"The recent changes to campus sexual assault protocols will not protect anyone other than the perpetrators of horrific acts of violence and violation."

By Lee Fratantuono

Lee FratantuonoMay 19, 2020
These are busy days in the world of news and media, with a pandemic bringing immense challenges to every sector of society, not least education. Amid the day-to-day reports of how our country and world are responding to a medical crisis, one story has not received the attention it merits: the recent changes to campus sexual assault investigations and procedures that have been released by the United States Department of Education.

I am a college professor in America’s heartland. For over a dozen years now, I have served as an adviser in the Panhellenic community. These days I work with two sorority chapters.

I think I speak for anyone in higher education – administrators, faculty, student life and residential staff, campus security and safety officials – when I say that the greatest fear we live with on a daily basis is that of threats to the safety of our students.

Sometimes those threats come in the form of dramatic, devastating cases of gun violence whereby schools are indelibly affected by the loss of members of their community through senseless acts of murder.

Sometimes those threats come in less public, less visible ways that shatter a community’s sense of security and leave survivors hoping against hope for healing and the restoration of peace of mind.

Let us be clear: The recent changes to campus sexual assault protocols will not protect anyone other than the perpetrators of horrific acts of violence and violation. The changes will not encourage the ongoing work of making our campuses safe, inclusive, and serene communities of learning and shared life. The changes will not serve to help survivors or the college and university staff who seek to help them.

Rather, the changes threaten to usher in a return to an age in higher education where sexual assault was something that collectively we tried to pretend did not happen, at least not on our campus.

I would hope that this issue would not be viewed as political in the sense of Republican versus Democrat or liberal versus conservative. I would hope that all in the world of academia could come together in basic agreement that these changes imperil the great strides that have been made in recent years to protect our students.

The Title IX regulations and best practices that existed until these recent changes did not profess to be able to eliminate the horror of sexual violence from our campuses. No policy could aspire to do the impossible. But the regulations and best practices we had in place until recently did at least ensure that survivors of sexual assault could trust that there were procedures and policies in place to help them in an hour of tremendous need.

Today, those daily anxieties for the safety and well-being of our students are compounded with the wholly unnecessary fear that survivors will have no such solid and reliable recourse.

No survivor is helped by these changes. No educator or academic community employee is helped by these new guidelines. For the moment, one can only hope that the day is hastened when these changes are rescinded. Until that day, all of us are justified in our deep concern for the health and safety of our students.

They deserve better from those entrusted with the solemn responsibility of doing all that is humanly possible to protect them.

Lee M. Fratantuono is Professor of Classics and William Francis Whitlock Professor of Latin. His most recent book is Caligula: An Unexpected General (Pen and Sword, 2018).