Student Activists Keep Pressure On Campus Sexual Assault More than 70 colleges are under investigation for how they've handled sexual assaults. The current attention to campus sexual assault has been driven largely by student activists using social media.
NPR logo

Student Activists Keep Pressure On Campus Sexual Assault

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/343352075/343352076" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Student Activists Keep Pressure On Campus Sexual Assault

Student Activists Keep Pressure On Campus Sexual Assault

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/343352075/343352076" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steven Inskeep. More than 70 colleges in the United States are under investigation for how they handled sexual assault cases. Now the problem of campus sexual assault is surely as old as the campus itself. But there are reasons it's getting more attention now. Student activists have helped to push the issue into the spotlight. NPR's Jennifer Ludden continues her ongoing series.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Georgetown University orientation this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

LUDDEN: A rousing welcome for freshmen. But after the big stage show there's a new activity, for the first time this year, students are required to break into small groups and talk about sexual assault.

CHANDINI JHA: Hi, you can come on in, take a seat anywhere that's open.

LUDDEN: Georgetown junior, Chandini Jha, is one of the students who will guide a discussion, intimate, frank, private, she's been pushing administrators to do this for two years.

JHA: For a lot of the kids this might be the first time they ever actually talk about sexual assault or what consent means in an environment with their peers.

LUDDEN: Georgetown is not being investigated on this issue, but Jha says the problem is a national epidemic. About one in five women are sexually assaulted in college as are some men. She's active beyond her own campus, part of a group using social media to spread the word. Schools are bound to try to protect students from sexual assault under a federal law called Title IX.

JHA: Our goal is to get this critical mass of students educated about it. Almost as like a check against universities violating Title IX but also just to help empower students who've been in those situations on the thing that they can ask for their universities to do.

LUDDEN: It's just the kind of information Dana Bolger wishes she had back in 2011 when she was raped her sophomore year at Amherst.

DANA BOLGER: My dean encouraged me to take time off, go home, essentially wait for my rapist to graduate and then come back to campus when it was safe to do so.

LUDDEN: Bolger did drop out for a bit. Then she joined a support group and found out she wasn't the only one who felt mistreated by her college. She and others demanded meetings with Amherst officials, a list of reforms in hand and got nowhere.

LUDDEN: For a survivor who has to study in the same library as her assailant or a survivor that has to eat in the same dining hall as his rapist - urgency is real.

LUDDEN: So in 2012 they went public. The student paper posted one woman searing account of her rape.

BOLGER: She was able to tell her story and the Amherst student and the next day there were thousands and thousands of views. I don't know what that possibly could've looked like in the 19.

LUDDEN: Angie Epifano was able to tell her story in the Amherst Student and the next day there were thousands and thousands of views. I don't know what that possible could have looked like in the 1970s. The response was electric. The college president reached out to Epifano and announced reforms. Suddenly sexual assault victims across the country were seeking each other out online. After finishing her degree, Bolger helped create, Know Your IX, to educate students about their rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDRA BRODSKY: Hi.

BOLGER: Hi.

LUDDEN: In her sunny bare-bones apartment in Washington, DC Bolger skypes with co-founder Alexandra Brodsky at Yale.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRODSKY: Did you get a chance to look at the action network?

LUDDEN: Their group has a growing network of campus activists, including Chandini Jha at Georgetown. They connect assault survivors to pro-bono attorneys. They staged protests that the U.S. Department of Education. That led to meetings with White House officials and members of Congress. Such high profile events have put these activists in the spotlight but outside that other students continue to act sometimes on their own.

GUILLERMO ROJAS: I created a website that maps the data from the daily crime law.

LUDDEN: Guillermo Rojas is in his last semester at Dartmouth, one of the schools under investigation for its handling of sexual assault. By law schools are required to keep a public tally of campus crimes, including sexual assault. But unlike many, Dartmouth doesn't put it online. A few weeks ago Rojas decided to do it himself.

ROJAS: The college refuses to provide e-mailed spreadsheets and refuses to let us take pictures.

LUDDEN: So, he goes over to the Department of Safety and Security and types the data into his laptop.

ROJAS: I always feel like a nuisance. I get the sense that not a lot of people ask for it.

LUDDEN: It's just morally reprehensible that administrators are putting the burden of fixing the problems onto students like that.

LUDDEN: Susy Struble is a Dartmouth alum, class of '93 and she was raped on campus. Struble's thrilled with activists like Rojas, though worries it won't be enough. Students, she says, graduate.

SUSY STRUBLE: College administrators know this, they know that if they can just hunker down and whether a crisis that group of students is going to graduate sooner or later. But alumni are always around, we have a lot of influence, we have a lot of money, we still have a lot of say in what kind of culture we have on our campuses.

LUDDEN: Struble's helped found two alumni groups to keep up the pressure. In Washington, D.C. Dana Bolger agrees that's key. Not yet a year out of college she's quit a job to devote herself full time to Know Your IX. She says it's great, the federal government has tightened the rules on how schools should handle sexual assault.

BOLGER: But at the end of the day what we need is enforcement. Schools are operating today knowing that the department has never once sanctioned a school for these violations and with very little expectation that they will ever do so in the future.

LUDDEN: Bolger can imagine a career holding them to account. Among the other ambitious items on her to do list, law school. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.