Occidental Students Protest The Way The College Notifies Them (Or Doesn't) About Rape
Last month an Occidental College student reported being sexually assaulted by another student just off-campus, and many students and professors were dismayed to learn about the report not from the administration but from TV news reporters who visited the campus for interviews.
A student named Carly Wright, who learned about the report from a CBS Los Angeles reporter, responded: "We’d feel safer if we got some kind of an alert from our campus. I wouldn’t expect them to be able to say a lot, but at least let the students know what’s going on."
The controversy mushroomed, and it fired up activists on campus. They started a popular tumblr page called "Dear Oxy," a campaign to withhold financial contributions from the school and a Change.org petition that has over 1,500 signatures. Students held protests on campus that brought out a sizeable crowd that included a few hundred students:
The campus' resident anti-sexual assault group Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition said they feel like they had been let down by the administration. This fall the coalition made a list of 12 demands that would change the way the campus would tackle its sexual assault problem, and the administration agreed to many of the changes—or at least to look into most of them. Some of those changes included changing the appeals process, promising to let the community know if it changed its sexual assault policy and also looking into ways to strengthen its resources for dealing with sexual assault victims.
Two of the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition's relevant demands involved publicizing reports of sexual assault:
7. Use Oxy’s Crime Alert System to Inform Campus of Reported Sexual Assaults
8. Distribute a Detailed Annual Sexual Misconduct Report
The administration responded to those demands:
The safety of the campus community is one of our fundamental responsibilities. Timely information on recent incidents is an important tool in the fight against sexual assault, both on and off campus. Oxy pledges to continue to provide such information consistent with the Clery Act, Title IX, FERPA, and other laws and regulations regarding the compilation and distribution of emergency public safety notices, crime statistics, and personal privacy.
The sexual assault coalition considered the administration's response to those demands and others a victory, and they held a celebration on campus. But now they say that the administration reneged on its promise to alert students quickly when serious crimes occurred. Administrators are saying that's not exactly what they promised.An e-mail alert from the administration was eventually sent out after the news report of last month's sexual assault had already circulated, according to The Occidental Weekly. Dean Barbara Avery explained in the e-mail why the alert hadn't been sent earlier: "Had this been a case where a student was assaulted by a person unknown, or a case where the College determined that there was a continuing threat, we would have immediately issued a campus alert, as we have in the past."
President Jonathan Veitch expanded on that in an interview with the Weekly: "I would never have agreed to notify the community every time a sexual assault occurred unless there was a threat of imminent danger; it’s not practical, it violates privacy, it makes it unlikely that people are going to come forward when these incidents occur again because of the publicity that they generate and because people end up knowing who’s involved and because you can’t determine yet who’s telling the truth."
Many students on campus weren't happy with that response or what they perceived as an insinuation that alleged victims are any less truthful than other crime victims. The Occidental Weekly reported that a Facebook status that got re-shared among students read: “I STRONGLY BELIEVE ANY RAPIST (WHETHER THE RAPIST IS AN OXY STUDENT OR NOT) POSES A CONTINUOUS THREAT TO OUR SAFETY. SHARE IF YOU’RE WITH ME!"
Veitch wrote a letter to respond to the controversy and said among other things he wasn't happy that students were embarrassing the college on TV:
I'm dismayed that having agreed to that conversation, a number of well-intentioned people have chosen to cast our motives into doubt; vilify dedicated, hard-working members of Student Affairs; question the sincerity of our response; and actively sought to embarrass the College on the evening news. That is their choice, and there is very little I can do about it. I can say that it reflects poorly on their commitment to this conversation and to the broader education that must take place if we are to change a culture we all find repugnant.
One senior wrote that the statement "read like a disappointed father reprimanding his children for their disobedience."Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition says that they're submitting a complaint, claiming that the school violated the Clery Act, a federal statute that requires colleges to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees. The group is hosting a "Sleep Over for Sexual Assault Prevention" on the campus quad on April 19 and 20, according to The Nation.