April 18, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Student Organizations Need to Take Sexual Assault Seriously

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Warning: The following content contains sensitive material about sexual assault.

Assault, particularly sexual assault, is supposed to be taken seriously, but are student organizations on campus complicit in excusing these behaviors?

With Sexual Assault Awareness Week upon us, many find solace in the knowledge that there is extensive dialogue on this subject, but are mortified that there are so many survivors on Cornell’s campus alone.

Even more disturbing, many organizations on campus either do not detail actions and consequences attached to assault and sexual assault or have a formal risk management policy that they do not follow.

In my personal experience, every single organization that I have taken a significant part in has been incapable or unwilling to take any concrete action in regard to assault, even after those in charge were made aware of such instances.

For example, I approached someone on the E-board of one particular organization in which I was heavily involved to talk about a traumatic experience with another member of the club. The experience left me ridden with panic attacks for two weeks and caused me to be unable to study — or even get out of bed — for weeks. This particular organization claims to have a strong risk management policy, and this policy is emphasized every semester to the entirety of the general body. However, I was met with mild concern, some friendly claims of support and nothing else. To my knowledge, the other person was not even contacted by the organization and is now serving on that same E-board.

Because of that situation, I have had to not only interact with someone who has trapped me against a wall but also watch them elected onto the E-board of that organization. Years ago, in an entirely different organization, I reported an egregious sexual assault incident, only to find out that person is now holding a top position in his organization. I have had to sit by and listen to someone else complain about others using sexual assault as a political weapon, and I have had to hear someone say that a highly ranked diplomat might have been lying about her sexual assault experiences without even mild pushback from those who were in charge. In my experience, and in the experiences of far too many others, the topic of sexual assault is sidelined or hushed up.

I know that these issues are not isolated to my own personal experiences, and while I urge people to stand up against those who are perpetuating the problem, it should not be solely up to bystanders to ensure that action is being taken. We often look at top officials and ask ourselves how assault can be taken so lightly and be ignored or brushed off but fail to see that we ourselves are the root of the problem. We cannot claim to support survivors and combat assault and sexual assault while many large organizations on campus fail to do just that.

While we see how sexual assault and assault are treated in the public sphere and continue to raise awareness throughout our campus, we must also be active in enforcing consequences for those who have hurt others. We must ensure that every organization on campus not only has a stringent risk management policy but also that there is some sort of accountability measure to ensure that concrete action is being taken to follow these policies.

Joanna Hua is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Guest Room appears periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected]