Skip to main content

Stop sexual assaults on campuses

By Chloe S. Angyal
May 4, 2014 -- Updated 1433 GMT (2233 HKT)
Will colleges and universities do more to stop sexual assaults on campuses?
Will colleges and universities do more to stop sexual assaults on campuses?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Government will investigate 55 universities and colleges on sexual assault cases
  • Chloe Angyal: As alumnus of Princeton, which is among the list, I feel grim satisfaction
  • She says universities seem to care more about reputation than protection
  • Angyal: Alumni should hold donations if colleges don't sexual assault more seriously

Editor's note: Chloe S. Angyal is senior editor at Feministing, an online community that addresses issues affecting women. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Education announced recently that it is investigating 55 universities and colleges for their failure to properly handle sexual assault cases on campus.

The list includes a number of prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Emory, UVA, William and Mary, Tufts, the University of Michigan, and my alma mater, Princeton, where a 2008 university survey found that one in six women students had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact while enrolled.

As a young alumnus, I feel a grim satisfaction at seeing my alma mater on the list. By the time I graduated, in 2009, two of my close friends and one of my former roommates had been sexually assaulted during our four years on campus, and I had watched another friend go through the labyrinthine and largely ineffective student disciplinary process in an attempt to see her rapist held accountable.

Chloe S. Angyal
Chloe S. Angyal

Like so many other survivors of campus assault, she was discouraged from reporting to the police, and her case was instead handled internally, away from real law enforcement. This is, of course, part of the problem: If there's no real punishment for sexual violence, assailants know they can get away with it, and survivors won't report it. And if survivors don't report, universities can plead ignorance.

When it came to sexual violence, it seemed that Princeton's priorities were misplaced -- it was more interested in preserving the university's reputation than ensuring the safety of the students. This is not to say that, within these institutions, there are not well-meaning individuals who work hard to keep students safe. But a few individuals can only do so much when they're up against an institution whose primary goal seems to be to protect the university's good name, even if that means providing cover for students who do terrible things.

So far, Princeton has not commented on the Department of Education's investigation. With so much at stake -- money, prestige and reputation -- on the line, it should not surprise us if Princeton, like the 54 other institutions on the Department of Education's list (and the numerous other at-fault schools, like Yale, that have, for now, avoided censure) do their best to explain away accusations that for years, they've allowed their students to get away with sexual assault or rape.

One survey of two universities estimated that female students had a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted during their undergraduate years. By failing to protect their students and not properly disciplining assailants, universities are in violation of Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments. Title IX, so often associated with athletic funding, also requires universities receiving federal funding to provide equal access to education for all students, regardless of gender. University administrators are falling short if they allow a culture of sexual violence to flourish.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of young activists -- like the students and recent graduates who founded the Know Your IX campaign -- this issue is finally getting more attention. A new White House task force has released policy recommendations for campuses (and two star-studded PSAs) and the Department of Education has stepped in.

The Obama administration's strong support for survivors of campus assault -- not just the usual platitudes and policy band-aids -- is a crucial step in the right direction. But other stakeholders -- namely alumni and parents -- need to join this fight as well.

In June, alumni of all ages will be heading back to their alma maters for college reunions -- an exercise of school pride and, in many cases, hefty alumni donations. At Princeton, the event is a three-day booze-soaked party of self-congratulation, and a chance to celebrate "the best damn place of all."

If alumni, in good conscience, want to wear school gear or stick school bumper stickers on their cars, they must take on the issue of campus sexual assault. To do that, they will need to speak the language that these institutions understand: Money, and press.

If alumni with the power to pull large donations refused to give money to their universities until sexual assault is taken seriously, we'd see an immediate change on campuses. Similarly, if parents were vocal about their concerns at sending their kids to a place where they might very well be assaulted or raped, or spend four years being covertly (and overtly) told that committing rape is acceptable, universities would scramble to improve and, more to the point, enforce, their policies.

Ultimately, efforts to prevent sexual violence on college campuses have to be motivated by something beyond a desire to protect a university's bottom line, or to avoid negative press coverage. Universities have to be motivated by the sincere belief that all students have a right to an education not marred by fear of violence or memory of violence, and by a deep and genuine investment in the safety of all students.

As it stands, the words we hear from some of our nation's top universities don't match their actions. They have spent years letting down students, parents, and alumni, by making it easy for their students to commit assault or rape. It's time to hold them accountable.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT