The U.S. Department of Education publicly announced May 1 that 55 colleges and universities across the country are under investigation for alleged improper handling of sexual abuse reports on their campuses. Drexel University is not on this list of schools, but a few other nearby schools are. These schools include Temple University, Swarthmore College, Franklin & Marshall College, and the Pennsylvania State University. While it is a relief to know that our own school is not under investigation, we believe that this announcement should raise concern at all colleges nationwide. Are we sure we’re doing enough to handle reports of sexual abuse properly?
Drexel has a comprehensive sexual abuse policy, including guidelines for how all members of the University community should handle a situation in which a sexual abuse has occurred. The University also has a Title IX coordinator and a team of deputy Title IX coordinators to ensure the proper implementation of this policy. We know that incoming Drexel students learn about the sexual abuse policy at orientation and that certain student leaders, such as resident assistants, receive more in-depth training on the policy. We don’t know from our own experience how intensively Drexel faculty and professional staff are trained on the policy, but we hope that their training meets or exceeds acceptable standards.
Unfortunately, good education and training programs can only do so much. Many of the schools under investigation probably have policies and training programs that are just as good as Drexel’s. For whatever reason, there are allegations that the policies at those schools weren’t properly implemented when they needed to be. We’d like to give Drexel the benefit of the doubt, but there’s no way to know for certain that University officials have swiftly and appropriately acted on every report of sexual abuse they have received. How can we know that our policies are working effectively when incidents happen? We can’t possibly know about everything that happens on campus, but we can take this news as a wake-up call to make sure we’re all doing our part to make our campus safe. Anyone who feels they are a victim of sexual abuse or know someone who is should report the incident immediately.
Some of us may know students, at Drexel or other institutions, who filed sexual abuse reports and didn’t think the situation was handled well. Of course, this is a scary and trying time for any student, but coming forward and shedding light on sexual abuse report mishandling is the only way we can improve the system. Sexual abuse reports on college campuses occasionally make national headlines, not only out of mainstream media interest but also due to student activism. Students need to make their voices heard by exposing wrongdoings when they occur. Hopefully, now that the Department of Education has published the list of schools under investigation, a sense of transparency will encourage reform for schools everywhere.