They say that all problems are local, but the truth when it comes to big national issues is this: No matter how widespread they are, lots of people don't like to think that "those problems" actually happen in their own communities. The latest example of this phenomenon comes to us courtesy of an Inside Higher Ed Survey, which found that many college presidents believe sexual assault isn't a problem on their campus. This, in spite of the fact that data shows sexual assault on campus is a huge problem at most schools. But I guess everyone likes to think their school is the shiny, shiny exception.
According to the survey, most of the heads of higher education institutions don't seem to be taking the issue as seriously as you'd hope them to. Although only 26 percent don't agree that sexual assault on college campuses is a big problem — and I say "although," even though the number is already too high for my taste — only seven percent agreed with the statement "sexual assault is prevalent at my institution." Seven. Percent.
That number is kind of staggering when you think about it. Studies show that 20 to 25 percent of women in college will experience sexual assault. And as far as I'm aware, studies do not suggest that some schools are magically exempt from this trend. Yet apparently only seven percent of college and university presidents are aware of the fact that their schools were somehow magically able to avoid sending any acceptance letters to future rapists. Because I guess they're just that special. Or something.
The sad truth is that sexual assault is prevalent on just about every campus. There are things that can be done to fight that; unfortunately, though, they just aren't being done in enough places. Maybe it's because college presidents think their campuses doesn't need it, even if they sorely, sorely do. I'm speculating here, but I imagine this point of view is probably how over 50 schools wound up being investigated by the Department of Education for mishandling sexual assault cases.
If there are any college presidents reading this right now, take note: Your school is not a special snowflake. Unless you already have active policies in place to prevent sexual assault and the anonymous survey data to show that your efforts are working, it's still happening at your school. And if you don't hear about it, it's probably because you either haven't told your students about the resources available to them, or it's common knowledge that your system or handling assaults is so broken people are better off not getting mixed up in it.
College and university presidents owe it to their campus community and to the students who place their trust in their school each year to take sexual assault seriously. To provide resources for women and men who have been assaulted. To make sure that the people who deal with survivors are trained in how to handle these issues. To actually have a disciplinary policy with teeth, one where perpetrators not only will be held accountable, but will face real consequences. In short, to send the message that the school is on the side of those who have been hurt, and that the sexual assault of a fellow student is never acceptable.
Doing all of this can be difficult. Just admitting that this problem has been allowed to fester on your campus for so long can be difficult. But all those campus sexual assaults you hear about? They don't happen at some sort of strange "other" campus where the students are all dumb and disengaged and kind of ugly, where the football team never wins or no one organizes unique campus events, or where the quad is un-manicured and full of weeds. Sexual assaults happen on campuses that look like yours. In fact, it happens on at least one campus that looks exactly like yours. The one that is yours. And it's more than time to face up to that.