In the University of Wisconsin system, like other institutions of higher education across the country, we are plagued with a cover-up of the truth.
As sexual assaults happen everyday on our 26 campuses, our system has failed the survivors. They refuse to help victims navigate the tedious and extremely emotional reporting process, allow the accused to appeal any disciplinary decision (but the victims are not granted the same), and have created policies that isolate victim/survivors. They’ve gone as far as breaking federal laws such as they Clery Act and Title IX. We have campus administrations telling students it’s “in their best interest to take time away from their education” after making a report; we have administrators that don’t include reported incidents on individual campus safety reports.
It is the blatant faults in an institution that is supposed to protect students that has driven me to do the work I do.
With all these faults, we have to concentrate our capacity to making the most crucial improvements: for us, that is policy. Chapter 17 of our Non Academic Disciplinary Procedures code, which dictates how sexual assaults are handled, places the University as the investigators,the judge and the jury in each instance. We have found that administrators are not at all qualified to be handling these incidents, have had little (if any) sensitivity training, don’t always know how to respond to cases which go against the heteronormative and media created idea of what assault is. In practice, we have seen the policy of Chapter 17 open the door for slut shaming, homophobia, and racism. Queer students who report are often met with puzzling looks and deeply triggering questions on not just the assault but on their sex life in general, along with “well, how can a (wo)man rape another (wo)man?”
This past year at the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh, there was a slew campus alerts telling students to be cautious around “a black man” who was the primary suspect for multiple attempted assaults on white women; the vague descriptions were then followed up with a note to women on campus to not dress promiscuously, to travel in groups, and not be out late. It was severely problematic, to say the least. Incidents like these are facilitated by a flawed policy.
We’ve determined that the best course of action is to try and amend the policy and have a subsection that is for cases of sexual assault; to accomplish this, we need to get approval from our board of regents and the administrative rule committee in our state legislature. The process is long and complicated, and we’ve been working with the Feminist Campus sexual assault toolkit in hand! As of right now, we are trying to build power with students from each campus through the use of resolutions of support passed by the respective student governments and follow that up by getting Deans on each campus to sign on in solidarity with us.
My work around this issue has also led me into an amazing fellowship program called Young People for Change and with them I am required to create a blueprint for social change. My focus is around sexual assaults in the UW system and for willing survivors to share their narrative of their experiences on camera. Eventually, this may turn into a documentary, or just video recordings and testimonials of real experiences. Either way, I believe this will also help in encouraging policy change – and an entire climate shift towards safer campuses for all students. This is the work I’ve committed myself to, and I am seeing it through on all ends.
Sara and other like-minded advocates should be commended for their work in trying to alter the current policies in higher education that discourage the reporting of rape and certainly minimize the penalties for the rapist. The obvious solution, at least to me, is to eliminate the university altogether from the process and advise all victims of rape or sexual assault to call the police and report the crime as the felony it is. Yes, that might devolve into a he said/she said situations, but with any forensic support, be it rape kits, pictures of the victim, clothing, etc. at least the investigation will be active and not the laborious, bureaucratic labyrinth victims must negotiate now. Put the bad guys in jail where they belong and let the university explain its failure to expel them.