It’s officially March, so we are marching into solutions. Yes, we’re aware of how lame that pun is! We also think it’s lame that a lot of journalism likes to describe everything that’s wrong with the world without showing data-driven examples of solutions that work! We don’t accept that, so this month we are marching (oof, there it is again) into solutions. We’ll be taking issues/problems from the Nola community and doing the research to find solutions that have proven to work! It’s solution journalism, and we’re continuing with sexual assault and how those in power positions allow it to continue to happen.
Part I: The Issue
My sophomore year of college began with learning the term “the red zone”––and no, I was not watching football. Between the start of fall classes and Thanksgiving break is when more than half of sexual assaults against college students occur. This period is what students call “the red zone.”
College campuses in the US have always been a hub for sexual assault. In fact, 13% of all college students experience sexual assault (RAINN). Thanks to the power of the #MeToo Movement, women on campuses across the country have been increasingly willing to share and report their stories in hopes of creating positive change within not only the rape culture surrounding college life, but in administration’s involvement in the issue as well. At 9 p.m. on November 17, over 500 students at Tulane University gathered to protest their administration’s lack of protocols, resources, and consequences regarding sexual assault. According to Tulane’s 2019 Climate Assessment, 33% of women, 15% of men, and 29% of gender non-conforming students reported being sexually assaulted since they enrolled at Tulane (Tulane Climate Survey). After four years of little to no change, the new Climate Assessment was postponed, and sexual violence at Tulane and on college campuses across the country continues to impact millions of students.
Tulane University claims that they are taking several new measures to prevent sexual assaults after the students protested. They are reevaluating the Alcohol and Drug Emergency Transport Policy, improving access to counseling support, expanding the All In program, and planning to complete another Climate Survey next semester (Porter). Not only are these future steps vague and ambiguous, but they don’t show a huge effort in taking action on the administration’s end. While accessible counseling and support from All In is extremely important and beneficial for survivors, neither work to actually prevent future assaults. This problem is much larger than Tulane University, however. As of 2018, New Orleans received 633 reports of sexual assault (Pierce). Similar to Tulane, with such a high number of cases, it is expected of the city to take action in resolving this issue to keep their citizens safe. Yet, “Most rape cases in New Orleans don’t end with a conviction. Most don’t even lead to an arrest. The clearance rate for rape this year is a paltry two percent” (Pierce). It is clear that both Tulane University and the city of New Orleans lack protocols necessary to keep their students and citizens safe.
Part II: The Solution
Although Tulane is reluctant to take action against sexual assault reports, they have been overly willing to take action against reported students in the past. Joining the Tulane student body in 2020, I only know college as it is during the COVID-19 pandemic. As students moved into their dorms last August, they were immediately made aware of Tulane University’s strict COVID-19 protocols. Students had numerous floor meetings to discuss these rules and received countless emails detailing all of the obligations they had, as well as the immense consequences they would face if they did not comply. With posters and stickers plastered on every step, door, elevator, and desk on campus, the reminding was constant: get tested every other day, no more than four people in a dorm room, wear masks indoors and outdoors, stay six feet away from others, etc.
Stories rushed through campus as student after student was caught for not complying and quickly punished with anything from an essay, to academic probation, to suspension, to expulsion. As positive tests increased, students carefully read each of Dean of Students Erica Woodley’s angrily-written, fear-inducing, “Dear Student” emails. Many stayed in their dorms on weekends after students were photographed at bars and suspended. While these protocols were incredibly frustrating and made adjusting to college extremely difficult, I was impressed by the administration’s efforts to protect their student body at all costs. So, as college life resumed to normalcy in 2021, I only assumed that Tulane University would have similar protocols in-place that protect their students from sexual assault at all costs. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that this was not the case.
I, myself, was even caught and punished for breaking one of Tulane’s COVID-19 protocols, and it is significant to point out how I was reported to the school. On August 17, 2020, I posted a TikTok in which three friends and I were inside without masks. This short video that I believed to be completely unproblematic was then sent to Tulane’s administration through their anonymous reporting system. Last year, Tulane highly encouraged students, teachers, and anyone in the community to report students who were not complying with their regulations. This meant that hundreds of members of Tulane’s community were anonymously reporting students, and the administration was taking their word for it and immediately taking action in speaking with and punishing those who were reported. Within 24 hours of posting my TikTok, all of the students in the video received an email detailing a pre-scheduled meeting with their Resident Director in which their non-compliance and punishment would be discussed. Not only were these experiences common among the student body, but they were publicized as means of scaring other students into following the rules.
