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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

From the Editor’s Desk: BU’s problems relevant to broader college community

Published: May 19, 2012
Section: Opinions

Everyone is talking about Boston University this year. After rape allegations against two hockey players, a hazing scandal, a graduate student murdered and now a tragedy on a study abroad program in New Zealand, grief counselors consoling students rather than professors grading final exams now dominate the conversations on campus.

After suffering multiple tragedies and scandals in one year, it is easy to view the issues as specific to Boston University. But as students know, these are problems that all colleges face every year. Hazing and sexual assault made headlines at BU. The fact that they did not at other colleges this year does not mean that these problems do not exist.

No university or college administrator can permanently eliminate sexual assault, crime or hazing. But there are logical policies and reasonable responses administrators can implement to evaluate student concerns and work to address them.

Student life officials need both more oversight from the senior administration offices and more time speaking to students. They need oversight because a university president carries more influence than a dean. And they need more time with students because it is students, not administrators who know how their peers feel, where they need help and what scares them most about college life.

Then there are the tragedies beyond our control. The car accident in New Zealand poses a nightmare for university administrators. There are safety protocols, guidelines and trainings for students studying abroad, but there is no way to prevent accidents and tragedies. And for a campus already struggling to heal from a year full of pain, there is no support system ever adequate enough to cushion the suffering of students who lose their friends so quickly.

So the trend story about BU is easy for newspapers to write. Rare, unexpected events make the news. And a string of campus tragedies and scandals is rare. But the causes of the problems plaguing BU this semester are not rare. They happen on every college campus in the country to some degree, including Brandeis.

In response to the rape scandals and hazing scares, there are tangible changes a university can make. In response to a tragic car accident that takes the lives of multiple students, there are always far more questions to be asked than answers to be found.

Yet, as BU has demonstrated this week through vigils and support groups, community strength is tested, not broken in the aftermath of tragedy.

And other colleges can choose to follow their response by reflecting on their own policies and attitudes to evaluate support systems already in place.

It’s easy to look at BU this year and say what a horrible tragedy, what an awful string of scandals—to look at the issues as isolated to the Commonwealth Avenue campus.

What’s far more difficult and necessary to do is put ourselves in the place of the students and staff there, imagine what it is like and then reflect on our own community’s strengths and struggles when it comes to student life.