Universities Tackle the Ugly Problem of Sexual Harassment
Although young adults may be attending college at a time in life when hormones are raging, and with a ‘live life on the wild side’ attitude, college and university campuses should always be safe and healthy places to live and learn. The problem is, many institutions are having difficulty keeping it that way.
From rape chants to claims of sexual assault, the track record of student safety on campus is a blighted one. And the problem knows no provincial borders. Across the country, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, schools have had to deal with embarrassing allegations that expose wrongful student behaviour either on premise or elsewhere.
One example receiving much media attention recently was the allegations that certain members of the University of Ottawa’s men’s hockey team had engaged in sexual assault of a woman while travelling for a tournament. The situation is similar for our neighbours to the south, with the United States federal Department of Education currently investigating a plethora of schools for their response, or lack thereof, to claims of sexual harassment.
Schools looking to improve their image have tried different means to keep public outcry at bay, including efforts to tone down frosh week activities. It’s a tough predicament, though, and many institutions feel “damned if they do, and damned if they don’t” do something about the problem. The more allegations they meet head-on the more it exposes their campus as a potentially unsafe place; yet, glazing over or ignoring the problem can lead to greater repercussions down the line.
Add to this the fact that there are many aggravating factors involved in each case. In the majority of cases, alcohol and drugs play a role, as does the desire to fit in and be a part of campus life. That’s why the most at risk are first year students. There are rarely any witnesses on hand and the issue of consent sometimes adds another element to the situation.
From task forces set up to improve campus lighting, patrol and other safety measures, to information forums and student-led initiatives, to intervention programs and safety apps, the cry is going out that sexual assault is cowardly and unacceptable. There are those who say institutions must do a better job at protecting their students, a challenge that might be hard to overcome, considering they are really dealing with larger underlying social problems that must be addressed first to eradicate harassment and violence for good.