April 29, 2014

EDITORIAL: More Student Involvement in Sexual Assault Prevention Policies

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On Monday, The New York Times reported that the White House released guidelines with the hope of increasing pressure on universities across the nation to battle sexual assault on its campuses. At Cornell, reports of sexual assault have risen to a 23-year high, The Sun reported March 19. The Sun believes that our university has made solid beginning steps to combat sexual assault on the Hill — such as the University’s Council on Sexual Violence and Prevention — and we applaud the government for pledging resources to stop students from being sexually assaulted, but ask for more student input regarding this issue in future governmental suggestions.

The recommendations — from the task force President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden named the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault — provided suggestions on how universities should handle sexual assault such as collecting anonymous surveys to ensure that cases of sexual assault remain confidential. Additionally, the Office on Violence Against Women said in a press release that they plan to award approximately $400 million in grants to provide states, tribal governments, educational institutions and victim service providers with resources to address sexual assault and domestic violence. However, the guidelines do not seem to cover the student aspect of dealing with sexual assault cases on campuses.

As we said in an editorial in March, we looked to last fall when President David Skorton created the Council to address sexual assault at Cornell. The Council has 48 members on the roster, five of which are students. We commend the administration for taking positive steps to fight this problem by providing avenues for conversation. We also applaud student programs that focus on preventing sexual assault, as well as educating students on campus — such as Wingman 101, the Every1 Campaign and Cayuga’s Watchers — but we do not see the same involvement from students in the policy-making and procedural side. We question why more student involvement still has not been included on more formal administrative committees as the University looks to make changes with how we deal with sexual assault and its prevention.

We believe that preventing sexual assault is a serious concern and that universities across the nation should be taking active roles in creating solutions. However, we believe what these proposed solutions lack are the voices of students. How can a governmental task force talk about sexual assault against students without having students on it? How can Cornell’s Council on Sexual Violence and Prevention be a voice of the students if there are a minimal number of students involved? We don’t believe they can.