November 17, 2014
This article is by guest writer Nora West. Nora is a Georgetown University Student Peer Educator on Sexual Violence Prevention and an advisor of LiveSafe’s SafeTalk Symposia.
Title IX, the Dear Colleague Letter, the Campus SAVE Act, and the Clery Act are confusing. The mandatory guidelines are constantly shifting, and it’s difficult to keep up. However, when implementing these requirements we must not only think about the specific measures, but also the intended impact. The goal of all of the laws and regulations is to create an environment that is supportive of survivors. The problem is that all of these regulations don’t create that environment. A survivor-centered campus comes from the attitudes of the administrators and campus safety officers. If university officials are focused on compliance, not culture, the essence of the laws are lost. This is not to say that compliance is not important, but that compliance alone cannot create safer campus environments.
Unfathomable strength is required for survivors to make it through a day; they are living in a world that someone else created for them without their consent. What does it say to them when universities decide that the bare minimum of compliance is appropriate? Schools need to go beyond what is required and implement best practices, so that their students know that sexual assault is taken seriously. With funding and programming resources, universities communicate their priorities. Choosing to only invest in compliance and not also a culture of consent tells survivors that their experiences and struggles are not understood or accepted by the university. From the President’s office to patrol officers, a decision needs to be made to invest more money and effort into sexual assault. Not being on the list of the 55 schools investigated by the Department of Education is not enough. Every school has to strive to comply with federal regulations and create a culture that serves their needs regardless of the additional cost.
Going beyond the federal regulations is not just about investing more money, but also universities must recognize that other facets of the campus culture impact the climate surrounding sexual assault. People of color are more likely to experience sexual assault and are less likely to report offenses, so campuses that do not address racial discrimination and discrimination in the justice system are not supportive of survivors. Men experience sexual assault, so universities that do not accept survivors of all gender identities are not fostering a safe environment for survivors. Members of the LGTBQ community suffer from assault, so campuses need to address bigotry, homophobia, and trans-phobia to address sexual assault. People with disabilities experience assault, so campuses need to embrace disability justice to care for survivors. Anyone can be a survivor and until universities create an environment that addresses sexual assault and understands that care for survivors means care for their whole person well beyond federal guidelines, perpetrators and rape culture will continue to thrive in the college environment.