Letter: Sexual Assault: Status quo or “Spartans Will” change?
As a student, it infuriates me to see that my beloved institution continuously fails to address its desperate need for improvement when it comes to handling sexual assault. As the undergraduate student body president, it saddens me more to know my peers and constituents have lost trust in our system at MSU that made a commitment to improve the awareness for, and around, human safety and security of sexual assault.
So, how — and more importantly, when — does MSU acknowledge that the ongoing issue of campus sexual assault has not improved? Let’s face it: the way in which the university has handled, attempted to prevent and adjudicated allegations of sexual assault has not served the interests of our students, our faculty and certainly not the public.
Not all college campuses have gotten the issue of handling campus sexual assault right. However, I am saying that MSU and our glorified “Spartans Will” mantra needs to shift its focus by taking giant steps forward to proactively change our path, and fast. University leadership was able to quickly remove the Women’s Lounge on campus because of concerns under Title IX, yet for years MSU has not been able to address the improper handling of sexual assault cases, which also falls under Title IX.
First, our university should stop underestimating the power of an apology. For a student, it should never be that we first hear of shortcomings in our system through a news article that strikes across national bounds. A statement by the university should not have to be searched through the deepest of university webpages. Own the issue, communicate the next steps and enact the change. At the same time, MSU must recognize that apologies are not enough.
MSU must take a strong look at how it communicates with faculty and students regarding the steps it will take to ensure Title IX training is current and compliant. Training and any other form of proactive change around sexual assault must become a regular, ongoing part of our culture on campus, or else we lose scope on the complexity and ever-changing nature of the matter.
Moreover, MSU must be much more transparent about its policies that apply to the process of adjudication in the instance of sexual assault. While personal information of a survivor should remain protected, we cannot continue to allow the university try to hide pertinent information from students and the greater MSU community that clearly show the failures and shortcomings of the handling of these cases. We have a process, upon face-value, that does not ensure adequate due process and provides too much power to one or two individuals within the administration to make a decision on evaluating a sanction.
This helps no one, not the survivors, not the accused and not MSU’s reputation.
Students at the very least should expect a commitment from the university to see unwavering support for the necessary resources that students should expect to have access to at MSU. Namely, the Sexual Assault Program, Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence, or SARV, Training and Safe Place. At a time when we are battling hikes in our tuition year after year, it should be an expectation that these programs continue to see adequate funding and support.
To be very clear: students are not exempt from taking ownership of our campus crisis on sexual assault. As students, we must stop waiting until something happens to become proactive in talking about this in our friend groups, neighborhoods, residence halls, organizations, with our roommates and the greater MSU community.
I am calling on our student body to be more active in holding MSU accountable when it comes to creating a campus environment that promotes a secure place of learning under the law. This means the various and diverse communities across campus need to take a stance with zero tolerance for sexual assault. Ask your peers what they are doing to raise conversations in their groups and organizations. Voice your concerns in front of our elected leadership at the Board of Trustees. Ask your Spartan administrators, faculty and staff to truly think about how your education, health and safety are inextricably linked and matter to your success at our university.
“It’s On Us” must truly mean that ALL of us have a role in changing the culture around sexual assault.
Lorenzo Santavicca is the undergraduate student body president at MSU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.