Campus Climate Change

Peter Osterlund

TULANE UNIVERSITY is supposed to be a safe space for all students. College campus life in general is supposed to be a nurturing learning environment, allowing for personal growth and exploration. That is what an ideal college campus would look like. But a 2015 poll conducted by the Washington Post found that “20 percent of young women who had attended a residential college in a four- year period said they had been sexually assaulted.’’ A figure reflects how common sexual violence has become on campuses across the United States.

Tulane campus climate survey, however, which came out in 2016 showed results for sexual assault being twice as bad as the national average. Two out of five undergraduate women said they have experienced sexual assault at Tulane. This figure made national news and caused an outcry among concerned students.

I talked to Doctor Alicia K. Czachowski, Director of Public Health Initiatives and Assessment for Campus Health at Tulane. She told me about what has happened in the aftermath of the devastating survey results being released. She confirmed after the survey, “it was clear that sexual violence is a public health and safety issue at Tulane”.

When the survey results came out, the campus was in a panic. Grief and fear flooded the minds of students, as if their conception of their campus had been shattered. Almost immediately there was a Tulane town hall held at the LBC for students to voice their concerns and questions as to how they would improve safety on campus. Dr. Czachowski told me that the plan Tulane implemented shortly afterwards was called “All In: Tulane’s Commitment to Stop All Forms of Sexual Violence” and said that, “This is a long-term university-wide commitment focused on preventing sexual violence and increasing access to support for survivors of sexual violence”. After doing some online research into the “All In” program, there is little information about what has actually been done to combat this issue. The only thing that was listed on the Tulane website were the “broad goals” that Alicia had shared with me. These included things like, “Integrate sexual violence prevention in both curricular and co-curricular life” and, “Create a campus culture supportive of healthy sexuality, focused on health relationships and respect.”

Almost three years after the survey results were released, and after the All In program was initiated, it is hard to judge whether or not campus conditions have improved. I asked Dr. Czachowski what she thought, and she responded that it would be hard to judge without doing another campus climate survey. On a positive note, she did add that she has ob- served, “more students are actively involved in collaboration with staff and faculty on sexual violence prevention and response initiatives and there are more workshops and trainings available on sexual violence prevention and response to students, faculty, and staff than there were one year ago”.

Tulane University, donned by students as the “Harvard of the South”, has had a rockier history than most students know, especially the history of Tulane Greek life. A 1987 Tulane Yearbook picture recently came to light which depicts several Tulane fraternity members wearing blackface. Tulane, like many other private schools in the south, has historically been culturally exclusive. Different acts of xenophobia and misogyny have been common over the years, recently seen with members of Tulane Kappa Alpha constructing a literal Trump wall outside of their frat house. Even more concerning than these anecdotes, however, were the harrowing results of the campus climate survey conducted in 2016.

Sexual assault is obviously not unique to Tulane. It is an epidemic at schools across the country. But Tulane’s survey results place them as one of the worst. Across these campuses, resources have been spent in order to create a new campus culture which prevents sexual violence. That being said, there has been little done that has proven to be effective to prevent widespread sexual violence. One theory is that abolishing Greek life, especially fraternities from college campuses would cause a decline in sexual violence. The rationale behind this is that frats often host events where women are assaulted, drugged, or over-intoxicated. A CNN study from 2007 found that men in a fraternity were three times more likely to commit a rape than those not involved in Greek life.

Tulane has in some ways acknowledged the danger of frats, and has start- ed to take preventative action by educating them. There is now a required course to be taken, called Sexual Violence Prevention Programming, before anyone can join Greek life. I spoke to my long-time friend Henry Finer, who happens to be a member of Tulane Greek life. It was important to find out about this course. Apparently, it is run by students, who were “just going off a script.”

When asked if it seemed like the guys in attendance were taking it seriously, he told me, “during a seminar on sexual assault at the beginning of the year I remember kids making jokes about it during the discussion.” These seminars seem to be taken less than seriously and the material less than in-depth, he said. “They covered the basics of what constitutes sexual assault but talked less on prevention.” Creating this system of a “one and done” requirement may have resulted in a class that students attend just to get it over with, rather than actually paying attention and learning from it.

Henry didn’t know whether or not banning greek life would decrease sexual assault.

He told me that even if Greek life was banned, “I think people or groups of people would still find ways to throw big parties leading to the same possibilities of abuse.” He also pointed to crowded campus bars as other dangerous places with a history of sexual violence. When asked what needs to change, he told me that fraternities need to improve themselves from within, and to begin, “holding their ‘brother’s’ accountable for abuse or questionable behavior.”

Alcohol culture on all campuses is unfortunately conducive to violence. Some would argue that as long as we have people going out and drinking all the time, there are going to be bad decisions and dangerous situations. Henry pointed out that while frats are popular, “From what I have seen, heard, more of the inappropriate behavior has taken place at crowded bars near campus.” In public areas like that it is increasingly difficult to police. This goes to show that there is unfortunately not a simple solution to solving the sexual assault crisis.

Sexual assault continues to be a problem on Tulane’s campus, but it will be difficult to measure improvement until another campus-wide survey is administered. Without any real radical moves made to improve sexual violence protection, it is unlikely that the results would be any different from the troubling 2016 survey. While we need to improve education and awareness about prevention, dismantling Greek could potentially be an effective first step towards preventing sexual assault on campus.

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