Ignorance, ineffective punishments hinder efforts to stop sexual assault

Emily Carmichael, Associate Views Editor

The following is an opinion article, and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo

At the beginning of the school year, a Tulane student, who does not wish to be identified, was sexually assaulted in a fraternity house. It is apparent from her and other students’ experiences that much of campus shows a reluctance to upset the status quo and does not adequately challenge attackers and those with permissive attitudes toward sexual violence. Tulane must destabilize the social norm, or nothing will change. 

Julia Broussard, Coordinator of Violence and Prevention Services, said if she had a magic wand she would change the culture of ignorance surrounding sexual assault. This culture fosters an environment that creates the now infamous National Institute of Justice statistic from 2007, that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during their time at college.

Lindsey Greeson, director of the Center for Wellness and Health Promotion, said there is no information to indicate that Tulane deviates from this norm. 

Broussard gives examples of students joking about rape, victims encountering unsupportive peers and a misunderstanding of the definition of assault, which points to a general ignorance about the issue of sexual violence. Each joke and doubting friend helps create a culture that permits sexual assault to happen.

Education is Tulane’s greatest tool to combat ignorance in the student body and change the campus culture. This student is an excellent example of what education can do to empower both victims and their allies. She said her extensive previous knowledge on sexual assault helped her come forward and advocate for herself.

Likewise, other knowledgeable students supported her in her recovery efforts and in striving to combat sexual assault on campus. Tulane students have demonstrated that, with the proper information, they will act to make campus a place that supports students who have been assaulted and actively prevents sexual violence. 

Cultural change must come not only in the student body, but also in the faculty and administration. While the student said the university followed proper judicial proceedings and fully supported her recovery, her attacker will eventually be allowed to return to campus. A second student reported having a similar experience, where the university seemed more than willing to support her emotional needs but reluctant to bring action against her attacker.

Hesitance on the part of the Tulane administration in addressing these cases creates a permissive attitude toward sexual assault. Allowing attackers to remain on, or return to, campus is unacceptable. These people will continue their education without any major hindrance in their life, free to assault again. 

Greeson said Tulane is primed for change, carried by the momentum of recent student activism and piqued faculty interest. She said she has experienced more support and enthusiasm from Tulane students and faculty than she has at both institutions where she has previously worked. 

If Tulane wishes to capitalize on this force, however, the university must take bold steps to fight sexual assault on campus. The administration needs to show that it will not tolerate assault by prescribing harsher punishments, even if it means upsetting members of the campus community. Students and faculty alike need an education on the complexities of assault so that they can better confront these issues.

The first student sums it up best when she says, “Sexual assault is a destructive and prevalent issue that affects countless men and women on our campus, across the nation, and around the world. Far too often, victims do not recognize the power they have to speak out against the issue, which allows it to perpetuate. In order to stop sexual assault, we have to stand up against it and remind people that it is cruel and unwarranted regardless of circumstance.”

Each and every student and faculty member make up a piece of Tulane’s culture, so each and every person must participate to create any kind of meaningful change. With the support of the university, Tulane’s students can gather the strength they need to change their environment.

Emily Carmichael is a freshman in the Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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