university of wisconsin bascom hall
Column
October 20, 2016

Campus Sexual Assault: Serious Issue of Student Safety or Administrative Burden?

If Paying Higher Tuition Means That Programs Will Be Put in Place to Create a Campus Climate That Does Not Tolerate Rape, I Will Happily Pay More

UW System President Ray Cross thinks sexual assault is a burden. Was he talking about the impact on victims? Nope. He was talking about the burden on UW administration of government requirements aimed at addressing campus sexual assault. On October 12, Cross cited increased government involvement in sexual assault cases on Wisconsin campuses as a source of rising costs to the University system. Cross says, “We’ve had to add administrative staff in order to handle that and over and over and over again, those things are imposed upon us.” [Appleton Post-Crescent, 10/12/16]

Cross’s comment comes at a time when sexual assault is being heavily discussed in the media, as a result of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s offensive comments and behavior towards women. But instead of using the national focus on this issue to take a stand against sexual assault and the way it affects his students, the head of our University of Wisconsin System claimed sexual assault is an administrative burden. This sheds light on the UW System’s neglect to take sexual assaults on Wisconsin campuses seriously because, according to Cross, government intervention and the spending that results from it is a more severe problem than the safety of students.

Why has the federal government decided to “impose” regulations on UW, including an investigation of UW-Madison? For starters, UW-Madison has an appalling sexual assault rate, with 27.6 percent of female undergraduates reporting an experience of sexual assault, a rate higher than the national average. Because of this unacceptable rate of assault and the fact that only 3 schools exceed UW-Madison’s number of open investigations, UW-Madison and UW-Whitewater unfortunately found themselves among 159 colleges under Title IX investigation in connection with sexual violence cases last year. [Capital Times, 12/24/15]

Yet despite the serious problem on UW campuses that is revealed by these statistics, President Cross seems to be claiming that the imposition of these government regulations aimed at eliminating campus sexual assault are a greater burden to him than to the 16,000 female undergraduates at UW-Madison, over a quarter of whom will be assaulted in their time here on campus if changes are not made to the way sexual assaults are handled and rape culture pervades. Cross’s comments reveal an attitude that would be disappointing in anyone, but is absolutely unacceptable from someone who is at the helm of the state’s public universities.

In addition to a rampant sexual assault rate on this campus, other statistics also raise serious questions about the mishandling of sexual violence, assault, and rape reports. For example, only three students in the last five years have been expelled for sexually assaulting another student, even though hundreds of assaults are reported each year. This shows that appropriate disciplinary measures against those committing rape or other forms of assault are hardly ever taken. [Capital Times, 12/24/15] As a female undergraduate at UW-Madison, this information gives me a tangible reason to be scared on my campus, as if being a woman wasn’t enough of a reason already.

Higher-ups in the University system apparently do not see how dire this situation is, or why spending to prevent sexual assault is essential to creating a safe environment for all students. UW System President Ray Cross thinks that spending money on the prevention of sexual assault and investigations about assaults that have occurred is financially hurting the UW-Madison community. Personally, if paying higher tuition means that programs will be put in place to create a campus climate that does not tolerate rape, I will happily pay more.

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Emily Barnhill is a Sophomore, Gender & Women’s Studies and Legal Studies Majors at the University of Wisconsin Madison and an intern at One Wisconsin Now & the Institute

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