On October 14, 2020, Erica Woodley sent an email to the entire student body in which she wrote, “Over the weekend, we received many reports of really egregious misconduct related to COVID-19 safety protocols…. Many students involved will face suspension or expulsion” (Woodley 2020). The email continues to state not only the university’s protocols, but that students could face “significant student conduct consequences” as well (Woodley 2020). These student-wide emails continued throughout the year, and the language only intensified in blaming those who were reported for the school’s presence of COVID-19 cases. On January 27, Woodley wrote, “By their actions, this small segment of students has displayed reckless disregard for others. This type of behavior is the antithesis of everything Tulane stands for and attempts to impart to its students. As a result of their actions, nearly a dozen students are facing suspension or expulsion from the university” (Woodley 2021). Even as bars reopened and the city’s laws became less restrictive, Woodley and Tulane’s administration continued blaming and punishing the students who were reported, as well as telling the rest of the student body about these punishments. In doing so, Erica Woodley effectively scared the majority of the student body into staying inside and following the COVID-19 protocols.
Watching hundreds of students face immense punishments due to anonymous reports and then hearing the devastating testimonies in which student’s sexual assault reports were not taken seriously by the administration was shocking (Lazarus). While Tulane’s Title IX office responded to 263 sexual misconduct cases from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, “Thirty of these sexual misconduct cases underwent student conduct hearings, and only nine of the cases were formally resolved”––three of which faced punishment (Lazarus). It is evident that Tulane University does not treat sexual assault reports in the same manner as they did COVID-19 reports and positive cases. According to section F of the code of student conduct, what Tulane deems a fair process in reporting sexual assault seems quite unfair for victims. For one, a student can only report sexual assault if it meets the following five requirements: “The Respondent and Complainant must be currently enrolled students; the alleged conduct happened on campus, at a university event, or at an off-campus designated campus location; the alleged conduct happened in the United States; the alleged conduct must meet one or more the below listed definitions of sexual misconduct or Sexual Harassment; and the University must have a signed complaint, signed either by the Complainant or the Title IX Coordinator” (Code of Student Conduct 16). Having a criteria for what experiences can and cannot be reported is extremely problematic in that it excludes and invalidates many student’s experiences with sexual assault. This section of the code of student conduct continues to explain the steps a student must take if their report meets their criteria for the next eight paragraphs. Even after these eight paragraphs worth of difficult steps and traumatizing hearings are completed, it is extremely likely that the reported student is not removed from the student body. As the code of student conduct states itself, “Sanctions for a finding of responsibility for these cases ranges from a warning to expulsion and may also include a variety of educational sanctions” (Code of Student Conduct 18). Yet, last year every on-campus student had to complete a covid test bi-weekly and faced suspension in avoiding testing. A student who tests positive is immediately isolated from the rest of the community and placed in quarantine for the next ten days. While the administration and student body are aware that false positive results are a possibility, the mindset is that it is better to be safe than sorry. This mindset is also why any student exposed to a positive student was also required to quarantine for 14 days––just in case they eventually tested positive. With infected and exposed students quickly removed, along with non-complying students punished, the protocol ensured that the rest of the student body stays safe and healthy.
When it comes to covid positive students, even with the possibility of false positives, they are immediately removed (temporarily) from the student body in order to protect other students. When it comes to students reported for breaking COVID-19 regulations, they are immediately contacted and punished to incite fear in not complying. When it comes to reported abusive students, no matter how much evidence is provided or how many months the victim spends re-detailing their experience to advisors, investigators, the Director of Student Conduct, a Title IX coordinator, and a decision maker, the reported student may only face a warning at most––leaving the student body endangered by reported assaulters.
