Plagiarism on campus: not just for over-caffeinated students the throes of finals week desperation any more! Apparently, it's also an attractive option for college administrators at University of Akron in Ohio, who seemingly lifted several sections of their own sexual assault policy guide directly from other colleges. In some sections, they didn't even bother editing the segments that referred to options not available on University of Akron's campus. Good to know that institutions of higher education are so unflinchingly committed to preventing and responding to sexual assault.
According to a report in Newsweek, Julia Dixon — a University of Akron graduate who was raped during her first week as a freshman, in 2008 — recently filed a Clery Act complaint against her alma mater for grossly mishandling her case. Procedurally, her case wasn't particularly difficult to handle: Dixon called campus police immediately after her assault and went to the local hospital in order to obtain a rape kit. The University's response was abhorrent, though. While she was still in the hospital, she was encouraged by a University detective to keep her sexual assault a secret because, as she put it, "a defense lawyer could make it seem like I did it for attention otherwise." It took the police 20 months to process her kit, at which point her rapist had graduated.
Dixon was disturbed that campus police were so uninformed about the school's official sexual assault protocols. When writing her complaint, she found that ignorance seemed to be the school's policy. As Katie J.M. Baker puts it at Newsweek, "large swaths appeared to have been copied, at times verbatim, from the policies of other colleges — and, in some cases, the University of Akron's policy offered options that weren't actually available on campus." Some particularly egregious examples: in a passage lifted from the University of Miami's sexual assault policy, the University of Akron's policy refers to the "Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity," which it does not have. It also makes a reference to a non-existent Appendix B and purports to offer support services that will move the alleged victim or perpetrator so they don't share the same dining hall. Sounds great, but the University of Akron only has one campus dining hall. When Dixon mentioned this service to Student Judicial Affairs, she was advised to eat early in the morning or late at night, when there were less people around. Though the university's policy maintained that "victim support and resources" are available, Dixon affirms that she was not offered any accommodations, even after being diagnosed with PTSD.
"It was one thing when I thought they weren't following their own policy, but now I think they're completely ignorant on this entire document," Dixon told Newsweek. "It looks like somebody skimmed it and edited it, but that's about all." (University of Akron's Dean of Students maintains that the errors are "typos," officially edging out Shia LaBeouf for Worst Excuse For Plagiarizing in all of the 2010's.) Dixon thinks that the school's ineffective and shoddy policy is indicative of the fact that "institutions are more interested in appearing to comply with the law than actually following it and helping their students."
That college administrations are more concerned with news of rape getting out than rape happening is, sadly, not news — it's something that's led colleges to dangerously underreport instances of sexual assault time and time again. And, as IX activist Alexandra Brodsky pointed out in a Google hangout session with Congresswoman Jackie Speier yesterday, this is something that Obama's sexual assault task force and the Department of Education must stay mindful of:
"I think Title IX is really great law in theory. But, in practice, because the Department of Education isn't really enforcing it, it's kind of like a cute, fluffy gorilla in the room right now... Title IX has to have teeth. Right now, a student will go to the Department and say, 'Things are bad on our campus,' and the Department will do this long investigation and then say, 'School, if you promise to do better in the future, then we'll let you off the hook.'"
Enough letting schools off the hook as long as they promise to try really, really hard to be better. The ED needs to put serious pressure on college administrations to focus on the safety, health and security of their students above all else — especially their reputations, which far too often hinge on sweeping rape allegations under the rug.
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