In the wake of June's dramatic rape case involving four members of the Vanderbilt football team, a group of six current and former Vanderbilt students filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Education Thursday arguing that the university hasn't responded to sexual assault on campus adequately.
The Tennessean reports that current senior Sarah O'Brien organized the campaign, after finding the school's response to her own sexual assault lacking. According to the Tennessean:
The students' claims range from thoroughly documented personal stories to sparse allegations built around anonymous website commentaries, as well as explosive charges made briefly but without supporting materials or significant elaboration.
They challenge campus program and staff changes. They say some rapes go unreported and question the tone of some events on campus, suggesting that the climate is hostile to women.
Vanderbilt's student newspaper the Vanderbilt Hustler reports that further details of specific incidences of sexual assault will not be released.
Currently, a plethora of problems remain in how Vanderbilt University addresses rape culture, and how it conducts awareness, education, prevention, and response concerning sexual assault. The Margaret Cunninggim Women's Center website states: "we coordinate a campus-wide effort to involve all members of the Vanderbilt community in creating a safer campus." As students at Vanderbilt University, we fail to see the truth in this statement. We do not see the safer campus this quote boasts of. Regardless of how the Women's Center may be reaching out, incidents of sexual assault regularly occur within all segments of the community, including those that Vanderbilt holds as its cultural core, namely greek life and athletics.
While your websites may boast of progressive change, the administration continues to silence the voices of victims through bureaucracy and discouragement from speaking out. We are those voices and their allies, and we are speaking out.
The complaint demands, among other things, that survivors of sexual assault be allowed academic leniency, that statistics of rape be accurately reported and that better programs be put in place to educate students about sexual assault.
Mark Bandas, associate provost and dean of students, told the Tennesean he was open to their concerns, but that "much of what they recommend is in place now, and we will consider additional ways of communicating our current policies and mechanisms for dealing with sexual violence and assisting victims." Bandas was citing the Green Dot program, which was put in place in after Vanderbilt began to revise its sexual assault policies a few years ago. It's vaguely described as "a comprehensive approach to violence prevention that capitalizes on the power of peer and cultural influence across all levels of the socio-ecological model" that "targets influential and respected individuals from across community subgroups" to "engage in a basic education program that will equip them to integrate moments of prevention within existing relationships and daily activities."
The group Vanderbilt Students of Non-Violence, which organized the rally, has also started a Change.org petition.
If federal officials find enough evidence to indicate that Vanderbilt violated both laws, they can result in more permanent investigations and eventually steep fines – which is exactly what has happened at Yale and Occidental this year. The events at separate schools are not unrelated; in their letter, Vanderbilt students mention the media attention both Yale and Occidental, as well as Swarthmore, Amherst, University of North Carolina and the University of Connecticut have gotten just in the past year over "mishandled" rape cases on their campus, and O'Brien told the Vanderbilt Hustler that the filling is "exact same type of complaint filed at other universities." (The paper also revealed that O'Brien assisted with a similar filing from two students at Amherst this week as well.) It's clear that without such cases, students at Vanderbilt wouldn't feel like they had a shot of being heard and acknowledged. It also gives hope that every individual college student who experiences sexual assault understands that it's part of a larger epidemic that stretches far outside the walls of their single institution, or even the educational system in general.
Image via Jimmy Emerson/Flickr