SAAM events: necessary but insufficient

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The university is making an effort to address issues surrounding sexual assault, but transparency is key. Photo by Kathleen Miller.

Two weeks ago, The Dallas Morning News reported that 15 percent of female undergraduate students surveyed at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) reported having been raped since their enrollment.

Officials are calling UT’s findings “the nation’s most comprehensive study on sexual assaults ever conducted in higher education,” having surveyed 28,000 students’ experiences with stalking, harassment and sexual violence.

In a tremendous demonstration of courage, not only did UT President Gregory Fenves insist on publishing the recorded information — a decision made despite the risk of subjecting UT to the same public scandal Baylor University has been experiencing — but he also spoke publicly and passionately about his determination to utilize the study’s findings in order to make several institutional reforms to the campus’ current policies. He and other UT officials have not been afraid to address the problems occurring in their school.

The University of Dallas has a faculty equally as dedicated to students’ welfare; they’ve simply expressed that concern for students in different areas. We don’t talk about this issue nearly enough at UD, and it isn’t because we don’t care as much as other universities, or because our faculty is inferior. It’s because we tend to operate under the assumption that our community is better than this, that these kinds of horrors couldn’t possibly happen on our campus.

Other Texas universities would do well to follow UT’s example. In contrast to the multi-year cover up now unraveling from behind the secretive doors of Baylor’s administration, UT presents an image of a faculty prepared to reach out to students in ways many schools haven’t. Perhaps the most impressive element of their campus reform lies in their newly renewed commitment to clear, unabridged communication.

At UD, there is too little communication between the administration and the student body about these issues.       

Though undergraduate students have been required to take an online alcohol training class as well as a brief course on sexual assault, these classes are required only once at the start of a student’s freshman year, take about 20 minutes at most to complete, and, once submitted, are never again addressed.

The data from these courses has never been collected and sent to students. Even if these statistics were being assembled and used in some way behind the scenes, the number of reported assaults cannot possibly be updated to be representatively accurate if responses are submitted so infrequently.

Furthermore, UD’s sexual assault class only asked a handful of questions about students’ own experiences. Instead, it used over half of the course’s allotted time to preach about the benefits of abstinence rather than extend an opportunity for students to make reports.

By contrast, the 95-page report from UT’s in-depth sexual assault survey demonstrates how committed the administration is to gathering accurate and thorough student responses in order to determine precisely where the problems are in order to formulate solutions.

It’s probably true that UD has a much lower rate of sexual assault than other Texas universities. But how are we to be confident in these presumed statistics about our own student body if we lack the openness that Baylor and UT have shown to be increasingly necessary?

We tell ourselves we are a better school because we have a better community, better morals, better people. And in a lot of ways, we do. But even in the most spiritually sound environments, crime is never, ever absent.

UT’s survey results may initially sound like a horrifyingly high statistic, but their findings are about on par with the national average: According to RAINN, about 14.8 percent of American women and 3 percent of American men are victims of rape throughout their lifetimes, with millions more experiencing attempted assault.

If this weren’t reason enough to take action, RAINN also reports that females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. Women ages 18-24 who are college students are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) has just begun, and in response, UD has listed five events on Crusader Connect that will be held to increase awareness. These activities are a fantastic beginning and commendable effort in a much longer journey to address such a terrible problem, but they cannot be our university’s sole method of participation.

In the wake of the atrocities that have occurred in the Baylor community, more and more universities are newly committed to transparency in their dealings with student crimes. UD may not need to reform its policies to quite this extent, but it cannot be entirely absent from the conversation.

Because sexual assault is such a uniquely personal and private pain, unreported more than three quarters of the time it occurs, it demands a specific and more concentrated effort to combat.

Our campus’ SAAM events will likely have great turnouts and will be very helpful for the short time they are conducted, but we must extend our attention to sexual assault awareness beyond the month of April, including every student, every month of the year in our pursuit of truth and justice.

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