A victory at the University of Portland

5 03 2009

Last April, a female student at the University of Portland was raped by a male student in her dorm room after they were both drinking together at a party. When she came forward, the university took no action on investigating or persecuting the rape but instead threatened her with disciplinary action for underage drinking. This is completely absurd because underage drinking is not the issue at hand, rape is. Underage drinking should be irrelevant in sexual assault proceedings because the survivor has immunity protecting them from this as rape is the primary crime. Furthermore, bringing up underage drinking and using it against the survivor just perpetuates victim blaming (What was she doing drinking in the first place? She’s not even legally allowed to drink, and she should’ve known this was coming to her.)

A year after the assault, the student publicized her story in the campus newspaper and her efforts bore fruit. The university’s judicial coordinator wrote her a letterĀ  saying that the two students’ drinkingĀ  made “consent – or lack of consent, difficult to determine” and “there are possible violations for which [the perpetrator] could be charged.” As of March 2nd, the university’s assault policy has changed to now read:

To foster the safety and security of the entire community, the University of Portland encourages reporting of all instances of sexual assault. However, no disciplinary action will be taken without the consent of the survivor. To remove barriers to reporting, the University will not pursue potential policy violations of the survivor which occurred in the context of the sexual assault. Likewise, the University will not pursue potential policy violations of a person who comes forward to report sexual assault.

This eliminates some of the victim-blaming bullshit that dominates discourses following sexual assaults and rapes. It grants survivors immunity against “potential policy violations” which makes coming forward easier, because in many cases survivors are afraid to report rapes because they fear and don’t want to be punished for underage drinking. Hopefully this sets a precedent for other universities (cough cough, Tufts) to improve their policies to make them more survivor-friendly.

People are going to have sex anyway, so just help them have safe sex

5 03 2009

At Stonehill, a private Catholic college, in Easton, Massachusetts, senior Katie Freitas was frustrated at her school’s failure to distribute birth control and decided to take matters into her own hands. She and around twenty of her classmates gathered free condoms from family planning agencies and left them in dorms across campus. Their efforts were shut down after the administration heard of their efforts and reiterated that as Stonehill is a Catholic institution, distributing birth control on campus is forbidden.

Freitas is not Catholic and wanted to make sure that condoms were available and accessible because she was worried about the risks of students having unprotected sex. She said:

“Abstinence can be part of sex-ed, and should be. But college students are going to have sex, and they should be encouraged to have safe sex. In certain moments, students aren’t going to stop to run to CVS, so I think they should be available on campus…I expected some resistance, but I think this is a debate that should be out in the open.”

Freitas is absolutely right – if college students are going to have sex, they should be encouraged to have safe sex and they should have the information and resources they need to have safe sex. Abstinence-only sex education has dominated sex education in this country for too long and needless to say, it’s ineffective.

Stonehill is not the only Catholic college/university where there has been student activism concerning issues around sex and sexual health. At Boston College, students just passed a referendum that urged their school to provide access to contraception and affordable testing for sexually transmitted infections. Who knows best about student body’s wants and/or needs, the administration or students? Definitely the students. So if they’re demanding access to sexual health resources, they deserve it.

Yes these institutions may be grounded in Catholicism, but the reality is that not everyone at these institutions are practicing Catholics and college students are going to have sex anyway. It’s in the school’s best interest to provide information and resources about sexual health, such as condoms, birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, etc.