for survivors.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Wolfram Burner

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Wolfram Burner

On campuses, students have pushed back by speaking out and publicizing the struggles encountered when assaults are reported. In 2012, Angie Epifano, a former Amherst College student, wrote an op-ed piece describing the various ways the school’s administration failed her, including asking her to “forgive and forget” the ordeal took place. After the piece went viral online and stirred considerable outrage, Amherst fired several personnel and set out to revise its relevant policies.

Current students aren’t the only ones fighting this battle—alumni of several schools have formed a group to pressure their universities into improving the handling of sexual assault cases as well. The alumni come from prestigious schools like Amherst, Barnard, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Occidental, University of Chicago and Yale.

The group’s plan is to first attempt to work with the school officials on making campuses safer, and if that fails, to withhold donations, while asking other donors to do the same. They are also reaching out to high school students that are potential applicants and making them aware of how serious the crisis is on various campuses.

This year, the Department of Education released a list of 55 schools it was investigating for Sexual Assault, naming some of the top schools in the country including Dartmouth, Tufts and Yale. After the report was released, students on some campuses like Tufts led protests that prompted university officials to meet with students and listen to their concerns. After student pressure, Tufts committed to an agreement with the Department of Education to resolve the complaint.

President Obama himself has addressed this issue. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released their first report in April and created NotAlone.gov, a website full of resources for students. The President also made a video, along with Vice President Joe Biden and well-known actors like Daniel Craig, Steve Carell, Seth Meyers, and Dulé Hill, which discusses the role men play in preventing sexual assault from occurring.

President Obama establishes  the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.  Photo courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

President Obama establishes the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.
Photo courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

Boston College is not named in the Department of Education report. The university sets out to make its sexual assault policy very thorough, and offers students five reporting options, ranging from speaking confidentially to someone in the Office of the Dean of Students, filing a written report, pursuing an on-campus conduct hearing and discipline or pursuing a criminal charge. BCPD has officers specially trained for sexual assault cases and along with students offers a bystander-training program that trains individuals on how to possibly prevent sexual assaults.

While the progress of these reforms is fluid, their combined power offers hope to students and concerned observers that change is imminent.

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