Legal precedent (Title IX, the Violence Against Women Act, the Clery Act...) mandates that colleges create safe and gender-equitable environments for their students. The 1972 passage of Title IX began the legal evolution in earnest by forbidding gender discrimination in education programs-- which was formally interpreted to cover sexual assault on college campuses (see the "Dear Colleague" letter published by the Department of Education). Arguably, the entire conversation about college policy stems from this statute's mandate.the last year, more and more students have spoken out about the issue of sexual assault on their college campuses. Stories range from sexual harassment to university cover-up.
Columbia University and University of Virginia (UVA) have become centers of student activism. At Columbia, senior Emma Sulkowicz' art thesis, "Carry That Weight," galvanizes student support for new sex assault policies and, specifically, the removal of Emma's accused rapist from campus. At UVA, a divided campus discusses the fallout from a recent Rolling Stone article describing a gang rape at a UVA frat-- the details of which have been called into question.
The controversy about college policy is most clear at Harvard University. In June, the school introduced new policy that relies-- as many other colleges do--on a "preponderance of evidence" standard (i.e. more likely than not) in determining guilt. A group of Harvard law professors publicly attacked the new policy claiming it violated the rights of the accused. The two sides within the university represent a much larger debate taking place on the national level as well.
On the national stage, the debate about sexual assault policy revolves around a new law, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. The act would create stricter standards for campus policy, transparency, and survivor support.
Why is this important?
These new policies are part of a decades-long evolution of gender antidiscrimination law and college campus culture.
The activism and policy changes signal a new trend, one that affords victims much more power and raises questions about the rights of the accuser and accused.
You might have seen...
- This Rolling Stone article about a UVA gang rape- and their apology
- This profile of Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz as she- and hundreds of supporters- demand changes to college sexual assault policy
- Any number of articles about the 55 colleges under investigation for violating federal law in handling sexual assault cases
- Maybe just maybe the website I created as an independent study for Columbia, here :)