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Be a leader in sexual assault policy

Published: April 29, 2011
Section: Editorials, Top Stories


Most students at Brandeis feel safe. And they should. Brandeis is a safe campus filled with multiple departments and community leaders dedicated to protecting student safety. But unfortunately, Brandeis is not immune from the issues of sexual violence and harassment that plague every college and university campus. It would be naive to think that because our campus is safe students are not raped here.

This month, The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education reminded all schools of their responsibilities to comply with Title IX and prevent sexual assaults. The message of the 20-page guidance letter sent on April 4 is simple: Schools must take every action possible to prevent sexual violence. And when it does occur, they must make every effort to remove the hostile environment the assault created. That means investigating the incident and making victim protection the number one priority.

We trust that Brandeis has a strong support system in place. We expect Brandeis to conduct a full review of its current procedures and ensure not only that they fulfill the Title IX requirements, but also that this university will become a national leader in creating programs that raise awareness about sexual harassment and will form policies that seek to prevent it from creating an unsafe campus environment. That is what Brandeis does in the field of social justice. It does not accept the status quo. But rather it strives to set a new benchmark, a new goal for other institutions to follow. We hope that all of Brandeis’ leaders will recognize that as they review the current policies.

If university President Fred Lawrence wishes to assert his leadership in an area that directly affects student life and the spirit of our community, we recommend that he appoint a new task force to review Brandeis regulations for handling issues of sexual violence.

But regardless of what any administrator can do, Joe Biden said it best earlier this month when he spoke at the University of New Hampshire. He explained that only by shifting our society’s attitudes about sexual assault will we be able to make our country safer.

“When it comes to sexual abuse, it’s quite simple. No means no,” Biden said. “No means no if you’re drunk or you’re sober. No means no if you’re on bed in a dorm or on the street. No means no even if you said yes at first and you changed your mind. No means no. And it’s a crime to disregard no.”

The stigma associated with sexual assault on college campuses—the belief that if someone was drunk or best friends with the attacker—makes it less of an offense is absurd. It’s an excuse that needs to end. And it needs to end now. Biden could not have been clearer. Sex without consent is rape. Period. And it’s a crime punishable by more than a decade in prison under state law.

We hope Brandeis will become a leader in reminding our society that rape is always a crime, regardless of when or where it occurs.