When Your College Is Being Investigated For Its Sexual Assault PolicyLatest
Your school lets students get raped by their fellow classmates. Your school lets those rapists live in the same buildings and go to the same classes as the people they rape. Your school doesn’t suspend or expel those rapists. Your school doesn’t know what to do because it isn’t a part of the criminal justice system. Your school is worried about getting sued.
Your school isn’t different. What’s different is whether or not you know that yet.
There are more than 4,000 two-and-four year Title IV institutions of higher education in the United States. The students at those schools are eligible for federal financial aid, which means the institutions have to follow specific guidelines regarding Title IX compliance. There are thousands more colleges that do not fall under this category, or offer programs that are less than two years.
At the beginning of May, as a result of the government’s growing interest in transparency about sexual assault on college campuses, the Department of Education released a list of 55 schools that are currently being investigated for their handling of sexual assault. The list appears to have overwhelmed ED.gov’s website and reportedly set a new traffic record for the site. Almost two dozen of the complaints had been filed within the past four months. The total number of schools on that list has reportedly grown to 60 since.
60 out of 4,000 might sound like a good number, but it’s not. That’s 60 schools where enough students and faculty members got enough support from their family, friends and peers to get the attention of their school administrations. That’s 60 schools where the administration still didn’t pay attention but the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights did. That’s 60 schools that are being investigated right now, not the total number of schools that have ever been investigated for mishandling sexual assault or the total number that have handled things badly but no one knows that because students aren’t properly educated about their rights.
My alma mater is one of those schools.
I would probably not say I “loved” attending the University of Chicago as an undergraduate. It’s a difficult school, full of intense, infamously socially awkward people. Chicago is cold in the winter and people at the UofC end up inside studying a lot, so it is definitely not a place to go if you can’t tolerate those things at least a little bit. But I did like it, I’m happy I went there and I generally look back on my days there fondly, perhaps more so with each passing year, as the memory of the calculus class I almost failed fades further and further away.
Maybe if I had still been at school when I found out that the college was being investigated by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for their allegedly inadequate handling of sexual assault on campus, as mandated by Title IX and the Clery Act, I would have been less surprised. I’m not wholly naïve about the school my family forked up a relatively insane amount of money to attend. Like many other elite institutions, UChicago is predominantly white and middle-class. It also boasts a prominent economics department that gives it a sometimes conservative bent, and, perhaps most notably, is located in a “bubble” of wealth that essentially protects it from the poor neighborhoods that surround it.
But it’s easy to forget those things as you get distracted by all the friends you meet there and the dining halls full of food and the (consensual) interactions you have with sexual partners. So the memory of my time there has become awash in a general sense of nostalgia and comfort with my choice. The school, which has moved up in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, from 15, when I matriculated in 2006, to number 5 today, has become a stock that I bought low and sold high.
I remember only knowing of one person who was sexually assaulted at UChicago when I went there. Even when I was in school I knew that this wasn’t representative of the actual number of individuals who I was friends with or had class with or passed on the quad who had been sexually assaulted. Sexual assault isn’t something most people talk openly about. The one woman I knew was raped by a friend, though she didn’t even even tell me that; I heard it through another friend. She never reported being raped. I heard through that same friend that she felt relieved that he was older, allowing her a few years of peace at school after he graduated and left her behind.
But this investigation in UChicago’s sexual assault policy is not about me, right? Except that it is. If you haven’t been raped and the people around you haven’t been (or you don’t know that they have been), why would you care about the issue? Why would you push your community to change? Why would any one community think it was doing anything wrong?
Like every other school on the ED’s list, UChicago’s struggles with sexual assault might appear recent. But the school has a long history with the issue. At the beginning of February, the school paper the Chicago Maroon reported that 4th year Olivia Ortiz had filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over the college administration’s handling of her sexual assault. (The Maroon had published a lengthy investigation into sexual assault at the college, finding that, while the college did not have the glaring legal and systematic problems handling sexual assault that investigations at other schools have revealed, it had significant miscommunication issues around the issue.) OCR announced that they were expanding their investigation of Ortiz’s original complaint to look at how the college as a whole was handling the issue.
