Our Opinion: Agent of change
For a victim of sexual assault, the victimization doesn't necessarily end with the assault. It may only be the beginning. This is too often the case on a college campus where the victim can find herself ostracized and alone. Lexie Brackenridge, however, in her determination not to be a victim, is becoming an agent of change.
Ms. Brackenridge, a 19-year-old from Boston, wrote a column in the Williams College newspaper last month about being raped as a Williams freshman in October of 2012 and her experience in the ensuing weeks. Administrators, she wrote, persuaded her not to go to the police but to file a complaint through the school's judicial system. The alleged attacker was a member of the Williams men's hockey team, and during the three months the process went forward, Ms. Brackenridge said she was harassed by team members, who went unpunished. The attorney for the alleged assailant has told WBUR, Boston's NPR news station, that his client denies the allegations.
The alleged assailant was eventually suspended for three semesters, wrote Ms. Brackenridge, and when she was assigned to a dorm where several hockey players resided she transferred to Columbia University. Her article created a firestorm among students, parents and alumni, including anecdotes of other sexual assaults on the campus in past years that resulted in token punishment or no punishment at all.
As of Tuesday, Ms. Brackenridge had collected hundreds of signatures on a change.org petition advocating specific changes "to combat the prevalence of sexual assault at Williams College." (Eagle, May 28). Among the provisions, the petition urges the college to employ professionals to examine witnesses and evidence, not to discourage students from reporting assaults, and to expel students found guilty of sexual assault, as well as students who retaliate against victims.
College officials, who have a vested interest in making an embarrassing incident go away, should never dissuade a student from going to the police with allegations of sexual assault. It should go without saying that a student found guilty of sexual assault should be expelled, and those who bully victims should be tossed out of school with the assailant.
The Obama administration is investigating 55 colleges and universities for potential violations of federal law because of their mishandling of sexual assault cases. The problem appears closely linked to the frat boy culture of entitlement as athletic programs, football in particular, have been marred by incidents of rape and assault.
This culture of entitlement manifested itself in the recent shootings on and near a college campus in California. The killer obviously suffered from mental illness, but the belief revealed in his manifesto that he was somehow entitled to the affections of female students and was justified in his anger upon being snubbed is likely shared by others. Too many college boys have growing up to do.
This spring, Williams changed its procedures to deal with sexual assaults, with inquiries conducted by professionals not affiliated with the college and cases decided by a panel from the staff of student affairs. Williams has also created the position of director of sexual assault prevention and response and hired a former director with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center to fill that position. Even if Williams is acting out of self-interest, as poorly handled sexual assault cases will discourage students from applying and alumni from donating, its actions are encouraging.
In that sense, Williams owes a debt to the freshman student it failed. Ms. Brackenridge refused to be victimized or hide as if she was somehow at fault. Her courageous response will change the culture at Williams and perhaps serve as a model for other colleges that need to change their culture and begin responding aggressively to the blight of entitlement and sexual assault on their campuses.