Part III: Implementation
Tulane’s administration tends to take a very victim-blaming approach regarding both sexual assault and COVID-19 cases. Their advice to the student body surrounding sexual assault often includes ways that victims can “avoid” being assaulted, such as not putting their cup down or going out alone. This approach, along with Tulane’s long and strenuous reporting process, causes sexual assault victims to be more scared to report their experiences than assaulters are to be punished for their actions. When it came to COVID-19 regulations, the fear and blame was not placed onto those who were reporting students’ non-compliance, but rather on those who were reported for not complying. If Tulane applies this approach of quickly tracking down and punishing anonymously reported students to sexual assault reports, future sexual assault cases would most likely decline, and the student body would feel much safer.
An anonymous reporting system for sexual assault victims would be extremely effective if the reports are taken just as seriously as COVID-19 reports were. The anonymity will greatly limit the fear survivors have in reporting their experiences, as they are scared of how their peers and even their administration will treat them after reporting. Tulane states that good reports should, “Provide supporting documentation, when available. This may include such things as e-mails, photographs, audio or video recordings, text messages, social media screen shots, etc…, document appropriate time-lines…, [and] paint as complete a picture as possible.” (Report a Concern). Following these “tips for good reporting,” a victim could easily report their assaulter and their experience anonymously. In Tulane’s recent email in response to the student-held protest, they wrote, “Tulane has a deep and shared commitment to ending sexual assault and harassment of any kind throughout our community and to holding accountable those responsible for such acts through balanced and fair processes” (Porter). Although, the email continues to say, “we do not believe that the anonymous public posting of allegations supports a fair process” (Porter). It is very interesting that anonymous allegations were a fair process for expelling students who broke COVID-19 regulations, but not for expelling students who assault other students. Tulane must erase this hypocrisy. Additionally, Tulane should publicize the experiences of reported assaulters being punished as they did with COVID-19 reports, in order to incite fear in both assaulters and possible future assaulters. Just as Woodley publicly blamed anonymously reported students for Tulane’s COVID-19 cases in her student-wide emails, she should publicly blame anonymously reported assaulters for the high percentage of sexual assault cases in the Tulane community.
Students on and off campus are constantly warning each other about fellow students to stay away from. However, it is hard to avoid assaulters when they are in our classes just a few desks away. Or when they are one person ahead in the LBC sushi line. Or even when they are living on the same floor of our supposedly safe dorms. Tulane’s administration took anonymous reports extremely seriously last year, and doing the same for sexual assault reports would only make their campus and students feel as safe as possible. Furthermore, assaulters would be much more scared of facing consequences for their despicable actions, and victims would feel heard, empowered, and be much more likely to report their experiences for the sake of their fellow students’ safety. Implementing this protocol could influence both the city and other universities across the country, and incite an inspiring chain reaction.
“Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” RAINN, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.
Lazarus, Lily Mae. “’Expel Rapists:’ Survivors Testify to Sexual Violence at Tulane • the Tulane Hullabaloo.” The Tulane Hullabaloo, 30 Nov. 2021, https://tulanehullabaloo.com/58213/news/sexual-violence/.
Office of Student Conduct, and Division of Student Affairs. The Tulane University Code of Student Conduct. Tulane University, 2021, https://conduct.tulane.edu/sites/conduct.tulane.edu/files/2021-2022%20Code%20of%20Student%20Conduct.pdf.
Pierce, Author: Kristin. “Only 2 Percent of 2018 Rape Cases Have Been Cleared in New Orleans.” Wwltv.com, 4WWL, 19 Oct. 2018, https://www.wwltv.com/article/news/crime/only-2-percent-of-2018-rape-cases-have-been-cleared-in-new-orleans/289-606167693.
Porter, Dusty, et al. A Message from Student Affairs and Title IX about Sexual Assault, 3 Dec. 2021.
“Report a Concern.” Report a Concern | Office of Student Conduct, Tulane University, https://conduct.tulane.edu/report-concern.
Tulane Climate Survey. Tulane University, 31 Jan. 2018, https://tulane.edu/sites/tulane/files/WaveofChangeExecutiveReportActionPlan.pdf.
Woodley, Erica. COVID-19 Safety Protocols, 27 Jan. 2021.
Woodley, Erica. Fall 2020 Student Conduct Reminders, 14 Oct. 2020.