As early as the mid-90s, students at UChicago tried to reform the school’s sexual assault policies. They formed two groups: Action for a Student Assault Policy (ASAP) and the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV). In 2006, the college updated its sexual assault policy. In 2010, the student body voted to reform the sexual assault policy as prompted by a new group, the Working Group for Sexual Assault Policy (WGSAP). In 2011, the college “modified” their policy to make sure it fit the specific guidelines outlined by the OCR.
Since the announcement of OCR’s investigation, alums of the college have been quite vocal about their concerns with how the administration has been handling the issue. They’ve published an open letter that has been signed by over 600 current and former students and they’ve formed the group Action for a Student Assault Policy which has encourage people to sign on Facebook. Recently hired Dean of Students Michele A. Rasmussen responded to their letter with one of her own outlining the evolution of the school’s policy. In her letter, Rasmussen emphasized that the school had already created the position of Title IX Coordinator for Students, which “goes beyond federal requirements, which require only a Title IX Coordinator for the University.”
Shortly before this online petition was published, and seemingly in anticipation of the Maroon article on the investigation, the University also announced that they were “examining new student disciplinary processes for cases of sexual misconduct and unlawful harassment and discrimination.”
Why do these details matter? Because before writing this article, I had only a tangential awareness of these facts and an even less present emotional response to them. But when I found out the University of Chicago – my school, the school my younger sister currently attends – might have consistently treated and was possibly still treating students who had been sexually assaulted as badly as other schools I’d read about, I actually felt my stomach drop. My written response was an incredibly articulate:
I wanted to find out what was going on, and I wanted to understand how I could have not known about it.
Before Sexual Assault
I started at the beginning, with the first week of college. Every first year UChicago undergrad goes through a week of orientation, commonly referred to as O-Week. They take an online class called AlcoholEdu which “dedicates a third of its curriculum to bystander intervention and sexual violence.” But a major part of O-Week activities are the three “Chicago Life” meetings led by older students in the college, each devoted to a different topic. The first deals with learning about the city, focusing on safety; the second on respecting and understanding the tense relationship the college has with its community; and the third is about sexual assault. Rather, it’s a discussion about “the social responsibilities that you will face when addressing alcohol, drugs, sex, and your peers” that occurs after a presentation called Sex Signals.
Sex Signals is a nationwide program that brings improvisers mostly to college campuses and military organizations. As I remember it, the entire freshman class sits in an auditorium while two comedians stand on stage and act out a hookup situation, once from the perspective of the man and another time from the perspective of the woman. Each member of the audience has a STOP sign, which you are supposed to raise at any point when you think the situation is getting bad or inappropriate. Spoiler alert: at the end of the “boy and girl meet at a party and have been drinking” scenario, you find out the girl accuses the boy of raping her. Usually, very few people raise their “STOP” signs during the presentation. It’s supposed to teach the lesson that consent is not assumed and that a verbal “Yes” while hooking up with someone is required.
Afterwards, the students break out into smaller groups according to dorm and talk over what they just saw with their peers. As a first year, I attended one of these meetings. And as an O-Leader (Orientation Leader) two years later, I led one. But today, I couldn’t tell you any details about what was discussed at either of them. I remember going to one meeting where O-Leaders were trained on how to lead the Chicago Life meeting about sexual assault where we were taught how to talk to students about “what is consent” and what were their options if they if they did get raped. We handed out very loud rape whistles. I perhaps symbolically threw mine away when I graduated, along with all my other now-unnecessary papers.
On the back of every door in every bathroom stall in my dorm was a sign for the school’s Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention, or RSVP. It was a long list about what constitutes consent and clearly stated some version of “Yes and only Yes means Yes.” When I left housing, I took it to my new apartment and hung it in my bathroom. It was comforting, though I wasn’t sure why.
