Another U.S. college sexual assault count begins. Officials must listen | Moira Donegan


AAn estimated 300 students left their classes last week at Skidmore College, a small private school located on a tree-lined campus in Saratoga Springs, New York. The students gathered on campus and started talking in megaphones about their experiences of sexual violence and the various forms of hostility and indifference they received from college administrators when they did. reported. According to a report by Rachel Silberstein in the Albany Times Union, the protest was sparked by a controversial decision by the Skidmore administration to ban a young student from campus after posting her experiences of sexual violence online.

The woman’s suspension comes as Skidmore students, disappointed with their reporting system on campus, have increasingly taken to social media to anonymously disclose their experiences of sexual violence within the Skidmore community. In the posts, many of which were collected on an anonymous Instagram account, the young women describe experiences ranging from stalking and rape to domestic violence. Some were reportedly cornered in dormitories and forced to watch their classmates masturbate; others were tampered with late at night, by strangers at a party or while walking in the campus quad. Accounts vary in the character and severity of the gender violence they describe, but students seem united in their belief that school administration upsets survivors and endangers their access to education more often than it does. does not intervene in a meaningful way to protect them or to detain their attackers. indebted. As an article on the anonymous Instagram account said, describing a student’s experience with reporting through the school administration: “Little has been done and I fear retaliation from the part of college. “

Students’ lack of trust in their schools to protect their safety and civil rights comes as Title IX, the federal rule governing the adjudication of cases of sexual violence in schools, comes under scrutiny. The Obama administration had expanded federal protections for surviving students, issuing guidelines in 2011 and 2014 to increase young women’s access to the reporting process, to enforce more rigorously the responsibilities of schools to survivors, and to create supportive measures to keep survivors in school. But the Trump administration destroyed that progress.

Trump’s Education Department, led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, has worked with men’s rights groups to rewrite the rules governing sexual assault on campus. The DeVos rules require schools to have a more onerous reporting process for sexual violence than for any other type of conflict between students; they subject sexual abuse complaints to a higher standard of proof than other complaints, and they make it more difficult for survivors to enforce schools’ obligations. The result is that sexual assault continues to be extremely underreported on campus. And for victims who do report, the results are poor. According to survivor rights group Know Your IX, nearly 40% of students who report their experiences of sexual violence to campus authorities are kicked out of school – forced to drop out, transfer, or take time off to the rest of the report. .

Against this background, it makes sense that Skidmore’s students sought anonymity to talk about their experiences of sexual violence: doing so under their own name would jeopardize their ability to continue their education. Skidmore students are not alone. Anonymous Instagram accounts detailing student experiences of sexual violence are now a semi-regular feature of campus life, appearing at colleges and universities in the US and UK to allow students to warn others potentially violent men without fear of retaliation from the college. or the authors themselves.

The idea is also not particularly new: while technology has allowed students to anonymously warn against dangerous classmates and professors, the practice of anonymous warnings among women on college campuses predates the social media. In 1990, students began writing their experiences of rape and sexual assault on the wall of a women’s bathroom at Brown University. They too have written about their school’s incompetence and indifference in handling sexual assault cases.

Obviously, this situation is not ideal. Anonymous reporting mechanisms have their drawbacks, especially for female accusers themselves. But while the students who run these anonymous accounts have been criticized, those who run the Skidmore Instagram account say they have received threats; Brown’s students have been denounced by school administrators as “magic marker terrorists” – such anonymous online forums are less the product of student extremism than of institutional failure. If these students had a functioning channel to report to – one that wouldn’t cause them to be publicly humiliated, socially ostracized, procedurally punished, or banned from campus for telling the truth about their own lives – then they do. would use.

When the Biden administration took office, there was some hope that a better Title IX rule might come – the kind of policy that would restore and build on Obama-era interventions, and help survivors. to stay in school. But in a puzzled manner, Biden’s Education Department dragged its feet to change the DeVos Title IX rule, pushing back its own deadline to revise the policy.

Earlier this month, surviving students and their advocates met with Education Department officials to ask them to revise the rule and issue a directive not to enforce DeVos’ harmful provisions in the meantime. But Biden officials – including Suzanne Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights who came under heavy criticism from survivors during her tenure as head of the Title IX office at Columbia University – have dismissed them. The Ministry of Education refused to issue a non-execution order; they waved their hands and equivocated in response to the concerns of survivors. Student activists told me they left the meeting shocked and disheartened.

What the Education Department offered in lieu of a change in policy, the surviving students said, were platitudes. The officials praised the young women for their bravery; they told them that they had an “army of angels” behind them. Then they refused to make the changes they so ardently congratulated these students for asking. It has become a hallmark of educational institutions’ failure to deal with sexual abuse in the post-MeToo era: officials express sympathy and praise the courage of survivors, while working against the interests of survivors. women.

This also appears to have been what happened at Skidmore. In response to the students, Skidmore President Marc C Conner made a statement to the student body. “I hear the voices of our students,” said Connor, “who have sparked a sincere and passionate outcry over the past few days about the impacts of sexual misconduct.” But the statement was light on the details and promised no changes to the school’s policies. So far, Skidmore, like many schools, seems to be hopeful that he can treat the movement against sexual violence among his students as one about the hurt feelings of women, something that can be condescended and made to go away. They better start treating it for what it is: a matter of civil rights.

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