Opinion Asks

by The Dartmouth Opinion Staff | 10/1/15 6:30pm

The responses to the Association of American Universities campus climate survey certainly put the College above national norms or expectations regarding sexual assault awareness and reaction. Our campus is known to have a high incidence of sexual assault — this could either mean that we have more assaults than other schools or that assaults on our campus are reported more often than elsewhere. Either way, the recent survey responses prove that Dartmouth students, on average, are relatively more receptive to and likely to take action in the case of sexual assault or misconduct. These statistics and our status in relation to national averages, however, cannot make us complacent or distract us from our mission. Just because we are doing better than other schools does not mean we are doing well. Just because our students are more aware of, more likely to act on and even more likely to report sexual assault or misconduct, does not mean that we have reached our goal. We need to force ourselves to act without regard to our relative status. Receptiveness and awareness of sexual assault is not another Ivy League numbers game. It is not about competing with schools across the nation — it is about competing with ourselves. The survey gives us a good perspective on where we are, but it should not distract from where we are aiming to be.

Ioana Solomon ’19

A statistic showing that 33.8 percent of senior undergraduate women experienced attempted or completed “nonconsensual sexual contact by force or incapacitation” would prompt an administration taking those numbers seriously to take extremely drastic action quickly, since those are statistics that look like they are coming out of a war-torn developing country. Alternatively, one could interpret the lack of College response as indicating that Dartmouth is full of incredibly callous administrators who are entirely indifferent to the issue of sexual assault, but since the College has taken numerous steps to institute sexual assault prevention, it seems unlikely that this is the case. Given that administrators have demonstrated that they do actually care about sexual assault, the fact that there has been no demonstrated plan for fast, decisive action in light of the AAU results seems to imply that it does not think the results are valid. At a glance, it seems there are good reasons to believe there may be substantial flaws with these numbers thanks to the survey’s methodology. The language the survey employs could be construed as counting many things as sexual assault, such as drunk dancing at parties — even between parties who appear to be consenting to others — that many people would consider objectionable but would not necessary qualify as assault.

Criticism of these numbers and the methodology behind them does not, and should not, imply dismissal of the issue at hand. Sexual assault is an incredibly important problem, and both administrators and the student body recognize this — this is why getting serious numbers on the issue is so important.

William Alston ’16

At Dartmouth, 13 percent of students reported experiencing completed or attempted nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or incapacitation since matriuclation, one percent above the Association of American Universities campus climate survey average. The students at risk are overwhelmingly women, and in particular undergraduate women. Fifty-six percent of students indicated that they have been the victims of sexual harassment, 8 percent above the AAU’s average. The students at risk for both are usually women and non-binary individuals. Do you see a trend here?

On our campus, more than at many others, we and our peers are at risk of sexual violence. We can no longer say “Dartmouth is not any different, our problems are just generic college campus problems.” One percent may not seem like a lot, but one percent of our student population is 62 people. We pride ourselves on excellence, but clearly we have failed in this realm — our campus is far from the safest.

The one silver lining of this report is that our bystander intervention rate — 31 percent — is significantly higher than the average of 23 percent. Rape culture stems from a societal sense of entitlement to sex, and to others’ — particularly women’s — bodies. It is not something we can change in a year. Something we can change in a year, though, is the rate in which bystanders choice to intervene. Thirty-one percent is still far too low, especially since 61 percent of “students reported they had witnessed a drunken person heading for a sexual encounter.” We should all be intervening 100 percent of the time.

The College is making some moves in the right direction by requiring Dartmouth Bystander Initiative training for entry into the Greek system and for student athletes. DBI training, and other measures to encourage bystander intervention, are a far more effective method of preventing sexual assault than attacking the Greek system, which has felt like administrators’ focus for the last few years. If we want to see real and meaningful change in our next AAU survey, we need to each take personal responsibility for keeping our campus safe and take action before assault can take place.

Jessica Lu ’18

In most regards, sexual assault at Dartmouth is just as bad as the next campus. Our overall rate of attempted or completed nonconsensual sexual contact across four years is about the same unacceptably high level as other colleges. But one trend stands out — both a warning and maybe a glimmer of hope. The risk of nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation from physical force or incapacitation significantly lowers from first-year to senior year. Responses that cited experiencing this rose from 13.7 percent to 14.7 percent from first-year to sophomore year, before dropping to 8.3 percent junior year and rising again to 10.7 percent senior year. This means underclassmen shoulder greater responsibility both in terms of guilt and need to change. But this also hopefully means that respect can be learned over four years. Maybe it is due to students’ growing maturity and responsibility, but maybe it is that being immersed in Dartmouth’s culture can actually be a catalyst for positive change. If culture can promote sexual assault, culture can also be a tool for fighting it.

Steven Chun ’19

The results published in the AAU campus climate survey are alarming. Perhaps the most provocative statistic is that 27.9 percent of female undergraduate students who responded to the survey reported experiencing some form of sexual assault while enrolled at Dartmouth. The study, however, does make a note of response bias. When considering the result of the survey, we should be aware that those who responded likely felt more strongly about the issue and by way of that their views are overrepresented — but still, 27.9 is a big number.

For example, despite the College’s many attempts to educate the student body on preventing sexual assault during Orientation, almost 12.9 percent of attendees could not recall whether or not sexual assault was discussed and another 6.5 percent said that it simply was not discussed. Couple this rate of ignorance with the finding that 69.1 percent of respondents who reported witnessing “a drunken person heading to a sexual encounter” said they did not take action, and it becomes clear that we have not done an adequate job minimizing the chances of sexual assault. We can condemn it, we can demonize it and we can educate against it — but until the cold, hard evidence of statistics backs up the notion that we are making a change for the good, we cannot claim to have decreased it.

Benjamin Szuhaj ’19

Two statistics stuck out for me as especially disturbing. For one, 57 percent of Dartmouth students believe it is very or extremely likely that a victim of sexual misconduct or assault would be supported by fellow students. Similarly, 60 percent of responders said it is very or extremely likely that the reporting student’s safety would be protected. If a victim of sexual assault does not feel supported or protected by the College, then we are failing to punish the perpetrators. If victims can not come forward and be guaranteed safety, then we are failing as a community.

Reem Chamseddine ’17