By Damon Krane, Breanne Scanlon, Caleb Kay, Andrew Bishop and Rumzi Araj (and endorsed by 85 other concerned students, faculty and Athens community members)
January 31, 2002
The Athens News (Athens, Ohio)
February 1, 2002
The Post (Athens, Ohio)
Attention women: Walk in pairs. Avoid dimly lit walkways. Don’t show too much skin. Curb your alcohol intake. Or, in the words of an Ohio University sexual assault prevention pamphlet, “Use common sense.” This is the message that OU is sending to women with its policies and response to recent hate crimes and sexual assaults on campus.
People should be aware of ways to keep themselves safe, but that is not enough. While men also can be victims of sexual assault and hate crimes, the vast majority of assaults are committed by men against women. For example, all six reported hate crimes committed last year involving OU students were perpetrated by men. Already this quarter at least four men have assaulted women in three reported incidents – two sexual assaults and one attack against a female member of the LGBT community.
If OU responds to the recent attacks only by advising female students to change their behavior, the message sent is men’s behavior is unchangeable – “Boys will be boys.” This places the responsibility for assault prevention exclusively on the predominant victims rather then the predominant perpetrators. Furthermore, it deals with men as though they can only be the perpetrators and not preventers of sexual assault. When men are not addressed as part of a potential solution, the only role left for them to play is that of the problem.
Students’ attempts to address the role of men have been resisted by the university administration. After Take Back the Night marchers were threatened with rape by male residents of MacKinnon Hall last year, students distributed flyers in that dorm underscoring the seriousness of sexual violence. Because the flyers were not pre-approved by Residence Life, these students were detained by RAs and threatened with arrest, while the men who shouted the threats received no punishment. Meanwhile, after four assaults against LGBT students were reported last year, concerned students arranged a meeting with OU President Robert Glidden and other administrators to propose a better bias-based crime reporting system. Glidden responded that since the assaults all happened off campus, the university was not responsible for addressing them.
OU has a responsibility to address this climate of violence on campus. In light of recent attacks, it is long past due for OU to rectify these inadequacies and move beyond mere lip service to “diversity” and “tolerance.”
OU’s lack of readily available statistics about sexual assault and hate crimes speaks to these inadequacies. Prospective students and their parents deserve to know what they are getting into. According to OU’s tour guide manual, tour guides “must know [their] facts about the university.” Yet while the manual goes on to twice mention that there are “approximately two million bound volumes” in Alden Library, it provides no information on sexual assault and hate crime statistics.
Theoretically, this information can be found at the OUPD station and Chubb Hall, although pamphlets were unavailable at both locations while this letter was being drafted. Statistics are only obtainable from OU’s Campus Security Web site and OUPD’s arrest records. Not only are these statistics inconsistent between the two sources, none are available after 1999.
Tour guides should be required to provide prospective students and their parents with literature comparing Athens statistics those of other Ohio towns where college students comprise the majority of the population. Guides should provide information on prevention, survivor support and assault reporting systems. Reliable and up-to-date statistics must be readily accessible to all students.
In order to assist students committed to addressing problems of sexist and heterosexist violence, the university should grant OU Men Against Sexism (along with feminist and LGBT groups) access to all residence halls to hold workshops examining our culture’s expectations of male behavior in relation to misogyny, heterosexism and violence. Sexual assault and hate crime prevention workshops should also be a mandatory component of orientation for all incoming first-year and transfer students.
OU requires students to live on campus for two years, but due to current student attitudes this means that LGBT students are forced to live in a largely hostile environment. Although Safe Zone training is available to residence life staff who request it, this still does not provide a safe environment for students. Since the university has a responsibility to ensure safe accommodations for its students, it should establish LGBT-friendly floors.
OU should fund the creation of a women’s center comparable to those of many other universities, developed by a coalition of concerned faculty and students.
Finally, OU’s failure to provide its employees with domestic partner benefits discriminates against all same-sex couples as well as those heterosexual couples that choose not to marry. Thus OU provides institutional support for heterosexist attitudes. OU contends that granting domestic partner benefits would cause a loss of state funding, especially if the Ohio Senate passes House Bill 234. OU should therefore seek to build a coalition with other Ohio schools to lobby against the passage of House Bill 234 – or for its repeal, if passed.
To underscore the need for change and the seriousness of these attacks, concerned students have organized a campus-wide walkout on Monday, February 4. All students, faculty and other OU employees are encouraged to leave their normal activities at 11:30am and go to the Civil War Monument on College Green for a rally and speak-out concerning the attacks and the university’s role in preventing future violence.
The university administration cannot do everything when it comes to preventing violence against female and LGBT students, but it can certainly do more. If the administration is truly committed to improving the safety of its students, it should be eager to rethink current programs and employ new measures. However, as concerned students and faculty we want to make clear that we are not asking for changes in university policy, we are demanding them.