This editorial discusses sexual assault on campus. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
For many on our campus, particularly survivors of interpersonal violence, the fall 2018 semester was emotionally exhausting. Highly publicized allegations of sexual assault pervaded our communities, both on and off campus. The student body was left vulnerable and confused when the university’s former Title IX coordinator Laura Cutway abruptly resigned last June. Administrators delayed in responding to over 1,300 students who petitioned the University to rescind Theodore McCarrick’s and Donald Wuerl’s honorary degrees. Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education replaced previous Title IX guidelines in November with policies that will severely harm survivors.
These events drove a group of students across our campus to form Students Taking Action against Interpersonal Violence last October. After months of activism from STAIV and various student leaders, university administrators submitted a comment to the Department of Education on the proposed Title IX guidelines, attended STAIV’s town hall and rescinded McCarrick’s degree last month.
But we as a campus cannot allow issues of interpersonal violence to fade from our collective consciousness, nor should we be satisfied with university administrators doing the bare minimum on these issues. Students should seek to create supportive spaces for survivors of all identities, provide ongoing and accessible mental health services, and foster student understanding of the complexity of interpersonal violence.
Currently, survivors of diverse identities do not have spaces to talk or simply decompress in a space where they know others share their experiences. These survivors are less likely to report experiencing assault and more likely to believe that those institutions may retraumatize them. Students must demand accessible spaces that cater to the experiences of low-income survivors, survivors of color, LGBTQ+ survivors, survivors who identify as men, disabled survivors and undocumented or immigrant survivors.
Moreover, survivors do not have access to adequate mental health services. The mental health needs of survivors often extend beyond the one free semester of counselling they receive at Counseling and Psychiatric Services, and many cannot afford off-campus care. Additionally, survivors often have to wait days, sometimes even weeks, to secure an appointment with the confidential counselors at Health Education Services. While the Georgetown University Student Association’s pilot program to provide stipends for students to obtain off-campus mental health services is an important step, students must continue to urge the university to commit to fully subsidize the program, increase the capacity of CAPS to provide ongoing care and prioritize the staffing needs at Health Education Services.
Students should also foster a broader recognition of interpersonal violence in classrooms and other spaces. While all freshmen and student leaders take mandatory preventative education, structured discussions about sexual assault prevention and combating campus rape culture often do not extend beyond these spaces. Professors should be trained how to discuss the topic in class or how they can accommodate a student in their class without requiring them to disclose a traumatic event. Campus clubs, which often are the primary social networks for students, should mandate Sexual Assault Peer Educators’ trainings on consent, sexual harassment, and how club culture intersects and interacts with rape culture on campus.
While Georgetown students can support many structural initiatives with their activism, we as a community should also eliminate the language of victim-blaming and excusing perpetrators that supports rape culture in our day-to-day interactions. According to the 2016 Campus Climate Survey, one in three women, one in nine men, and one in three trans and gender-nonconforming students has experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact at Georgetown, which means there is likely a survivor in every student organization and classroom. It is essential that we center survivors in our language to avoid unintentionally retraumatizing our peers.
After the successes of recent months, we as a campus face the choice between lapsing into complacency or building off of this momentum to channel our energy into sustained activism against interpersonal violence. This activism must continue after viral hashtags, articles from The Hoya and Supreme Court confirmation hearings have faded from our social media feeds. It is essential that we move beyond reacting to the most egregious examples of interpersonal violence and begin challenging the forces that uphold rape culture on our campus.
This work is not easy, especially on top of the academic and social pressures students face daily, but we cannot rely on anyone else to do this work for us. Those of us who are able to mobilize must recognize the power in sustained student activism and continue to combat rape culture in any way we can.
Grace Perret is a junior in the College and Hanna Chan is a senior in the College. Both are members of STAIV.
Resources: On-campus confidential resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-7080); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. at 202-742-1727. To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s interim Title IX coordinator at 202-687-9183 or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.