Students Staying Safe

imagesIf you were to walk through University of Hawaii at Manoa around the month of May you would probably find students strung out on coffee with endless flashcards spread out in front of them. But in this May in particular you would also probably hear the words “Title IX” being discussed (or at least hopefully). At the beginning of this month the U.S. Department of Education announced that 55 universities across the U.S. would be under investigation of Title IX violations. Some of the schools include Dartmouth, University of Colorado, and our very own University of Hawaii at Manoa. The 55 universities are under investigation for possible violations of Title IX including the way school personnel handles sexual abuse cases. When it comes to the safety of any given population it is of the utmost importance that the safety of individuals is held to a high standard and that those in a position of authority handle any complaints or misconduct in the proper way. These investigations are highly valuable and should be occur more regularly as sexual assault cases are being presented.

This process to shed light on college campuses and sexual assault has been in works since a letter surfaced three years ago that encouraged sexual assault victims to come forward and speak to officials, which included institutions of higher education. In January Obama urged task forces to develop ways to protect students from sexual assault and to make issues such as sex assault investigations public for the betterment of the community. Now the Office of Civil Rights is dedicating necessary time to investigate college campuses and the way they handle sexual assault cases.

But what exactly is Title IX? Well I am so glad you asked! Quick history lesson: in 1972 the Department of Education along with state representatives, like Patsy Mink from Hawaii, implemented federal law that prohibit sex discrimination in educational institutions. This law includes how institutions fairly handle sexual assault and rape cases on their campus, including the way they handle victims and assailants. Sexual assault is one of the main focuses of the investigations, which is one of the most important issues that prevail on campuses. In recent studies it has been reported that at least 1 in 4 college women will be the victims of a sex assault throughout her experiences of her college career. In college campuses United States wide there are 35.3 incidents of sexual assault per 1,000 (this study had been conducted through a 6 month long process). These numbers are too high for an institution aimed at education. When students pay thousands of dollars a year to attend any given college they should receive the safety and protection from administrators.

As of recent University of Hawaii has been the target of security breaches. Local news outlets set out on a mission to explore the Universities security measures and get a better understanding of the campuses attitudes toward the safety of they student body, including women. In February KHON launched an article that exposed faulty security measures across campus and revealed that security was under staffed. Security measures at educational institutions is one of the main ways that we can work to prevent sexual assault on campus and the fact that UH did not have safety measures already puts students at greater risk of violence or assault.

Another way in which any university can promote safe campuses is how we teach and involve/inform students on sexual assault on campuses. UH does currently work to inform students, from Women Studies courses on campus to the Office of Gender Equity. These types of measures need to be taken to allow students the opportunities to learn about sexual crimes and their positions within a campus. For example 50% of victims of sexual assault had consumed alcohol prior to the assault. Classes that inform persons that intoxicated individuals cannot consent would prevent these crimes from taking place. Also, programs such as the Maona Alcohol Program help students to make informed decisions about alcohol consumption.

University of Hawaii administrators have responded to the investigation in positive ways, agreeing to comply with the audits and have made clear that these investigations are not a direct result of any given complaint or individual. The Office of Civil Rights has released that UH Manoa is a preemptive audit to assure that the school does follow Title IX regulations, but all the same these investigations are occurring and as history has shown are necessary for the safety of the student body. Students have responded in positive ways hopeful that these investigations will work to improve campus safety and will work with other schools to shed light on grim situations.

As a student of the University of Hawaii at Manoa I have had personal experiences with administrators and have experienced over zealous males and unwarranted advances. In the beginning of the spring 2014 I expressed concerns to the Universities administrators about my safety on campus. I have lived on campus through all four years of my academic career and all four years I have avoided any part of campus in the evening. In cases were I was unable to avoid walking alone at night I attempted to utilize their security escort system which proved to be unreliable. I was left waiting in an ill-light part of campus for 45 minutes for a van, by that point walking alone would’ve been more useful then their “security.” By my last semester at school walking on campus alone at night became a necessity because the commuter services had run out of parking passes nearer my residence. Many students living on campus need jobs to pay for school, and I happen to be one of them. My job required me to work till 11 in the evening leaving me to walk from the middle of campus to my apartment. After multiple emails and long phone calls I filed an exemption form to receive a pass closer to my apartment, only to be ultimately ignored and swept under the rug. For my remaining semester I walked every night through the ill-lit and apparently poorly surveillanced campus to my apartment afraid. I hope these investigations will prevent students in the future from these kinds of situations. Luckily, I did not get assaulted or harassed but it could have easily taken that road. These investigations should continually be publicized and the student body should be informed and educated on how to be safe and respectful.

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