My memory of Sex Signals matches those of other current and former UChicago students. “People definitely didn’t take it seriously,” said Lisa*, a class of 2016 student who has spoken with OCR about the way the school handled her sexual assault case. It’s a brief few hours that quickly fades into the background of an overwhelming first week of college, full of tests, new people and many parties more interesting than a presentation with STOP signs.
Though many of the students I spoke to had been out of college for at least a few years, others were still in college and also had little to say about it. Some described the students in their group as not very empathetic, while others said their sessions were a little over-the-top. The lack of consistency makes sense: These meetings are being led by slightly older students who attended a brief training session but are absolutely not experts in the topic.
And even the lessons that might have been learned don’t stick for most people. To find out how people were responding to the UChicago sexual assault investigation (or an OCR investigation at any other school), I put out a call on Facebook. One of the responses was from Katie*, a casual friend who I discovered had been raped when we were in school together.
When I got in touch with Katie, she described her sexual assault as a “very sadly typical situation.” During the fall of her 3rd year, Katie met a guy at a party and started flirting. They were drinking. As these things go, they started kissing and it quickly “started escalating in a way that I wasn’t comfortable with,” she said.
“He was kind of forceful. I thought, ‘This isn’t what I want.’ I was like, ‘I want to stop. I want to go home.'” But he didn’t stop; Katie described him as “much stronger than I was.” When she tried to get up, she couldn’t. So she thought, “Well, fuck, this isn’t working.”
“It was kind of weird and kind of scary because he didn’t say a word for the whole time,” she said. “I was saying no loudly and he just kept going.”
Katie didn’t report her assault. She enrolled in a study abroad program. Once there, she began to have trouble sleeping and her grades dropped, eventually prompting her to take a leave of absence. “At the time, I really kind of blocked things out,” she said. “I think that that incident had a much bigger effect on my life than I realized. I don’t want to play the victim.” She and her assailant had many friends in common. When she returned to campus, she tried to avoid him. But inevitably she did see him, and then, “I would just have this physical reaction and I would just want to leave.” Katie didn’t tell her friends what had happened. Instead, she began hanging out with a new group, although she did stay close to her closest friends.
“It was this mentality of ‘I don’t want him to win. I don’t want to look like this weak person,'” she said, explaining why she didn’t do anything. “All I could think about was how it would take over the rest of my college career with this bullshit.”
When I asked Katie if she had considered reporting her assault later on, she said she thought about it but brushed it off. “I literally had this magnet on my fridge that was for the sexual assault hotline,” she said, referring to the RSVP magnet handed out to students during O-Week. “I had it. I looked at it.”
But she couldn’t see the point in doing anything with it. “What are these people going to do for me? They weren’t there. I could only imagine that he would say, ‘Uh, she was drunk.'”
I asked her what she remembered about her O-Week Sex Signals training. She said, “‘If you say no, that means no.’ I remember them beating that into the ground. And all the guys in my dorm afterward were like, ‘We feel horrible.'”
But Katie didn’t see viable options when she was being raped and she didn’t see them afterwards. “What would a whistle have done?” she asked me. I didn’t have an answer for her.
After Sexual Assault
The students protesting the current UChicago administration policies seem to understand that, to a certain degree, there’s not much anyone can do to stop someone from raping a fellow classmate. UChicago might feel like a bubble, but it’s still the real world and in the world, people rape people they know. What students are protesting is the fact that the school doesn’t support students who have been raped after the fact.
