According to the Bureau of Justice, 80 percent of “rape and sexual assault victimizations of students” age 18 through 24 go unreported to the police.
It is widely acknowledged that sex-related crimes are occurring on college campuses across the nation, but they also occur within our own community. Despite the recent steps that Xavier has taken to improve and refine the reporting system, there remains an unacceptable number of sexual assault, discrimination and harassment incidents in the Xavier community.
Students were asked in a “climate survey” conducted on campus if “the university takes complaints of sex discrimination and sexual harassment seriously and responds effectively.” In spring 2013, a shocking 40 percent of student respondents replied no, and 26 percent replied negatively in spring 2014.
Data shows that students are aware of the reporting practices and the progress that is being made in handling sexual assault. However, the low survey responses and stigma surrounding discussion of sexual crimes show that students are still at risk.
As students, we have a right to feel safe in our community, whether that is on campus or in our surrounding residences. While this is partly the job of the administration, responsibility also lies in students’ hands to stand up for each other and create a culture of zero tolerance for all sexual crimes.
For this reason, I want to garner awareness and support to reduce the prevalence of sex-related crimes and get a Bystander Intervention Program instituted at Xavier.
Bystander intervention programs are those that educate all members of a community (such as a college campus) to be involved in the prevention and confrontation of sexual violence and harassment. Having a bystander intervention culture calls everyone to be ready and willing to intervene in instances where inappropriate behaviors, words or actions are putting someone at risk. It can be as simple as telling your friend to lay off someone at a party or intervening before an intoxicated roommate goes home with a stranger.
There is an undeniable need for such a program at Xavier, as is evidenced by the Spring 2014 Climate Survey.
In response to the question, “Do you have any suggestions on how the university can better educate students about sex discrimination, harassment or rights under Title IX?” 45 percent of student respondents answered that they wanted more education for students.
This sort of education teaches students about consent, the responsibility of being an intervener and how to effectively protect themselves, their friends and their classmates.
Being an intervening bystander is simply agreeing that sex-related crimes are not okay. Through making a pact to intervene in situations that seem dangerous, uncomfortable or inappropriate, we can work to prevent sexual assault, discrimination and harassment in our community.
Many of us have heard the line, “be men and women for and with others,” but how often is that mocked on campus? Xavier’s Ignatian heritage teaches us that our values depend on communal action. In order to uphold our university’s beliefs, we must become educated allies to help those in our community who are most vulnerable. Programs like bystander intervention would allow the Xavier community to live out its stated mission and help students to walk in solidarity with survivors of harassment, discrimination and sexual assault.
Now is the time for the voices of students to rally together to stand with our survivors. As our vice president Joe Biden said, “Freedom from sexual assault is a basic human right.”
Students and the administration need to work together to form a culture of comradery and zero tolerance. It is time to stop talking about our values and start living them. It is time to act.