Quite a few colleges and universities have recently been investigated (and some censured) for poor management of sexual assaults on their campuses. They have either not been vigilant in investigating charges or have not accurately compiled and reported sexual assault data.
Colleges and universities are required, under the federal Clery Act, to track and publish crime statistics in annual reports open to the public. Not doing so could result in a fine or losing eligibility for federal financial aid.
Some college officials seem not to care. They seem more concerned with making their campuses appear safe for women than actually making them safe for women. Like the person who does not warn her as she is entering a room with a rapist, these lies are practically assaulting our students.
The U.S. Department of Education slapped a $165,000 fine on Yale University last week for inaccurately reporting sex crimes on campus. UNC-Chapel Hill is hovering under the cloud of two federal investigations for its alleged mishandling of sexual assaults. Investigative clouds flying nearby over Elizabeth City State University may have contributed to Chancellor Willie Gilchrist resigning on Friday. ECSU did not report any sex crimes from 2009 to 2011, despite police records of complaints.
Unfortunately, sexual assaults are a fact of life for nearly every college and university in America. When you mix sexism, immaturity, alcohol, hormones, group think, self-confidence issues, and more sexism and alcohol, you are bound to have conditions that lead to sexual assaults. Studies find that one out of four college women have either been raped or been the victim of an attempted rape.
Some schools try to tout their campuses as safe for women. They point to their low number of sexual assaults. Some prospective parents and students examine crime statistics and choose schools based on what they see in these annual reports.
Any law enforcement officer will tell you that the actual number of sexual assaults is significantly greater than the number reported in the annual reports. A searing daily injustice, most women do not feel comfortable reporting their sexual assault.
We do not know the actual number of assaults occurring each year on any given college campus. Colleges with the highest number of reported sexual assaults appear on the surface to be the most sexually hazardous for women. But are they? Are the colleges with a lower number of reported sex crimes safer? Or are they just underreporting?
I do not think we can judge the safety level of an institution by its annual reports. Colleges with a higher number of women reporting sexual assaults may be safer than their peers with lower numbers. At those higher reporting institutions, women may feel more empowered to report, and their schools may feel more empowered to report the truth. Women may feel more comfortable reporting due to the (relative) safety and tolerance they feel on their campuses. They probably suspect their officials will not sweep their horror under the rug before the recruits arrive.
A campus where every victim reports every single sexual crime and officials relentlessly investigate every charge is the next best thing to a campus without sexual assaults.
Too many college officials, however, are struggling, being weighed down by underreporting and under-investigating.
These officials are certainly not those vicious sexual predators that prey on women on our campuses. They are not those students who fail to respect their peers in sexual situations. But each and every time college officials underreport, look the other way after an allegation or walk instead of run to investigate, they are pretty much assaulting our students.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi (formerly Ibram H. Rogers) is an assistant professor of Africana studies at University at Albany — SUNY. He is the author of The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972. Follow on Twitter at @DrIbram