Accountability for Assault

by The Cowl Editor on November 4, 2021


Accountability for Assault

Colleges and Universities are Failing Students without Proper Rape Responses

by Ashley Seldon ’24

Content warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault.

It is only the first week of November, and there have already been two major college rape scandals that have caught the attention of mainstream media. A lawsuit against Liberty University has a total of 22 plaintiffs who are suing the university for their indifference and complete negligence towards multiple rape accusations made by female students. Liberty University is a highly conservative Christian institution that hides behind its moral code when controversy comes to light. Their “liberty way” is an honor code the students are expected to live by that is, “…rooted in biblical admonitions and morality, and sexual behavior is apparently also being used by administrators to sidestep Title IX” (MSNBC). Back in 2017, freshman Elizabeth Axley reported her rape case to the Title IX coordinator, which took quite a bit of courage. The former coordinator asked Axle what she had to drink and why she had gone to that party instead of details on the rapist. The coordinator should have realized that her questions had nothing to do with the actual sin committed—a male student not asking for consent before making sexual advances. There is nothing wrong with religious colleges, but it is immoral to use the Bible against a victim and gloss over the real issue. Liberty administrators have a history of quieting victims by asking them to sign forms saying they had broken the honor code or fining them instead of holding abusers accountable.

At the beginning of this school year, The University of Massachusetts Amherst students protested a fraternity,Theta Chi,because of their history of sexual assault unchecked by the administration. A student, Kelsey Nass, woke up one morning after attending a frat party and realized she had been raped with no recollection of the night before. What is not important is what she wore, her previous relationship with the perpetrator, or how much she had to drink. What is key here is that a male student took advantage of her in a vulnerable state and raped her. Nass has chosen not to press charges, but bravely decided to share her experience to promote a conversation about rape culture on campus surrounding Greek life. However, when she met with an administrator about the situation, she said, “I was met with the words: This will all be on record and I do not need and/or want details of your full story…Within minutes, my confidence was stripped. I was being looked at as a court case, further than that, a liability. I was a threat to his power.” Instead of treating her like a student, a survivor, or a human being—UMass Amherst’s administration chose to instead fear for their university’s reputation. There was no collaboration on how the administration could best support Nass in her mission but rather viewed her as the enemy.

These cases are not just experiences that have occurred in other places, though. It is important to know that Providence College has seen similar scenarios. In 2014, there was a PC case surrounding one female and two basketball players, Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin. The judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence and the two were set free. This lack of justice allowed Austin to transfer to the University of Oregon, where he was accused of rape again. Bullock continued and finished his basketball career at PC. Once again, the female student was quieted and the male athletes were acquitted.

Often times, it seems that schools feel that accusations of rape have a negative impact on the school’s marketing instead of focusing on safety and moral concerns. As a result, they often participate in counterproductive actions that attempt to hide or discredit survivors who come forward with their stories, showing the poor priorities of schools and their administrations. If colleges instead reported these instances with full candidness, it would show how honest and proactive that school is to rape cases. Schools could also detail the mental health services provided to the survivor to help heal after suffering such trauma and the rightful punishment given to the perpetrator once proven guilty. If a rapist is allowed to continue to be on campus, it is only threatening the rest of the student population with the probability of a repeat offender. Some high school seniors applying to colleges may have already suffered some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lives. They will look at the university’s proper handling with comfort and assurance that these actions should be the standard protocol. On the other hand, lack of proper response to rape accusations may contribute to a future decline in university applications and enrollment.