Federal Sexual Assault Investigation Questions Answered…Sort Of
Caption: Students at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania protest the mishandling of sexual assaults on campus.
By: Morgan Gilbard’15
Photo courtesy of http://www.pennlive.com
A Huffington Post article citing Hobart and William Smith Colleges as one of 30 schools under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases went viral on Facebook among the student body beginning Feb. 12. A Newsweek article shortly followed, specifying that HWS is allegedly accused of violating both the Clery Act, which mandates that schools provide timely warnings and statistics of crimes (including sexual assault), and Title IX, which outlaws discrimination according to sex.
However, HWS officials remained silent until the building rumblings of a disgruntled campus called Dean Kaenzig to the William Smith Congress meeting on Feb. 18. “We have no official notification of any complaint filed against us,” stated Kaenzig.
While the need for a federal investigation is disconcerting enough, the greatest uproar rises from the extensive silence from campus leaders. “This is the place I go to school. This is the place I call home and no one—up to this point—said anything,” commented Molly Doris Pierce ’15 during the Congress meeting.
“If and when we know what we’re talking about, there would be a statement,” said Robb Flowers, Vice President of Student Affairs. “If we thought this was an immediate and ongoing threat, we would have made a statement. We want to act on facts. We really want to serve our students well, and create a safe, supportive environment.”
Building both fiercely and quietly since fall, the dissatisfaction among students and staff alike about sexual assault on campus is finally yielding results. “Half the battle is getting people to talk about one of the most destructive things that can happen on a college campus,” explained Flowers.
Despite this primary goal of facilitating conversation, the backlash surrounding the mandated and often ignorant ThinkLuv program argues that recent initiatives of the Student Affairs Office embody the opposite. A questionnaire and video series, ThinkLuv attempts to educate students about preventing sexual assault— while slut-shaming, generalizing, and even being sexist in the process. “Fundamentally, what this [ThinkLuv] does not do is create a dialogue,” stated Women’s Collective co-president Laura Alexander ’14.
“It [ThinkLuv] was like I was revisiting things I never want to remember,” said an anonymous senior William Smith student.
The uproar following ThinkLuv was unforeseen by the Office of Student Affairs. “We always look for new ways to bring conversations to our students,” said Robb Flowers. “The valid and important concerns have been heard and recognized. We can and will do better.”
Flowers’ words relate both to the problematic ThinkLuv and the unrealistic sexual assault statistics. “We had four reports of sexual assaults on campus for 2012. And that was unacceptable,” Flowers explained. “I wanted to create an environment where students could feel comfortable reporting incidents. The 2012 statistics will be remarkable different from 2013 because of the work the staff has done.”
While the intentions certainly exist, the effectiveness of the current system is questionable to many. One William Smith junior, who wishes to remain anonymous, asks, “How many things do we have to see go wrong before we have change?” And that is the question on everyone’s mind.