February 26, 2013

WEINBERG: Pointing Fingers at the Disruptive and Intimidating

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Here at Cornell, a student may be expelled or otherwise punished for violating the Code of Academic Integrity. Obviously, having the courage to report a rape on Cornell’s campus is not condemned, but at the University of North Carolina, different rules apply. A UNC sophomore was recently charged with violating the University’s honor code and faces possible expulsion for speaking out after being assaulted.

Unfortunately, the case at UNC is illustrative of a nationally pervasive ignorance regarding sexual assault on college campuses. The difficult conversations we’ve had at Cornell over the past semester are only the first step in correcting norms that are unbecoming of supposed beacons of progress and higher learning.

Quite a few recent incidents across the country demonstrate the depraved nature of the current status quo for women on college campuses. UNC sophomore Landen Gambill first went through her university’s Dean of Students Office in March 2012 to report an abusive ex-boyfriend. According to Gambill and others, the ensuing process was particularly disturbing, focusing on why the victim didn’t do more to stop the abuse. Gambill and two other survivors of abuse at UNC filed a complaint with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights this January on behalf of 64 individuals who had been through similar experiences, alleging an institutional failure to protect victims who report sexual assault and repeated rights violations.

Instead of constructively working to correct a perverse climate for women, UNC took action against the student brave enough to take a stand. Landen Gambill was charged with violating the aforementioned honor code for “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another [student].” She faces possible expulsion, despite the fact that she has kept the identity of the male student anonymous. At UNC, an abusive, stalking boyfriend wasn’t “disruptive or intimidating,” but a woman with courage was considered to be.

If you think the attitude at UNC is isolated, you don’t likely watch Fox News. Last week, host Bob Beckel asked, “When the last time you heard about a rape on campus?” and then dismissed date rape. Nor do you likely attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where the Department of Public Safety recently published a list of tips for students who are attacked that included: “Tell your attacker that you have a disease or are menstruating” and “Vom­iting or urinating may also convince the attacker to leave you alone.” Nor have you likely visited Amherst College, or Dartmouth College, or any of the many universities where chilling accounts of sexual assaults and subsequent failures of administrations to protect students and afford them due process have been well documented.

According to New York University, one in five women is raped while in college. Furthermore, one in 12 men in college report having committed an action that legally constitutes rape. Any sensible individual should be outright disturbed that egregious violations of human dignity continue unabated and that the rights of over half the student population are still flouted.

Readers of The Sun and members of the Cornell community are no strangers to endemic sexual assault on campus. After a string of sexual assaults last semester, Cornell students and administrators responded with a concerted effort to transform our community. Public campaigns, rallies and programs were instituted to educate male and female students about sexual assault and prevention.

I challenged students last semester to make a more concerted effort to put such sentiment into practice, and I still see it as just that — a challenge. But at least we are making progress. Other campuses have much further to go, and we can only serve as an example by redoubling our efforts to create a campus community that equally respects and honors the dignity of all, irrespective of gender.

As Cornell continues to debate its policy and students take action through a multitude of programs specifically designed to address this problem, it’s clear that attitudes are changing. We are learning to just say no to sexual assault and to take action when we witness injustices. Hopefully, Cornellians can help initiate a cultural shift such that the answer to Bob Bickel’s question will someday be “no” instead of “every day.” Cornell is on the right track, but nationally, we have a long way to go before colleges are as protective of sexual freedom as they are of academic freedom.

Jon Weinberg is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at jweinberg@cornellsun.com. In Focus appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg