When incoming freshmen first arrived at Emory University this year, we were immediately involved in Creating Emory, a program designed to not only make students feel welcomed and included, but also to make students aware of what kind of culture Emory is concerned with building: a diverse culture, an open one, a safe one. We were placed into groups and discussed a variety of topics, but none with as much care, gravitas and concern as when we talked about sexual assault. Even before arriving, through the summer PACE course, we learned of Emory’s commitment to fostering a safe, responsible and caring community through two required modules, one being on alcohol, the other on sexual assault.
That Emory focuses so much on building an ideal community, on making students more aware of what they can do to keep their friends and peers safe, is something to be praised. That our school has focused on sexual assault, an issue so serious and so long overlooked, is commendable. I don’t claim that the actions taken by Emory to tackle sexual assault and create a compassionate community are not a step in the right direction. Yet, in this discussion of the actions our university has taken, it would be remiss not to discuss the motives behind them.
This dedication to increasing campus safety and raising awareness of the sexual assault problem surfaced soon after a surge in national attention to sexual assault, and more specifically, attention to how universities handle instances of sexual assault amongst their students. This summer, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 Title IX schools under investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases, and our very own Emory University was on the list.
Unfortunately, universities don’t have the best track record when it comes to how they respond to these cases. They don’t investigate adequately, and are often insensitive to the victim’s situation and their desires. Often, no clear conclusion is reached, and the disciplinary actions taken aren’t severe enough to match the harm the actions have caused. Furthermore, the treatment of victims is consistently insensitive. This causes many victims to not speak up when they are assaulted, or to not wish for an investigation to be launched.
The poor handling of these cases has resulted in a culture in many schools that turns a blind eye to rape, tacitly permitting the terrible crime to continue. The disciplinary actions taken usually resemble consequences of honor code violations rather than punishments for a terrible crime. Perpetrators may know to only expect a slap on the wrist and barely any punishment at all. If the victims feel their case isn’t being taken seriously or handled well enough, they lose incentive to speak up, in order to save themselves, understandably, from further stress and trauma.
This revelation puts your whole summer experience in a new light. Sure, everything Emory is doing is great. No one can say that taking steps to create a student body more sensitive to sexual assault and more proactive in preventing it is a negative. What’s negative, however, is the possible intentions for these reforms. For if, in spite of the reformed students and their more prudent efforts at preventing it from happening, sexual assault cases still occur, will the school continue to go on as it and so many other schools have? Mind you, sexual assault has already occurred on campus this year. What’s more, the sexual assault module freshmen had to complete was only introduced this year, only after all the attention given towards instances of sexual assault at colleges and universities.
Emory University has made it clear that sexual assault is not acceptable amongst its students. They’ve made it clear they want their students to do everything they can to care for their fellow students’ well-being, and do everything they can to prevent these occurrences from happening. What they haven’t made clear is whether or not the University will do everything they can, if and when a case like this occurs.
In its attempts to create an environment that condemns sexual assault, our institution would be wise to look not only towards the student body, but also inwards, towards itself.
Preventative measures are great, but if those fail, Emory needs to ensure its students they’ll do everything they can.
– Nathyia Watson is a College freshman from Norcross, Georgia.