Writing at Al Jazeera, Dana Bolger explains how the corporatization of higher education — in which “reputation, not education, is the goal” — creates an approach to combating campus sexual assault that is about “the reduction of harm to universities, not to students.”
When campus rape is treated as a PR problem, survivors become liabilities to be controlled, silenced and swept away. Enrolled at institutions that host holiday dinners and fireside chats with their presidents, victims who come forward about their assaults might expect to be heard and protected; instead they too often find the pretense of familial love stripped away as they are placed under school-instituted gagorders, encouraged totake time off from their educations, retaliated against, suspended, expelled or even forcibly institutionalized. Researchers have found that this institutional betrayal (PDF) worsens the psychological and physical effects of sexual violence, exacerbating anxiety, dissociation and other symptoms. Some victims call their institution’s betrayal worse than the assault itself.
Universities, under the guidance of risk management firms, are increasingly taking merely performative steps — constructing highly visible but limitedly helpful blue light systems on their campuses, creating confidentiality policies that do more to shield schools than support survivors and implementing consent education programming that scarcely discusses consent at all. At Yale, administrators have hosted pie-baking contests to encourage healthy interaction, and at my alma mater, Amherst College, a campus committee has suggested outdoor movies to do the same. These efforts are little more than window dressing. They symbolize a professed attention to compliance but do little to meaningfully address violence on campus.