Title IX complaint at American U. reinforces need for campus activism against sexual assault

Title IX graphic

Image via Feministing.

By Katie Gifford, JWI

American University, my home for the past four years, is frequently cited as one of the most politically active campuses on the country. Students lobby and protest for causes ranging from fossil fuel divestment to tuition freezes to sexual assault prevention, and there’s a club for almost every issue you could think of. I personally am a member of the organization Students Against Sexual Violence, which was started last year in response to leaked emails from a banned, underground fraternity known for drugging drinks at their parties.

Since that time, we have advocated for survivor support programs and mandatory sexual assault prevention education, among other things. Some calls have been met, such as the hiring of a victim advocacy services coordinator, and the administration is finally attempting to work with us on other demands.

But that banned frat? They’re still on campus, wearing their “letters” and recruiting new members. When approached about these issues, the administration has been difficult to work with or just plain unresponsive.

That’s why I was not surprised when I found out that AU is under investigation following a Title IX complaint. Disappointed, of course, but not surprised. When it comes to Title IX and sexual assault, schools are tasked with investigating any sexual assault charges and making sure that survivors and all students can receive their education in an environment safe from fear of sexual violence. If the school doesn’t live up to its responsibilities, students may file complaints, and an investigation is opened.

On March 11th, while we were on spring break, an investigation into the complaint at AU began. It took the administration a week to notify students, and they only did so after the student newspaper reported it first. This late notification made me nervous. Why didn’t they tell us right away? Did they think they could keep us from finding out? Beyond that, the email they sent included that they would use the complaint to “learn if there is more we can do… to create an environment that is safe, responsive, and compliant with the law.”

As a student activist, this upset me even more. We have been lobbying the school for a year. Why are they just now paying attention, why didn’t they listen to us in the first place? Why did it take this, a national media event, for them to start paying attention? Deep down, I know why. But it’s horrible to realize that the school cares more about headlines than students.

American University is my chosen home away from home. It hurts to know that the administration does not care about students, does not care about me, to such a point that a complaint needed to be filed. It hurts to know that it took a complaint for them to be interested in learning what they could do to make the university safer, as if we have not been telling them for months what actions can be taken.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM), and various groups on campus are holding events to support survivors and promote sexual assault prevention. We will take back the night, promote our right to party without fear, and help carry that weight.

I can only hope that the administration finally listens to us and starts taking necessary action to prevent sexual assault on campus, because even one is too many.

Katie Gifford, a senior at American University majoring in International Service and Women, Gender and Sexuality Issues, is a program intern with JWI.

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