UMass must take preventative action against sexual assault

UMass’response to the protests lacks a concrete action plan

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Manas Pandit, Collegian Contributor

“We commit to identifying the support, outreach, and reporting tools that are most effective in meeting the needs of our community,” reads The University of Massachusetts’ second statement in response to recent protests on campus. The statements betray an obvious error in the administration’s way of thinking: it seems to believe its only responsibility to the community comes after the damage has been done.

The importance of supporting sexual assault victims, providing outreach and having a well-functioning reporting apparatus is self-explanatory. Behaving as though action on these fronts absolves the University of the responsibility to actually prevent sexual assault is ridiculous.

The Chancellor’s statement on September 20 clearly demonstrates this flawed thinking.  A 400-word email to the student body contains only one sentence focusing on what must be done to actually prevent sexual assault. The chief concerns of the email are as follows: making it clear that UMass cannot take legal action due to a lack of “actionable” evidence, reminding us all of the reporting infrastructure in place (yes, we get it UMass, you’re here for people who’ve been sexually assaulted, you just won’t lift a finger to stop it) and finally, of course, to threaten rioters with legal action.

I would point out that there is even less actionable evidence in the case of riots than there is with regards to sexual assault in fraternity housing, but this obvious contradiction is apparently unimportant to the administration. To make matters worse, there are already investigations into student activities relating to the protests, which quite literally means property is being valued over sexual assault victims —no investigations have been launched regarding any specific sexual assault case.

The one time the statement talks about preventing sexual assault, it mentions in vague terms the need to “change the culture.” Of course, the Chancellor’s statement goes no further than this cursory crowd-pleaser.

The University’s second email on the topic shows some intent and specificity. It calls attention to the University’s planned partnership with a “consultant who specializes in sexual assault prevention within Greek-letter organizations,” which sounds promising, until you realize that this morsel of positive change is sandwiched between a description of SASA, which is the Sexual Assault Support & Advocacy, and a tutorial on sexual assault reporting. At risk of belaboring the point, being there after the fact does not mean that UMass’work is done.

If a pervasive culture of sexual assault is present on campus, as the statement acknowledges, what are the tangible steps being taken in order to change it? In Feb. 2021, it took the University approximately one week to place a fraternity under interim suspension, following allegations of violating UMass COVID-19 policies. There has been no such action this time, with suspected sexual assault.

If this pervasive culture is limited to (or at the very least, at its apex in) fraternities, what is the UMass administration doing to fix it? Sexual assault is a problem in fraternity parties because of the power imbalance between brothers and the women they choose to prey on. What is being done to reduce that imbalance? What is being done to reduce the power of fraternities in general?

If there was an actual wish on UMass’ part to curtail frat culture and keep the fraternities in line, reforming the financial side of things would be an obvious first step. Getting the Student Government Association involved,  much like how they work with RSOs on budgeting would be a possible solution. Sadly, not much is being done and the incentive for this inaction is obvious when three-fourthsof all college donationsare from Greek alumni.

Whatever your opinion may be on the measures I suggest above, we can all agree that something must be done, which is why UMass’ nearignorance of this aspect of the sexual assault problem is frustrating. The administration’s attitude in both statements is like using a glass to empty a capsizing boat; they must patch the hole instead.

As a student body, we have the ability to do something. In their second statement the administration offered a link where we can offer our own input on the University’s sexual assault reporting process. I urge all of our readers to click that link, and to tell our administration what we want from them. It’s a small step for us, but it could contribute to a better and safer campus for all.

Manas Pandit can be reached at [email protected].