Olivia Ortiz, whose case sparked the OCR investigation, is most concerned with the University’s response. Her sexual assault was a case of partner rape; Ortiz was in a relationship her second year, during which she says her partner “repeatedly” assaulted her. At the end of the 2012 school year, she called the campus Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call, who referred her to Susan Art, who has been the College’s Dean of Students since 2001. During her conversation with Art, Ortiz told me and as she outlined in her complaint to OCR obtained by Jezebel, Dean Art gave her three options: file a report with the police, open a disciplinary hearing for her perpetrator or enter an informal mediation between herself and her partner. Informal mediation is a process that is illegal under Title IX, which prohibits school officials from “encouraging or allowing mediation (rather than a formal hearing)” of a sexual assault complaint. It’s also prohibited under University policy.
At the time, Ortiz didn’t know informal mediation was illegal; she thought it seemed like a “fast and easy” option. She wanted to take her finals and start her summer. Like Katie, she wanted to move on; she didn’t want the rape to define her existence. So the day before her former partner graduated, she sat in a room with her appointed support person, her former partner and Dean Art.
“It wasn’t really the tone of an investigation but more of like, let’s work this out,” Ortiz explains. “[Dean Art] would say things like, ‘Look at how sorry you made her, shouldn’t you be sorry for this'” to Ortiz’s former partner/alleged rapist.
Ortiz left that meeting feeling disheartened and upset. A few weeks later she had a follow-up meeting with Dean Art where Art described Ortiz’s assault not as a sexual assault but as “a dispute between two students” which it was Art’s job to “mediate.” Dean Art later claimed, in an email to Ortiz, that she did not remember the same way, as was reported in the Maroon.
The College encourage Ortiz to see a counselor at the Student Care Center whom Ortiz says acted as though she didn’t believe that Ortiz had been assaulted or abused. And from then on, things escalated. Ortiz became a dorm RA, then quickly realized it was more than she could handle while she was dealing with her assault. She spoke with Maroon reporters for their investigation, which prompted Art to reach out to her about the discrepancies in how they each remembered their conversations. Art suggested a meeting, which Ortiz found “retraumatizing,” and declined. It was around this point that Ortiz realized she might want to seek legal counsel, and then discovered that the suggestion of informal mediation she’d been given was a violation of the law. “I find it really inappropriate that they expect students in a time of crisis to know these nitty gritty details,” she told me.
Part of what likely made Ortiz’s complaint complicated for Art was that it concerned intimate partner abuse. When Lisa contacted Jezebel to share her story, she said she’d also been repeatedly assaulted by a partner with whom she had had consensual sex with before. As a first year in 2012, Lisa started hooking up with a guy who had been described to her as “silently violent.” Her own Orientation Leaders had warned Lisa and her classmates about him, explaining that he’d gotten in trouble for fighting in the dorms. Lisa said that the first time she and he had sex, it was fine. The next time, she was drunk and tired and he had sex with her even though she said no. Lisa said she gave in; she describes him as much bigger than her, explaining that she thought he wouldn’t listen to her and was worried about his reputation for being physically violent.
Lisa continued to hook up with him because he was nice when he was sober, but finally, during winter quarter, she found herself in a situation with him where he held her down and put his arm up to her throat. That’s when she thought, “Oh, you could actually physically hurt me.”
Lisa’s abuser (who was older than her) eventually left campus. Lisa went to talk to Dean Art, who told Lisa that she had “a lot” of sexual assault cases on her plate already (about two or three) and didn’t have the time to handle Lisa’s. Lisa gave her statement to another Dean, who deferred her case until the following fall – when Lisa was told there wasn’t enough evidence to hold a hearing. “It wasn’t even clear to me that that’s a decision they could make,” she said, explaining that she was told that because she “continued to sleep with him afterwards it made it difficult for people to discern his actions.”
Lisa’s story – like Ortiz’s and the stories of many sexual assault victims – is full of complications and failures by the people and the organization that are supposed to be the most familiar with these procedures. When Lisa finally saw her abuser’s statement – a 30-page letter that disputed the details of her complaint and made her own two-page letter appear invalid – it read as though the whole thing was just a complicated he-said/she-said. She was told that she and her rapist should have no contact when he returned to campus, but she didn’t know what parameters that required or how it would be enforced. When he did return, Lisa’s Dean told her they hadn’t shared the news with Lisa because they “didn’t think that he’d hurt you.”
