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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Attitude change needed for defunct sexual assault policy

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Editorials

Sexual assault on college campuses rarely makes the news. There’s no wonder as to why: Cases are often difficult to prove and many aren’t even reported. When assaults are reported, they often devolve into a he-said, she-said back-and-forth. That doesn’t mean sexual assault isn’t happening. When it does, we must pay attention.

In this case, administrators acted in a manner inconsistent with federal law, community standards and social justice. They gave this student the run-around, threatened her with suspension, ignored conflicts of interest and disingenuously made promises that they did not keep. They acted with the expectation that she would go away.

This week, The Hoot is publishing the story of a female international student who alleges that she was raped repeatedly by her roommate at their off-campus apartment. We print the story because she brought it to our attention—not because she particularly wanted her story to be public but because no one else was listening.

As journalists, we believe that every community member deserves a voice. But it is absolutely pathetic that a campus newspaper is the only place where a student can feel comfortable sharing her story.

We subscribe to the view that better reporting leads to better policy. Cases such as this one are shrouded in secrecy given federal privacy laws and the potential for lawsuits. But in this case, the Brandeis administration has hid behind these laws to protect itself, not the students involved in the case. Given her openness to The Hoot during the past year, we doubt she would object to the university discussing the case. That is, in the end, what she is asking of them.

Students don’t often have the resources at their disposal to bring costly civil lawsuits or to hire representatives. In this case, the female student is on a study visa, her parents are not in this country and she has limited resources. Advocating for herself was all the more difficult.

Last fall, President Fred Lawrence told The Hoot, “I don’t think that we have as serious a problem as some other institutions do, which is not to say that we don’t have an issue that we have to focus on as well. But I’m glad that we don’t have the issue to the degree that some other schools do, and that they’ve had to deal with it in a very public way.”

All this student wanted was for the university to deal with this issue in a public way. Instead, in describing the response of one student life official, she told The Hoot, “I felt that he was trying to silence me.”

We don’t presume to know all the facts in this case. But we do know that whichever details of this case administrators wish to contest the fact remains that a Brandeis University student approached university officials alleging that she was repeatedly raped. She spoke with fear about her safety on and off campus, the product in many cases of decisions police and student life officials made.

Brandeis has an obligation to clean up its act. Students deserve a clearer policy on sexual assault, an administrator tasked with oversight over such cases and a greater emphasis on providing information to students, not on making cases go away.

It wasn’t easy for the female student to go public. And it won’t be easy for Brandeis to make significant policy changes that address inconsistencies at the multiple levels of this case. But sexual assault is a real problem even in our modern world and especially on college campuses, and it must be addressed at all levels. Ignoring this case any further would only be a disservice.

We understand that rape cases are complicated. But we also understand that social justice requires doing the right thing, even when everyone else wants you to turn away.