By Michaela Olson
‘Tis the season for college visiting. As campuses across America are flooded with high school students this summer, there are some hard-hitting, crucial questions to keep in mind—and they may help to give you better perspective on where you could spend some of the most formative years of your life. Although it might not occur to many prospective students and their parents, one of those questions is how a school responds to reports of sexual harassment and assault. While it’s been in the news a lot lately, campus sexual assault isn’t just a hot topic or fodder for politicians and pundits, but rather a harsh reality for far too many. The more you know about how each school responds to it, the better.
And taking steps to prevent and respond to these acts isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the law. Title IX requires all federally funded schools to have policies and procedures in place to help educate the community about sexual harassment and assault and to promptly investigate reported incidents.
Before you go:
Fortunately, new tools are available that provide information on campus crime and allow anyone to look up which schools have been investigated by the federal government for potential violations of Title IX. Go to www.notalone.gov and http://www.ope.ed.gov/security/ to learn more.
At the Information Session:
This is usually led by an admissions officer, and for questions about official school policies and programs, this is the time that you’ll get the most comprehensive answers or at least the contact information for the appropriate person to ask. Some possible questions include:
- As Title IX requires, is information on the school’s sexual assault policies made accessible to students?
- Does the school’s orientation program cover its policy on sexual assault and misconduct? Is there bystander intervention training?
- Is there a women’s center, or a similar facility for counseling and support?
- How are student penalties for sexual assault or misconduct determined?
- Who is the college or university’s Title IX coordinator, who would handle any complaints of sexual assault? How can students get in touch with this person?
On the Tour:
As a tour guide at my own school, I know that the campus tour can be especially telling because the guide is usually a student, and can talk more about his or her experiences at the school. While students may not know the parameters of school policies as precisely as an administrator would, they can provide an insider’s view on how they are actually implemented and perceived.
- Do you feel as though students have all the necessary resources to feel safe on campus and can report any sexual assault or misconduct?
- Are there sexual assault awareness or prevention campaigns organized by student groups on campus?
- What steps do you see your school administration taking to prevent sexual assault?
- Are prevention efforts focused around women being extra vigilant, or around discouraging men from acting without consent? (Or, more bluntly, is the responsibility for safety placed on potential victims, or potential perpetrators?)
- In the event that the school is one of the 60 under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education: Do you think that the Department of Education’s investigation is causing policies or attitudes on campus to shift?
If your questions are not answered fully when you ask them, follow up! Ask the admissions officer and student for their contact information, and, along with a thank you for showing you around their school, ask again about how the school complies with Title IX. You may want to be in contact with the Title IX coordinator directly, whose information you can get from the admissions office or online.
What students or administrators don’t know can be as telling as what they do. If Title IX compliance and student safety are not perceived to be a campus priority, it may be because they aren’t. While of course there are many bases on which you should be narrowing down your college selection, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions when it comes to your civil rights.