Safety Before Leadership

SA definition

The following is a guest blog submitted by a Chatham alumna who, for understandable reasons given what you are about to read, has chosen to remain anonymous. We applaud her for not only sharing her story but for standing up for future Chatham women.

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Recently a Chatham alumna posted this article from Huffington Post on Facebook: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/3/31/Harvard-sexual-assault/?page=single

It’s a terrifying, disheartening letter from a female student at Harvard and speaks so deeply to the emotional and psychological scars left by sexual assault and the lack of appropriate programs and policies to help. This is one of many stories I’ve read over the past few years and it’s so difficult to process how this can still be happening to so many. I know these scars. I’m a rape survivor myself. And it was at Chatham during my first year that I put a voice to that assault. Chatham was where I found support and safety, far away from the boyfriend who raped me.

Even still, there’s shame, guilt and fear. As a result, my story is one of so many that’s never been told except to a chosen few. The emotional toll of sexual violence put very real barriers in my journey to become a “World-Ready Woman.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. A new campaign, No More, is driving awareness and the White House has established a Task Force to protect students from sexual assault. The Steubenville rape case showed a microcosm of what many are calling “rape culture” in this country. There’s dialog and a push for change, but many don’t realize how pervasive these crimes are.

Here are the facts about sexual assault and rape in the US:

  • About one in five women has been raped in her lifetime and one in 71 men has been raped in his lifetime (from CDCP)
  • Of women who have been raped, almost nine in 10 were assaulted by someone they knew and more than half by a current or former intimate partner (from CDCP)
  • Over one-third of women raped were between 18 and 24 when it happened (from CDCP)
  • According to another study, 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (from NISVS)
  • One in every two transgender people has been sexually victimized, and usually more than once, often many times (from University of Hawaii)

I’m appalled and saddened by these statistics. We can do better. We have to do better.

Chatham’s sexual assault policy is detailed on the university website as well as in the student handbook. Crime data at Chatham shows that for the years 2010 – 2012, no sexual offenses, forced or otherwise, occurred at the main campus on Woodland Road. However, it’s important to note that sexual assault is one of the most, if not the most, under-reported crimes and a number of Title IX suits are pending in colleges and universities across the country that allege that these type of crimes are being minimized or worse unreported.

As part of the move to consider going co-ed, one of the main messages I’ve heard discussed is a focus on women’s leadership rather than single-sex education. Not being naïve to the discussions and communications so far about this move, I believe that a co-ed Chatham will be a matter of when, not if. And unfortunately, based on the statistics cited above, it’s very likely that sexual assault will happen on campus.

I urge Dr. Barazzone, the leadership team and the board to make safety a top priority. The assertion that there is a policy in place and that no assaults have been reported is noted; but changing the dynamic of the undergrad experience by admitting male students will require attention to this and many other policies. Because sexual assault is an under-reported crime and we have very recent examples of how those policies fail (see: Harvard), I urge you to ensure that Chatham’s policy in action will protect survivors and provide swift action against those who attack anyone on Chatham’s campus. I urge you to proactively reach out to students about counseling and group support, continue awareness and prevention programs, require police training to learn how to investigate allegations of assault with dignity, and ensure the Chatham community is engaged in efforts to support victims and understand the effects of sexual assault, regardless of where it occurs.

Student safety in the college environment is an important and pressing issue and one that should be considered as critical as food and shelter. Without it, Chatham’s goal to create “World-Ready Women” after the co-ed move will not be realized, regardless of leadership institutes and other women-focused initiatives. Many share my concern that without a detailed actionable plan for the entire shift to co-ed undergrad, Chatham is planning to fail. Maybe this plan exists, but we haven’t seen it. As Chatham moves through this transition, please use the Harvard story as a cautionary tale. With all of the competition for students and declining enrollment across the board, ask yourself: can Chatham afford the same mistakes?

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One response to “Safety Before Leadership”

  1. Tricia Chicka says :

    Thanks for sharing this. Today I found yet another example of a coed (ivy league) institution making light of sexual assault/rape: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/23/brown-university-rapist-strangle_n_5201644.html

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