University Of Chicago Alumni Demand Sexual Assault Reform, Saying Nothing Has Changed In Decades

CREDIT: Christine Baker/The Patriot-News

A group of University of Chicago alums have penned an open letter to their alma mater, demanding to know why the school’s sexual assault policies haven’t changed despite the fact that student activists first identified areas for improvement back in the 1990s. The alumni also posted their letter online, where it has collected hundreds of additional signatures.

“We are deeply concerned that shortcomings that we identified in our university’s approach to sexual violence when we were students apparently still persist,” the alumni write in their letter.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education launched a federal investigation into the university following allegations that administrators have mishandled rape cases. The school’s student newspaper has done extensive reporting into the issue of sexual assault on the University of Chicago’s campus, and found that many students believe there are shortcomings in this area — partly because the school doesn’t have a centralized database to track rape reports. That reporting helped convince the government to investigate further.

Back in 1996 and 1997, the open letter’s signatories helped form the student groups Action for a Student Assault Policy (ASAP) and the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV). They explain that they decided to form those groups “in reaction to frustration with what we believed were the administration’s mishandled and inadequate responses to both sexual assaults and assaults against minority students.” Then, those groups went on to identify some of the very same issues — like the lack of a centralized office with adequate resources to coordinate sexual assault response and prevention — that the recent student newspaper investigation uncovered.

“Our organization, Action for a Student Assault Policy, was named in part to underscore the urgency behind reform; we believed changes needed to be made ASAP. It is painful and ironic to learn that, two decades later, these pervasive problems have not been adequately addressed,” the alumni note. “Former students are watching and waiting for the University of Chicago to do the right thing.”

The University of Chicago isn’t the only institution in the city receiving outside pressure to reform its sexual assault policy. Earlier this week, faculty, alumni, and staff at Northwestern University also launched a petition demanding reform in this area, after Northwestern failed to fire a professor who was found guilty of sexual harassment. The student who was the subject of that harassment sued the university last week for failing to do anything to punish her assailant.

In fact, college campuses across the country have been accused of failing to protect victims in an attempt to sweep rape under the rug. Despite the fact that there are some extremely simple policies that administrations could enact to help connect survivors of sexual assault with the resources they need, the majority of them haven’t taken those steps. These failures are becoming increasingly evident to the general public. Just 12 percent of Americans across the country think that colleges are doing a good job handling rape.