Eventually, Lisa talked to UChicago’s Title IX coordinator Belinda Vazquez, a move that appears to have prompted the administration to reopen her case. Her actual hearing became even more complex; Lisa discovered statements that had been submitted by a fellow student about her abuser had been excluded because they were considered repetitive or because they apparently hadn’t been received. Harassing texts her abuser had sent a previous partner – a partner who had been brushed off by the administration when she had gone to them about him before Lisa – had been excluded “even though Title IX says you have to take into account previous allegations.”
Ultimately, Lisa says the hearing was “mostly fine,” though she had to explain to everyone there why she had kept sleeping with him, as if they were unfamiliar with the patterns of abusive relationships. Her abuser was found not guilty.
Lisa says she wasn’t that upset about the outcome; it was the process that was frustrating. “The further this process went the more I felt like [my Dean] didn’t believe me and [they] became more and more antagonistic.”
When Lisa was telling me her story, she seemed calm, if somewhat tired and resigned. My familiarity with the college might have made it easier. But what struck me was that, for lack of a better word, it was luck that I had managed to dodge the experiences she, Katie and Olivia were describing. It was luck that I was sitting there listening to them tell their stories instead of sharing them myself.
What’s Special About Your School
Every person I talked to for this story didn’t think sexual assault was solely UChicago issue, because it isn’t. But every community has qualities that make their handling of these issues different – and often differently bad. “There’s a neoliberal affect that I think honestly a lot of [issues at UChicago] came from,” my friend Amulya Mandava said when I asked her what she thought about the UChicago’s handling of issues like abuse. “First, this disturbing brand of libertarianism where other people’s social issues are ‘not your business’, and second, this ivory tower thing that sends the message that social justice problems happen elsewhere and we’re so ‘intellectual’ that we’re above it.”
On Jezebel’s original post about the investigation at UChicgo, many former students said similar things about the school fostering an environment that makes sexual assault seem unimportant or improbable. Perhaps part of the reason I was so surprised about OCR’s investigation was that I thought that these things “just don’t happen” at my school. I chose a place where sports and Greek life – both associated with rape culture – weren’t a huge part of the dominant social structure. Wasn’t this place different? Most of my friends didn’t even know about the investigation, and when I told them about it, their brows would furrow.
Current student and Director of the UChicago Clothesline Project Veronica Portillo Heap agrees that the school encourages this sense that being “different” is a good thing, when in actuality it’s just bad in a different way. The Clothesline Project collects and shares the stories of those who have been sexually assaulted, printing them on t-shirts that are displayed each spring. Heap says her feeling about campus culture is that there are very few activists among the student body. “Generally, I think at UChicago it’s hard because people are so focused on their studies,” she told me. “People have been sort of supportive but there aren’t a whole lot that seem super committed to [cause of reforming sexual assault policy.]” And indeed, during my time at college, the biggest protest wasn’t for Darfur or Kicking Coke off Campus but against the administration for switching from their “Uncommon” application to the Common application.
The Phoenix Survivors Alliance, which Ortiz is a part of, hopes to change that. A group of sexual assault survivors (the Phoenix is UChicago’s mascot), they’ve created a thorough guide that walks students through their options after being sexually assaulted, both within the University structure and outside of it. The incredibly detailed guide attempts to avoid bias against individuals no matter what their relationship with their assailant and no matter the gender or sexual orientation of those involved.
The school’s Student Government has also actively been involved in getting this guide distributed to students, although they’d prefer to be doing it with the help of the University. Sofia Flores, the SG’s Vice President of Administration, was the most positive of any of the students I’ve talked to about the University’s response to changes in their sexual assault policy.
