More than 200 people, including both sexual assault survivors and their loved ones, have signed onto a petition urging the Princeton Review to include schools’ rape policies in its future college rankings. The survivors have added their voices to a larger advocacy push targeting the college admission services company, after more than 35,000 members of the feminist group UltraViolet signed a similar petition last week.
“We are writing as survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones who want to put an end to the epidemic of rape on campus,” the petition reads. “Every year, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors consult your guides before deciding where to apply, and ultimately where to go to college. They deserve to know if the schools they pick have a rape problem.”
The Princeton Review isn’t the only admissions guide that’s recently come under pressure in this area. Last month, a group of lawmakers led by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) urged U.S. News & World Report to start including rape policies in its influential college ranking system. Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, recently told the Huffington Post that she would have made a different decision about her own daughter’s college education if she had understood more about how sexual assault is handled on campuses.
Particularly now that it’s the subject of a White House task force, the campus sexual assault crisis has recently gained national attention. Schools have historically come under fire for attempting to sweep rape under the rug in order to avoid bad publicity. Now, activists are pushing for more transparency, hoping that college administrators will work on reforming their policies if they have nowhere left to hide.
UltraViolet in particular has capitalized on the opportunity to inform prospective college students about the rape controversies at their future schools. Earlier this month, the advocacy group began running online ads targeted at high school seniors who have been accepted into schools that are currently embroiled in controversy over the way they handle sexual assault. “Accepted to Harvard? You should know about its rape problem,” one of the ads reads.
A spokesperson at U.S. News & World Review indicated that the magazine would be open to meeting with Speier to hear more about her idea to include information about rape policies alongside SAT scores and cafeteria reviews. The Princeton Review, however, has been somewhat less receptive.
“While some individuals have asked The Princeton Review to rank colleges on campus sexual assault records, we have never — nor do we expect ever to — create rankings on matters of campus crime, including sexual assaults. Such issues involve very serious and complex legal matters,” the company says in an update to its page on campus safety. “Currently there is no uniform system in place by which such data is obtainable sufficient to us or in our opinion for any organization to make fair or accurate school-to-school comparisons.”
Soon, there might be. The White House’s task force released its first set of policy recommendations at the end of April, and one of its new guidelines urges colleges to conduct anonymous “climate surveys” to get a better sense of students’ experiences with sexual assault.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), one of the lawmakers who has been focused on this issue, confirmed that particular policy has always been the “number one request” from student activists who are eager for more transparency in this area. Along with her colleague Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Gillibrand is considering introducing national legislation related to the campus sexual assault crisis — and may attempt to tie federal funds like Pell grants to colleges’ willingness to carry out those surveys.