Faculty members at Occidental College in Los Angeles took a huge step in defending sexual assault survivors and their allies on Monday when they voted they had "No Confidence" in Campus Attorney Carl Botterud and Dean of Students Barbara Avery. It's comforting to know that Occidental faculty members are as sick of the university's abhorrent treatment of sexual assault cases as victims and allies on campus, and it instills much more "confidence" in the university as a whole than could have been attributed months before.
The chance that someone will be sexually assaulted in the United States increases when one enters college. This is due in part to the "target-rich environment" created by thousands of students residing in the same space, and could also have to do with the fact that certain colleges simply ignore sexual assault cases. Like Occidental, these institutions cover up rapes and allow victims no chance for justice or healing.
Occidental's Sexual Assault Coalition has tried for years to work with university administrators on these issues to no avail, so in April, prominent federal civil rights attorney Gloria Allred took the case against the university's practices regarding sexual assault. Their actions included failure to report assaults, covering up rapes, and mistreating victims who chose to come forward.
Allred and the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition will argue that under Title IX, the university is a hostile environment for women (1 in 4 of whom will experience rape or attempted rape in college) and that the administration has violated the Clery Act, which requires accurate and complete reporting of sexual assaults on campus.
While Botterud and Avery remain active employees at the university and are still students' primary resource for reporting sexual assaults, there will be an investigation of their conduct. University President Jonathan Veitch is poised to make a decision soon on how to move forward with this case. With the bulk of the faculty behind Allred's lawsuit and its implications, this should be a relatively simple choice.
"[Occidental College] is committed to having the best policies, procedures and personnel in place to allow us to be a model for other colleges to follow," said University Spokesman James Tranquada. He added that both Veitch and the campus take matters of sexual assault "very seriously."
This vote is symbolic in its nature, as it shows universities around the country that you don't have to be a victim of sexual assault to want the system changed. Academic institutions may attempt to cover up sexual assault under the guise of "protecting the victim" or "protecting the university," but Occidental's administrators should know by now that no matter what, someone will come forward in protest. That sexual assault exists at all should drive higher-level employees to act against it, not accept it as a part of life and think of only their jobs and how they personally represent the university.
Occidental's faculty voters should be lauded for this significant decision — hopefully the ensuing actions will bring this university's image into the positive light that appears to be reflected by students and staff alike.