“I’ve been really pleased with how collaborative and supportive the administration has been,” Flores told me. A college third year, Flores ran for Student Government as part of a slate that she says was more focused on social justice than others have been in the past, and sexual assault on campus was one of their issues. Her big push during her term was to get a line item in the SG budget that would create for a week every school year devoted to sexual assault issues.
Flores believes the University’s system for dealing with sexual assault is too decentralized; undergrads deal with the Dean of Students for their cases, grad students answer to their individual departments. In response to student concerns, the administration is proposing to centralize the system under one person, who would report to the Dean of Students, and a single disciplinary committee for undergraduate and graduate students
The work of students like Flores in SG and Ortiz in the Phoenix Survivors Alliance is where the real push for change at the UofC is coming. It’s where the change has come at every other college too, because the administrations at these schools aren’t pushing for this work on their own accord. “The burden is kind of placed upon the people who have to bring it up,” Ortiz told me. “You don’t really see colleges being proactive.”
Some also believe that the onus rests on students because a Dean of Students can’t possibly protect the students while protecting the organization that pays him or her. My old roommate Christina Williams felt that way when she was dealing with Dean Art and the rest of the University after they forced her to take a medical leave of absence over a eating disorder the school nurse misdiagnosed. “They really really cared about covering their asses,” she said. “All I ever got was that she was thinking about the University.”
“[Dean Art] was so pressured to have the school’s needs met,” Christina explained, though she’s not unsympathetic to that position. “She was just doing her job as written by the UofC.”
Other students are more sympathetic to the roles of administrators. “The administration makes it worse but it’s not the cause of all this,” Lisa told me, a sentiment echoed by Katie, who said she feels the college community exacerbates the feeling that you’re part of a safe community when you’re actually not. Despite rape whistles, students aren’t on the lookout for dangerous scenarios and when it does happen, the social structure and pressures make them unlikely to report. But even when Katie was telling me about her rapist, I found my head spinning a bit. Who was he? Would I have guessed? Would I have done anything if I had known? Would her friends have?
This makes college just like the rest of the country; statistically, most rapes are not committed by strangers but by people who know their victims. But for college students who work hard and make sacrifices to get into and pay for a positive college experience, those statistics are unacceptable. “It’s actually kind of heartbreaking for me because this was the place that I always wanted to go,” said Ortiz, who is currently taking a leave of absence but plans to graduate from UChicago. “I do like the school, the professors have been great and so has the community. But I think the administration still needs a lot of work.”
“It’s been very hard for me to, as a result of this, lose my love for my school work,” she added, explaining that she doubts she’ll get anything more than apology from the University, if that. “I honestly just want it to be a more welcoming and safe place for the community. I’m happy to do my part for that as a member of the community and of the student body and I also want the University to do theirs.
“It’s very hard to make these sacrifices for an institution that probably won’t thank me in the end.”
As those in charge of UChicago and at many other schools are unlikely to apologize, the onus for change rests on a constantly shifting student body which typically attends the college for a far shorter time than the administrators they’ll interact with. As UChicago alums, many of whom had been involved in refining its policy in the 90s, wrote in their letter to the college:
Then, as happens, we graduated and left the university. We were not there long enough, or with enough leverage, to see that those improvements were made. We had hoped that the needed progress had been made in the intervening years.
At some schools, alums are doing the most dramatic thing they can do to protest how their school is handling sexual assault: not donating. As I was working on this piece, an annual UChicago fundraiser came up, a night to mingle with friends at a bar and donate a few dollars to your alma mater. Most years I end up making it, but this year I had plans. I was relieved: donating to a place I was feeling particularly distrustful of felt weird.
What’s particularly interesting about students fighting back against their school administrations is that they’re they’re fighting against an organization that chose them to attend in the first place. Schools like UChicago are full of young people who are supposed to be the next leaders of the Free World. They’re not fully-formed humans yet, but they’re trying to figure it out: Their politics, their beliefs, how to create change in the world. For school administrations, it’s difficult to grapple with the fact that one way their students are practicing for adulthood is to question and often oppose their institutions. In many ways, the colleges have welcomed their enemies into the fold, given them tools to make them stronger and allowed them to roam free.
