Photo: Courtesy of Dartmouth.
Last month, a student at Dartmouth College came forward to report her on-campus assault by a fellow student. The assault took place weeks before an anonymous post went up on student message board Bored@Baker, that listed in graphic detail instructions on how to rape her, specifically.
"Increase how much alcohol you give her each time, maybe flirt with her slightly," the post instructed. "Then, one such day, go for it...Start kissing her. She might be reluctant. Just tell her to relax. She's easily persuaded." The "guide" goes on to describe in graphic, horrific detail how to simultaneously stop the girl protesting while forcing her into various sexual scenarios. "Does this sound rapey? It really isn't," the writer concludes. The student claims the anonymous poster raped her in this exact scenario last fall. While she declined to report it at first (which is not uncommon among victims of sexual assault), when she did come forward she claims the administration offered her little recourse, and failed to take any action on its part. Soon after, her alleged rapist began using the message board to harass her, post photos and personal details, and more disgusting threats against her. The final post, quoted above, became known as the "rape guide" across campus, and the story soon became national news.
Having spent weeks sleeping in a secured dorm room and seeking psychological treatment from the on-campus mental health facility, the student began to venture back into her social life. "For the first time in months, I started feeling safe," she wrote on a private Facebook page. "I went out last week and got assaulted at the first and only house I went to. Then, I got told it happens all the time. I hope that maybe someone reading this will do something, because I have no one to turn to."
Photo: Courtesy of Dartmouth.
Rape culture is not a new problem, particularly not on Dartmouth's campus. While an alarming rate of women have come forward to report assault or attempted assault, the administration's response has remained little more than lip service. A 2010 Clery Report listed Dartmouth as having the highest per-capita reported rapes of all Ivy League schools (note that the Department of Justice estimates that fewer than 5% of attempted or completed rapes on all college campuses are reported to authorities). When informed of the rape guide by her students, Dartmouth professor Giavanna Munafo published a letter to the editor in the college newspaper, stressing that the current administration's policies are nowhere near enough to stem this epidemic.
"No bystander training program, no committee, no first-responder training, or added staff positions will stop rape or transform a culture that accepts and even promotes it," she wrote. "We are not faced with the problem of isolated incidents or rogue individuals gone off on rampages. Institutional report after report, incident after incident, campus outrage after campus outrage make plain that Dartmouth has a broader and more complex problem."
Munafo concluded by pointing out that the college is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in regards to its compliance (or lack thereof) with Title IX — specifically, in regards to the climate of sexual violence and the handling of reported assaults. This coincides with another investigation over possible violations of the Clery Act, regarding underreporting of sexual assault, hazing, or bias.
Outrage in response to the rising number of assaults (and the perceived inertia of administrative action) has led to on-campus clashes, protests, and even a "day of dialogue" wherein classes were canceled in an attempt to address these issues in open discussion. Yet, policy change remains static. Women's rights advocacy group UltraViolet soon began a petition to incite real change in campus policy (including expulsion of rapists) and, as of this publication, over 50,000 signatures have been added.
"Dartmouth has been all talk and little follow-through when it comes to addressing the grave problem of a sexual assault epidemic on their campus," says co-founder Nita Chaudhary. "After launching the campaign, UltraViolet has heard a number of tragic stories. Dartmouth has been embroiled in controversy after controversy for years. The number of women coming forward is growing, not shrinking."
In response to the petition, Dartmouth's assistant vice president for media operations, Justin Anderson, released a statement saying, "At Dartmouth, we believe that one sexual assault is one too many. Over the last three years we have more than doubled support and prevention resources addressing sexual assault and are deeply committed to ridding our campus of this scourge." Anderson notes that the board of trustees recently, "endorsed a proposal to strengthen sanctions in cases of sexual assault to include mandatory expulsion." As of now, though, that policy is not in place. The alleged perpetrator of this most recent case has been removed from campus, but is apparently still an active student. Still, UltraViolet and it's supporters claim this is just more of the same. Rape culture is an alarming epidemic on college campuses, nationwide. But, the outraged opposition is growing in power, too. Along with impassioned students, faculty, and alumni, UltraViolet is standing its ground to finally demand meaningful change. "We’ve only seen lip service from Dartmouth in response to our campaign, but that just isn’t enough. We need actual concrete actions." As Chaudhary reminds us, "The years of sweeping rape victims under the rug are over."