BY: LISA CUMMING
From the perches of the ivory towers of academic elitism, administrations are more concerned with protecting their image than protecting their students.
Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford are considered by many to be the top universities in America. Status, unfortunately, comes with a cost. To attend these institutions students pay a high price tag for prestige. In spite of this image, the universities can’t create a safe and healthy environment free of sexual harassment.
Jessica Marinaccio, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Columbia, said there were 32,952 applicants in 2014. In the same year 34,295 students applied to Harvard, said the Dean of Admissions, William R. Fitzsimmons. With the highest number of applicants for this set, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Stanford, Richard Shaw, said the school received 42,167 applications. Of the students who applied, 2,291 were accepted to Columbia, 2,023 to Harvard, and 2,138 to Stanford. Of those first-year students 49 percent now at Columbia are women, 46.6 percent at Harvard, and 49.1 percent at Stanford.
According to findings from the National Institute of Justice, just under three percent of all college women become victims of rape – either completed or attempted – in a given nine month academic year. This means approximately 34 women will be victims in their freshman year at Columbia, 28 women at Harvard, and 32 women at Stanford. This statistic applies not only to a woman’s freshman year, but every year of her degree.
“Carry That Weight”, “Dear Harvard”, and the “Message from ’14 Rape Survivor” are the products of three women who refused to let their stories go untold. The women were all victims of rape who turned their assaults into protests against their respective schools: Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford.
Emma Sulkowicz, a student at Columbia University, is the woman behind “Carry That Weight”. Sulkowicz spoke to Time magazine about her rape, “When I was raped, I was screaming ‘no’ and struggling against him. It was obviously not consensual.”
Sulkowicz carries the mattress, where her rape occurred, around campus every day to refuse her rapist, Paul, anonymity. During the hearing process Sulkowicz said, when speaking to the Cut, that one of the judges commented on the forced anal penetration Sulkowicz endured saying, “I don’t know how it’s possible to have anal sex without lubrication first.”
She started her protest after Columbia administrators ruled in favour of Paul. “The school is pressured to find him not guilty because up until now Columbia could just push these things under the rug and no one would know,” Sulkowicz said. “That means Columbia administration is harboring serial rapists on campus. They’re more concerned about their public image than keeping people safe.”
Sulkowicz is one of very few women to not only report a campus rape, but to also name their rapists. Instead of receiving a fair ruling, she was subjected to victim-shaming and institutional face-saving.
On March 31, 2014 The Crimson – Harvard’s daily newspaper – published an anonymous letter submitted by a female student about her devastating experience with how the university handled her assault. The letter begins with the woman’s experience with her resident dean and House Master.
“My resident dean told me that my assailant couldn’t be punished because he didn’t know what he was doing. (They) compared living in the same House as my assailant to a divorced couple working in the same factory,” she writes. “My House Master and my dean encouraged me to forgive my assailant and move on.”
In the letter, the treatment that Harvard administrators gave to a rape victim is exposed as vile, at best. “The last time I met with my resident dean, I told [them] about my depression, and how I thought it had been caused by the lack of validation and empathy I had received from the Harvard faculty…My pleas were met with a refusal to comment.”
The “Dear Harvard: You Win” letter is just another example of a sexual assault victim coming forward, then being silenced by school administration in an effort to protect a fictitious image of unsoiled scholarship.
“Five months ago, I was forcibly raped by another student.” This line started a viral email sent out by Stanford ’14 student Leah Francis. Another student from the university raped Francis, he damaged her cervix by forcefully penetrating her while she had a tampon inside. Francis’ rapist was given a five-quarter suspension – according to her, a “forced gap year” – and, “Should he change his mind and decide to go to grad school elsewhere, he can choose to walk away from Stanford with no significant undergraduate consequences for forcibly sexually assaulting me,” she wrote in her email. Francis, after the ineffective and unjust ruling by Stanford’s AdBoard, arranged a rally calling for the reformation of sexual violence resources and policy.
First-degree rape, in the State of New York is punishable by a prison sentence up to 25 years, in Massachusetts is punishable by life in prison and in California is punishable by a minimum sentence of three and maximum sentence of eight years. Despite the state laws against rape, colleges in America often leave students convicted as rapists with a written warning and only the rare few actually get expelled.
This can be attributed to the jurisdictional issue of campus police departments. According to the Harvard Crimson, the university is accountable for all activities of the campus police department. The chief receives orders from Harvard’s General Counsel, who answers to Harvard’s President. Due to their claims of private organization, HUPD is exempt from the Massachusetts open records laws, which have the requirement that police agencies must make incident reports available to the public.
What we have before us are survivors being silenced by institutions more concerned with a public image than with public safety. Already dealing with extensive trauma, many sexual assaults go unreported out of the fear and anxiety encountered by academic administrations that would rather go on pretending that rape is just an obstacle to public relations campaigns, and not one to survivors’ self-esteem— or will to live.