The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), is arguably one of the most prestigious in the country: ranked #86 on U.S. News' Best Colleges, #101 on Forbes (#54 for research), and #32 worldwide from The Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Anyone who has stepped foot on the spectacular Boulder, Colorado campus, knows that it's one of the most beautiful in the world. Situated at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 5,430 feet, no student ever gets tired of walking to class surrounded by the panorama of snow-capped mountains and never-ending bright blue sky ahead of them.
President Obama visited the campus to speak to students and Boulder residents three times during his last campaign, and eleven Nobel Laureates, nine MacArthur Fellows, and eighteen astronauts have been affiliated with CU-Boulder as students, researchers, or faculty members in its history.
Going to CU, for most students, is the best decision they've ever made - and I would include myself in that category.
My school, however, despite all of its prestige and beauty, is also one of 55 universities currently under investigation by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) over the handling of sexual assault on campus, and particularly for violating Title IX.
According to the White House, Title IX "is a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities which receive Federal financial assistance."
Last year, a student at CU was raped by another student off campus, and although the university acknowledged the assault and charged the perpetrator with four violations, the worst being "non-consensual sexual intercourse" (otherwise known as rape); he was suspended a mere eight months from school, fined $75 and forced to write a paper "reflecting" on the incident.
Before he was formally charged by the school, the school put into place a no-contact order with the victim, which the perpetrator violated numerous times when he approached the victim on campus and harassed her regarding the details of her assault and her decision to report. According to the student, she reported these terrifying interactions to the administration, and nothing was done by the school to prevent him from approaching her on or off campus. Eventually, she had to go through the Colorado court system, which granted her a formal protection order that will prevent him from returning to campus.
He was never charged with a crime, and without the state's intervention, would be able to return to campus while the survivor of his crime is still a student.
And this isn't the first sexual assault case that has made headlines at the University:
In 2007, CU settled a Title IX lawsuit by awarding $2.5 million to a former student who said that she was sexually assaulted by Colorado football players and recruits. During the course of this lawsuit, CU acknowledged that it "[had] allow[ed] the raucous behavior that led to the rape allegations, including the alcohol and drugs provided to the visiting recruits." Before this case, in December 1997, a high school student reported that she had been raped by two CU athletic recruits at a party. Formal charges were never filed. In 2003, local police released a report in which a woman claimed to have been raped by a Colorado football player in 2001. The report also stated that head football coach Gary Barnett said "he would back his player if charges were pursued."
Following this "Colorado Recruiting Scandal," Coach Barnett was reinstated despite his comments (he eventually stepped down in 2005), and the Associate Vice President for University Relations at the time, Ken McConnellogue, was quoted as saying:
"The university is ready to close this chapter in its history and move forward … We're in an entirely different place than when this first came up. We have new people in 11 of our top 12 leadership positions, and we've enacted a series of reforms in our intercollegiate athletic programs and in our student services."
Yet somehow in 2014, here we are again.
This isn't just a problem at CU. The White House's new website NotAlone.gov reports almost 60 cases conducted and resolved by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. And keep in mind that these are only resolved cases. On May 1, The Department of Education revealed its list of 55 universities currently under investigation by OCR (which includes the University of Colorado.)
This isn't an issue, a setback, or an opportunity for politicization; it's an epidemic. And it's affecting campuses all over the country.
According to the Huffington Post, who have conducted extensive research and reporting on the college sexual assault crisis:
"As of April 3, roughly halfway through fiscal year 2014, the agency [OCR] had already received 30 complaints, as many as it did in all of FY 2013, according to a tally provided by the Education Department to HuffPost. There were also 52 pending Title IX investigations as of April 3."
Common problems at universities include insensitive and incompetent administrators, many of whom have blamed students for their own assaults, as well as have given preferential treatment to alleged perpetrators who are part of athletics programs, or who come from families that provide substantial donations to schools. Many schools have also been found to have greatly underreported sexual assaults on campus in order to make their universities seem safer to prospective students and donors - a direct violation of the federal Clery Act, the 1990 law that requires schools to report campus crime statistics to the Department of Education.
Many survivors recount that the experience of reporting a sexual assault to their administration can actually be worse than the actual assault, and their shocking stories greatly reduce the number of survivors who actually report to not only their universities, but to the police.
Due to increased complaints about universities across the nation, The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was established on January 22, 2014. The bipartisan Task Force, co-chaired by The Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women, has come out with NotAlone.Gov, which provides students and universities with information on responding and preventing campus sexual assault, as well as resources to find crisis services, a map of resolved school-level enforcement activities by OCR, and the ability for students to find out their rights, as well as instructions on how to file a complaint against their university.
Along with the website, the White House has begun a PSA titled "1is2Many" to encourage men to become involved with the prevention of sexual assault, as well as a 20 page report titled "The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault."
This report, stemming from a 90-day review by the task force, identifies four areas that universities across the United States should improve on:
1.) Identifying the Problem
2.) Preventing Sexual Assault and Engaging Men
3.) Effectively Responding When a Student Is Sexually Assaulted
4.) Increasing Transparency and Improving Enforcement
Every university in the country should use this report to not only improve, but completely re-structure their campus' sexual assault and violence education, prevention, and response procedures. I have begun a petition for my own school, CU Boulder, to create a joint task force made up of administrators, faculty, and interested students, with an aim to successfully implement these recommendations. It is especially important for students to get involved, as in the past there has not been enough transparency with administrations across the nation.
This is a call to action.
Please: call and e-mail your administrators, write letters to your local representatives, start a petition for your own school. Engage your fellow students and citizens to help change the way campuses are run across the nation. Change the rhetoric and dialogue about sexual assault in our country.
Take Back Your Campus.
Here is a link to my own petition. Please sign and share, and spread the word to your own campuses, towns, cities, and communities.