Faculty members stress conversation, education about sexual assault in TAPP-hosted panel
Title IX Administrator Ellen Eardley: “In hookup culture, with a lack of sex education (and) with a lot of alcohol, you may make a really big mistake.”
Mar. 14, 2016
About 30 students filled almost every seat in the Eyler Room in Memorial Union South on Thursday, expecting to hear law professor Frank Bowman and Assistant Vice Provost and Title IX Administrator Ellen Eardley discuss sexual assault legislation. They did, but they also explained the differences between how universities and the legal system deal with sexual assault on campus, and they advised the audience on how to handle sexual situations in an alcohol-heavy college culture.
“(Title IX) could be about lots of things,” Bowman said, citing race as an example. “But let’s talk about sex, because that’s why you’re really here."
Tigers Advancing Political Participation hosted the event, “Whose Right,” which had originally been scheduled for Feb. 4 but was postponed when Eardley fell ill. TAPP President Helen Bass introduced the two panelists and the three pieces of legislation that prompted the discussion.
The first piece of legislation was the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, introduced to the U.S. Senate in 2015. If it passes, the act would fine universities that do not enforce Title IX up to one percent of their annual operating budgets, according to McCaskill’s website.
The second piece was the Safe Campus Act of 2015, which would require sexual assault survivors to report the incident to police before the university can investigate it. This bill has been criticized by the Clery Center, which said it “removes power from survivors,” and by McCaskill.
“You don’t achieve safety and security for survivors by making the process contingent on a criminal justice investigation that many victims choose not to pursue,” she said in a news release last year.
MU as a whole supports the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, Eardley said. Neither Eardley nor Bowman supports the Safe Campus Act. Bowman called it “sheer madness,” and Eardley said it discourages people from seeking help at their schools.
Before beginning the discussion, Eardley asked the audience if anyone was required to attend the event and no one raised a hand. Many did, though, when she asked if they were undergraduates, members of Greek Life, or students who had been on campus for more than a year.
Eardley, a former civil rights lawyer, gave a brief history of Title IX, a 1972 law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex from any federally funded program or activity. It was intended to allow equal educational opportunities for men and women, though it opened doors for women in athletics as well. The sexual harassment controversy between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his former colleague Anita Hill in 1991 sparked conversation about using Title IX as a tool against sexual misconduct on college campuses, Eardley said. Legislation from the 2000s holds schools accountable for harassment that occurs on campus and requires schools to conduct a campus climate survey.
MU conducts its survey every few years, most recently in spring 2015. The Association of American Universities conducted its own survey of MU at the same time. When the AAU results were released in September, Provost Garnett Stokes formed a task force to help improve campus climate.
Eardley said roughly 25 percent of undergraduate women at MU experience some form of nonconsensual physical contact, including rape, but that her office received much fewer reports than would accurately reflect this amount. About 30 of the reports of sex discrimination went through an investigation in the Title IX office, and only 12 went through an adjudication process, she said.
Not all of the cases reported to Eardley are also reported to police, she said. They only are if the survivor so desires or if the perpetrator is a threat to the community.
Bowman is a former criminal lawyer who has worked on sexual assault and rape cases. Prompted by a question from a student, Bowman explained that the criminal process of dealing with sexual assault is simpler than the process of the Title IX office. The police can handle easily provable cases because courts require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Many sexual assault cases on college campuses are convoluted due to late reporting, a lack of evidence or witnesses and students’ tendency to be inebriated during sexual encounters.
“The problem with sex is that (it) is an activity which, in a great many circumstances, is lots of fun, highly desirable, avidly sought after (and) perfectly legal,” Bowman said. “But in other contexts, the exact same physical conduct is abhorrent, criminal and a horrible violation of somebody’s dignity.”
Sexual activity was not a widely accepted social norm during Bowman’s college years, he said, and schools have had to adapt to regulating it.
An audience member asked what resources exist on campus for those accused of sexual assault, and Eardley mentioned the Behavioral Health and Counseling Centers. She and Bowman acknowledged the trauma that affects the accused as well as the accuser, and emphasized considering the rights of both individuals. Being raped and being found guilty of rape are both “life-shattering” experiences, Bowman said.
Another student asked what the panelists wanted the audience to walk away thinking in order to positively affect the campus culture. Eardley said students should have honest conversations with their peers about sex.
“In hookup culture, with a lack of sex education (and) with a lot of alcohol, you may make a really big mistake,” she said. “I’d like for you to think about ways in which you can challenge your peers.”
Bowman encouraged the men in the room to act like gentlemen, assess sexual situations and accept that sometimes it is better not to engage in sexual activity. Eardley said that people should be fully aware of who, what, where, when, why and how the situation is happening,
“If the other person can’t answer all of those questions, maybe you shouldn’t be doing this,” she said.
After the discussion ended, sophomore David Lilja said the panelists gave good advice, and that the panel was beneficial because it was set up as a discussion rather than a lecture.
“Given the amount of questions that were asked and prompts given, I think I got a lot out of it,” he said.
TAPP Education Director Christopher Dade said it was important that several Greek students attended the panel since there is a perception that sexual assault issues arise mostly from the Greek community.
“I think it’s really important for students in that community to understand the issues and how to talk about them, so that they can be on the front lines of changing that perception,” Dade said. “It’s a campus-wide problem, not just a Greek Life problem.”
He also said it was necessary to know what resources people accused of sexual assault have and how their rights balance with those of the survivors.
Bass said that while people often hear that it is important for partners to discuss sex, it was powerful to hear it from two faculty members.
“Hearing how big of an issue (sexual assault) really is and how easy it is to solve it was impactful,” Bass said.
Edited by Allyson Vasilopulos | firstname.lastname@example.org