As Kinja user FieryAnecdote wrote on the list of the schools being investigated by OCR:
We need to recognize that the reason these schools are on the the list is not because sexual assault is a greater problem in their student body than at other schools, but because their students and professors are more out spoken advocates.
Sexual assault is an equal or greater problem at schools not on this list.
The fact that so many progressive liberal arts colleges and universities are on that that list speaks to this. The students are trail blazing for students at universities where people feel silenced or have not found the right advocates.
Ortiz is right that the school probably won’t apologize because that would require admitting any wrongdoing, which is not great PR for the school’s brand. When I contacted Dean Art, Dean Rasmussen and Vicky Sides of RSVP for comment and discussion about this story, all directed me to College’s public affairs department. What occurred next was a perfectly civil, but ultimately unfruitful, email correspondence in which I asked to speak with individuals in the administration about dealing with these cases. Did the Deans feel they had adequate training for their jobs? Did they feel it was difficult to simultaneously juggle the needs of the students and the school? Have pushes for changes in the school’s sexual assault policy always come from the student body? Did SG’s push for a week devoted to sexual assault indicate that the school’s training for students on the issue might be lacking? After prompting, this is the response I got from Dean Rasmussen via the News department:
The University of Chicago is deeply committed to addressing sexual assault and all forms of sex-based harassment that impact our students’ ability to be successful at our institution. To that end, not only do we do everything possible to support survivors using on- and off-campus resources, we take very seriously our obligations to investigate complaints that come forward and apply appropriate measures through our University disciplinary systems.
We also recognize our responsibility to engage our entire University community around the importance of preventing sexual misconduct and unlawful harassment. We continue to seek ways to educate and empower students, staff and faculty though bystander intervention programs, training and professional development opportunities and awareness campaigns.
I knew I shouldn’t have expected anything better. I wanted answers I knew I wouldn’t get: These are people charged with protecting an institution, first and foremost.
But I’m a person and what it took for me to care about this was awareness. Awareness that it was happening, coupled with my job writing for a publication that cares about women’s rights and talking to people I hadn’t even known were dealing with these issues. Katie sounds like she’s doing great now, as is Christina. Lisa and Olivia will graduate from school hopefully knowing they did more to make it a better place during their time there than I or most others have. That might not give them the happiness they deserve, but it makes me feel lucky to know that I went to a school that saw something in all of us, even if the people running it don’t know how to give us what we want now.
It’s unclear if OCR will find anything conclusive about the University’s handling of sexual assault, they way they have at schools like Occidental or Yale. They’d have to prove that the administration is actively downplaying the number of sexual assaults on campus and/or has systematically violated the rights of students in dealing with these cases. Some students I spoke with believe both are true. Others are far less certain. According to the Department of Education, in 2012 there were five reported cases of forcible sex offenses on the UChicago campus alone. The numbers for the two years prior are roughly the same.
Earlier this year, the Maroon reported that Dean Art was retiring. She will be replaced by an administrator from Harvard. On May 20, the school announced that they’d begin implementing the suggestions that Flores, Ortiz and others have worked so hard to craft in July. A separate Associate Dean will be appointed for sexual assault cases and students will deal with only one panel of “trained” faculty members on one disciplinary committee. Additionally, SG has allotted $10,000 for sexual assault awareness activities next year. At the end of the school year, the school had their first Sexual Assault Awareness Week, as Flores had hoped it would. According to the Maroon, the University credited the paper’s investigative series as a prompt for the changes.
As for me, if I didn’t realize how important personal stories were before, I do now. And I’ve learned my lesson about expecting too much of my alma mater. In their own way, that’s the most real thing UChicago and colleges like it are teaching their students: This is what the rest of the world is like. Get used to it. Then tell someone.
* Names have been changed.
Image by Jim Cooke.