We Cannot Address Sexual Assault On Campus Without Accountability
“We have all been stunned and pained by the recently published story. To all of us, this is a matter that is deeply personal.”
Dean Karen Bacon wrote those words in an email to the student body on Sept. 2. The story she referred to is one we are all familiar with: an anonymous YU student’s article alleging that a male athlete raped her and the university failed to help her. As of Sunday, it has been over four months since The Commentator first published that harrowing account — almost the entire fall semester, from the first day of classes on Aug. 25 through the last day of classes on Dec. 27.
At first, the rape allegations became our paramount concern, taking center stage in Jewish communities across the country. But soon after, the news cycle progressed, and this story left just like it came. What once held national and international headlines quickly became another forgotten skeleton stowed away in our communal closet.
In her September email, Dean Bacon told students that addressing sexual assault and harassment on campus was President Ari Berman’s “top priority.” In that vein, she was asked to lead those efforts with a committee, composed of Rabbi Josh Blass and deans Joe Bednarsh, Leslie Halpern, Sara Asher and Danielle Wozniak (the latter of whom is now leaving YU). Although the email said updates would be shared with students after the chagim, no such updates came. But change may come soon.
Last week, after The Commentator reached out for the third time, Dean Bacon wrote that the committee has been meeting with students over the last months to gain their perspective on what YU could improve. She then shared two of the committee’s planned initiatives: First, it is developing an “easier-to-navigate informational system” for students to easily understand YU’s Title IX process, along with finding and accessing relevant support. Second, a team of “resident experts” from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work is establishing an “updated educational program” about these issues for spring orientation.
No doubt, this is a positive step for YU. Every student should know what to do if, God forbid, they are a victim of sexual assault or harassment. We applaud Dean Bacon’s committee in that regard, but that is only half the battle. The anonymous student’s article about her experience involves problems that extend beyond a mere lack of information.
“Sometimes I feel as if telling the school was almost as painful and hard to go through as the rape itself,” she wrote. Describing YU’s investigation into her case and its protracted time frame, she said, “The process felt like a retraumatization of what I have been through — like I was still holding on to the incident that I would do anything to let go of — and each day of waiting was just adding to that trauma.” These are issues that a flowchart can’t fix.
The student alluded to gross insensitivity and incompetence on the part of the involved administrators. In the article, she wrote that she “reached out multiple times” about her safety on campus and fears of encountering the other student, but she was “told to just deal with it.” This dismissive behavior was not limited to the aftermath of her investigation. It reappeared earlier this semester.
While her article was still gaining traction, the survivor said that another male athlete — the same one who she said called her a “whore” and “slut” — began revealing her identity to other people. The student contacted various administrators to intervene but was ignored. It was only after a Commentator editor personally emailed one dean twice that someone spoke directly with her. And still, they were unhelpful.
This is unacceptable. Students cannot be safe on campus if they cannot rely upon those meant to protect them. As of now, YU has not given them a reason to do so.
Ultimately, Dean Bacon’s committee must add another focus to its agenda: re-training its Title IX staff and holding administrators responsible for their failures. Without critically reviewing this area, the committee’s efforts will be for naught. We agree with Dean Bacon that this student’s experience is stunning, painful and deeply personal. Let’s make sure it’s the last one.
Editor’s Note: For an article to be designated under the byline of “The Commentator Editorial Board,” a minimum of 75% of editorial board members, including the editor in chief, are required to give their assent.