This past week, N.Y. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote an article for the Huffington Post addressing sexual assault on college campuses. In her article, Gillibrand condemned colleges and universities across the nation for their failure to deal with sexual assault in a strict, victim-centered way. Gillibrand also revealed that many colleges are under investigation by the federal government for allegedly covering up sexual assault incidents, and some colleges that have opted to shoulder a $35,000 fine rather than report sexual assault statistics for a given year.
Although Vassar is not one of the colleges under investigation, and it does report assault statistics, we at The Miscellany News feel that Vassar still falls short in its treatment of sexual violence on campus. This failure is reflected in the failures that have persisted in the systems currently in place to help students.
For example, until last year, the College’s Sexual Assault Violence Prevention (SAVP) coordinator was not a full-time position, but only offered the most vital administrative support for assault survivors employment during the academic year.
Reportedly, the SAVP position was so underpaid that it was a factor in the former SAVP coordinator’s decision to be one of the first to take last fall’s early retirement incentive packages.
This left the College without an SAVP coordinator for an entire semester, causing the College to fail the students who needed that support the most. The College then persisted in making no urgent efforts to fill the position throughout last semester.
While it is true that President Hill and the Administration have made the SAVP coordinator, the ALANA, LGBTQ and Women’s Center directors, and other vital student support personnel full time according to Hill’s “Strengthening Vassar” plan, it has only occurred this academic year in response to outrage from students and alumnae/i alike.
It is deeply disappointing and hurtful to the student body that these essential administrators in student-support positions have historically received so little support from the College
Further, we at The Miscellany News believe that Vassar continues to fail to sufficiently educate students of all class years in ways that could effectively prevent sexual violence on campus.
Only first-year students and those in certain leadership positions receive orientation on expectations for behavior on campus. It is also during this time that these students learn how to be active bystanders when it comes to instances of sexual and gender-based violence.
What’s more, standards of behavior and definitions of assault vary among administrative offices: The definition of consent in the Student Handbook and consent according to the SAVP orientation are two different things.
This discrepancy leads students who have been victimized to expect one level of support based on the stricter standard to which students hold each other, only to be re-victimized by the Title IX process at Vassar which holds to a different definition—one that is informed by state and federal laws and is concerned with the College’s liabilities. These definitions create a dissonance for all students, but actively harm students who are victims of sexual assault.
We at The Miscellany News believe that in light of these national and localized concerns, Vassar must take serious, well thought-out steps to address these issues on campus.
Firstly, the Administration should consider instituting a program that requires students to receive sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention training on a yearly basis, maintaining a requisite level of education throughout all four years at Vassar for students.
As first-year students are bombarded with information during their first weeks at Vassar and are still acclimating to the campus and life as a college student, providing such training during this time might be rendered ineffective.
Dartmouth is among those of Vassar’s peer institutions that have implemented these types of programs, encouraging a constant and consistent education for the campus community focussing specifically on these issues.
However, before seeking to execute these initiatives, we at The Miscellany News suggest that the senior administration, in conjunction with its students and faculty, equip themselves accordingly at actually address the issues at hand.
As mentioned, a prime example of fundamental miscommunications and opacity among students and administration presented itself last semester when students were under the false impression that the College had altered its official definition of consent. In order to make significant strides toward a safer campus, we must all first be on the same page, from students to faculty and administrators.
When students are taken by surprise by the College’s definition of consent and sexual assault, it creates a relationship founded on distrust.
Last semester’s open forums and protests about racism have proven that the Administration lacks some of the tools and sensitivity to adequately address concerns of these issues.
During a time in which colleges across the country are in the public eye for sexual assault, there is a sense of urgency and confusion about how to make campuses safer for students—ultimately, it has become clear that few know how.
That being said, we at The Miscellany News hesitate to encourage the Administration alone to initiate the change our campus so needs.
Senior administrators should seek the counsel of students and faculty who spend their time thinking, researching and discussing these issues.
At this time, we do not need quick, panicked solutions for the purposes of merely reducing numbers and saving face. Vassar students deserve thoughtful work in the realm of transformative justice and communal accountability to create meaningful change.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.