Recently there has been increased attention by the media and the federal government to the high rates of sexual assault and rape on college and university campuses. As a scholar of gender-based violence, I welcome this attention and the increased scrutiny of the ways men and women relate to one another; the institutional procedures in place to prevent violence in the first place; and the question of whether or not universities are equipped to adjudicate cases of sexual violence and rape as outlined by the Department of Education’s Title IX. These are all important issues to consider as employees and students of institutions of higher education, and what implications our institutional approach to addressing sexual violence will have for the wider culture.
The American Anthropological Association (AAA), under the guidance of Principal Investigator Dr. Jennifer R. Wies of Eastern Kentucky University, has taken the important step of investigating the scope and scale of sexual violence and sexual harassment experienced by its members, whether they are undergraduate students, professors, or practitioners in non-academic settings. With over 12, 000 members, the AAA is the largest professional organization for anthropologists, and it has a long and distinguished history. It also exists in a cultural context where sexual violence and harassment are rife, and many AAA members have reported instances of abuse and violence in their institutional settings, laboratories, and off-campus fieldsites in other studies.
It is a great privilege to be asked by Dr. Wies to participate in the AAA project to study the rates of sexual violence and sexual harassment amongst the membership. This is an opportunity to investigate the university and college settings where members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) study and work, including Quinnipiac University. The purpose of the AAA sponsored research is to identify the levels of sexual violence and sexual harassment experienced by members of the AAA in their university settings, classrooms, workplaces, laboratories, and of-campus fieldsites (local and international). Once we obtain baseline data on the rates of violence experienced by our members, we will identify the level of knowledge members have about institutional procedures and policies in place to address sexual violence and harassment. Are AAA members working and studying in settings where the following questions can be addressed: Is the information about Title IX readily accessible on the university website? Can students and employees access help and resources via the website or some other portal? Are there publicly announced and regularly held trainings and educational seminars on sexual violence and harassment? Does the university provide prolific educational materials in the form of brochures, posters, and social media to make students and employees aware of their rights and responsibilities? Is there a trained victim advocate on campus, and is this advocate’s presence well publicized and highlighted to students and employees? How active is the university in seeking out the expertise of campus scholars who study sexual violence and harassment, and utilizing their expertise as a resource? How active is the upper administration in messaging the importance of preventing rape, sexual assault and harassment on campus?
These are questions that are not only important for AAA members to have the answers to, but any prospective college student and his/her parents. While the ultimate goal should be to become a society where rape is outright eliminated, in the meantime people have a right to know how their institution is working to prevent violence as well as how the institution support the victims if violence occurs.
Culture shifts occurs when people are active agents of change: the more we address, name, and identify the problem, the more likely it is that people will work against it. Colleges and universities have for too long hid the problem of sexual violence and sexual harassment, and that tactic hasn’t been successful in ending the violence. It is time to try something different.
n.b. It is important to acknowledge that rape and harassment are crimes that affect all segments of the population, not just elite college students. While the AAA study specifically identifies experiences of its members, the research team is staffed by scholars whose work focuses on gender-based violence in diverse populations, in the United States and overseas.