Colleges need to do more to ensure rape survivors’ grades don’t suffer

urlAs more and more campus rape survivors have spoken out about how their colleges failed them in the aftermath of an assault, we’ve seen that a disturbing number of these stories end with the survivor dropping out, while the perpetrator remains on campus. Even if survivors remain in school, their grades often suffer. In an important piece in the Washington Post, Cari Simon, a Title IX lawyer who has worked with many campus survivors, describes how colleges’ mishandling of sexual assault cases often contributes to survivors’ plummeting GPAs–and explains why this matters. 

All of my clients saw their grades suffer, sometimes dramatically. While there are no national statistical studies on the impact of sexual assault on grades, my colleagues report similar findings.

One in five women are sexually assaulted in college, according to a White House report. The rates are also particularly high in the LGBT community. In the aggregate, this means that millions of college women and LGBT students have seen their grade-point averages unfairly deflated due to sexual violence. As one of my clients bluntly put it, “it’s as if my transcript is covered in his semen.”

Grades matter. They are the mechanism professors use to assess a student’s performance and schools use to rank the student body. They are the means by which students measure their own achievement. Outside of school, employers and graduate programs rely on grades to evaluate candidates among an increasingly competitive field.

These deflated GPAs have a rippling negative impact on survivor’s graduate school options and access to professional opportunities. Those lost opportunities are devastating on a micro-level — individual students miss out on what they had worked hard to achieve.

But the problem also has serious consequences on the macro level. It means that we as a society are losing out on the contributions that these students would have made had they been able to start off in professional careers and attend graduate schools that are reflective of their merits, not their rape.

Experiencing a sexual assault, like many other traumatic experiences, is likely to take some toll on academic performance no matter what. But, as Simon notes, there is plenty that schools that truly care about ensuring survivors’ equal access to education can — and should — be doing to lessen that impact. Simon lays out some concrete recommendations in the rest of the piece.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation