This week, my youngest child becomes a college graduate. As I head back to her campus for the final time, I can’t help but be stunned at how the years have flown. Not just the past four, but all the years spent guiding her older siblings through their college years. I think back on the many, many campuses I have toured with my prospective students – at least 60, throughout the country. I remember the many questions the parents asked, “Is there a Hillel?” “Will I receive a copy of their grades?” “Is there a place on campus to get something to eat if they are up studying at 2 a.m.?”
But almost no one asked about the blue lights scattered around the campus. Or whether there was any training around the dangerous combination of alcohol, drugs and sex. Or how the college administration handles charges of sexual assault.
Maybe we don’t ask because we don’t want to think about why there are so many emergency phone booths with blue strobe lights to call security. Sure, we’ve heard stories about incidents of dating violence – Yeardley Love – but those are rare. Aren’t they? That wouldn’t happen on this campus. That wouldn’t happen to my daughter.
But the thing is – it could. The statistics are frightening. More than one in five women will be the victim of attempted or completed sexual assault during her college years.
So, here’s the question we need to ask – what’s being done about it?
We can’t let one more student face assault. Not on our watch. We can’t let one more young woman be told by administrators that she needs to accept her role in what happened to her. We can’t let colleges hush reports to protect star athletes. We need to expand Title 9 so it includes domestic violence and stalking. We need to stop glamourizing college partying or “bad boys” or shrugging off incidents as simply poor decisions our children make that are just part of being in college and growing up. It’s time for us to step up and do something.
President Obama responded recently by calling for transparency and responsibility with new and stronger requirements for colleges to report on dating violence and sexual assault. We applaud the administration for these landmark initiatives through the White House Task Force to Protect Students Against Sexual Assault.
This is about more than simply teaching our daughters to not go off with a strange boy. This is about telling our sons that if a girl has had too much to drink, she is in no position to give consent. This is about encouraging respect and engendering a zero tolerance for lack thereof. This is about changing the culture.
Engaging men and boys as allies is the only way to turn the tide in what is an unqualified epidemic. This is why we, along with Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternities and Sigma Delta Tau (SDT) sororities, created Safe Smart Dating, the first national program on dating abuse and sexual assault for the Greek community on college campuses. We were extremely proud that the program was recently awarded the Laurel Wreath for outstanding programming for the fraternal world from North-American Interfraternity Conference. The Laurel Wreath is its highest award for programming and demonstrates the commitment made by the organization to this issue.
Through a series of discussions, scenarios, news stories, live text surveys and video, we bring young men and women together to help them define and identify dating abuse and sexual assault, as well as build skills to be active bystanders at school and in their communities. This past year we piloted the program at the University of Pennsylvania, Purdue University and George Washington University. From the young men we heard: “Sexual abuse does not just include rape but any unwanted interaction,” and “I learned how consent is more than just not hearing no.”
And from the young women: “I learned sexual assault is more than just rape,” and “I learned that sexual assault is not played up in any way, shape, or form. It is real.”
Programs like ours help raise the level of conversation between young men and women on college campuses, but it’s just the beginning. More needs to be done and we’re all part of solving the problem. Let’s not be afraid to ask how the school does training, how it handles complaints and how it reports incidents on campus.
We can’t silently hand off our children to the school and assume they will be protected. We have the right and the responsibility to ask. We must ask. The president’s new initiatives have the ability to change the culture, but that can only happen when we all use our voices.
Lori Weinstein is the CEO of Jewish Women International, which works to end violence against women, instill financial literacy and empower women and girls to become leaders. To learn more about Safe Smart Dating, go to jwi.org.