The semester is almost over, and so far we have received five timely warning notifications. The first one was about a robbery at gunpoint, the second one was about a theft during homecoming, the third one was about the theft being a false report, the fourth one was about a shooting, and the fifth was about an assault.
For those of us who have been at West Chester University the past couple of years, you have probably noticed that there has been a stark difference between this semester and the semester prior with the amount of timely warnings we’ve gotten. Initially, this comes across as something positive—when, in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
WCU has made it to television screens multiple times when it comes to sexual assault. I distinctly recall a couple of my high school friends texting me last semester asking me if I was okay. When I messaged them back, assuring them that I was fine but confused, they explained that West Chester was on the news yet again because of numerous counts of sexual assault being reported.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in five women and one in 16 men will experience sexual assault while they are in college. This is a staggering, frightening statistic. It was certainly unnerving hearing of all the sexual misconduct crimes occurring on or near campus, as it drove that number closer to home.
But I knew it wasn’t as if we experienced sexual assault at a much higher rate in comparison to other colleges. The one in five statistic would follow us no matter which university we decided to attend. So, at the end of the day, I appreciated being kept in the know. The timely warnings helped me maintain my sense of awareness.
Fast forward to this semester, and I grew curiouser and curiouser as the weeks slipped by in eery silence. I knew, surely, that there had to have been at least one case of sexual assault (if not more) reported. Eventually, one of my classmates, who said they were involved with the University Judicial Board, offhandedly mentioned the several cases of dating violence that had taken place in the first week of school alone. I was floored by this knowledge, and I wondered aloud as to how all of this was happening without being made public to the rest of the student body. They seemed unaware of all the logistics but said that there was no need to create hysteria and paranoia among students.
While I understand the desire to prevent unnecessary fear, it is wrong to keep this information under wraps. As a women’s and gender studies major who is passionate about such issues, I often bring up the problem of sexual assault. Unfortunately, too many people try to shut me down by saying that it is not something that affects our campus. This argument seems supported when information on sexual misconduct crimes are not being actively shared, and thus this dangerous culture of ignorance continues to spread.
Student Sabina Sister was one of many unsatisfied with the university’s current policy, so she decided to take action. Originally intending to write a letter to the administration expressing her concerns, she received so much support that she created a Facebook group called “Changing university policy on sexual misconduct,” which has 215 members, on Monday, Nov. 2.
Bolstered by the overwhelming response, Sister hurriedly organized a meeting for students to get together and discuss their issues regarding the current policy. Word quickly spread, which led to a sea of students squeezing into the cramped space of Sykes 10A on Thursday, Nov. 5 at 9 p.m. to voice their worry and frustration.
Michael Bicking, Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety, and Lynn Klingensmith, Director of Social Equity, attended this meeting as well. While there, they discussed the various resources available to sexual assault survivors and to students who were interested in learning about the number of crimes that have occurred. Of course it’s wonderful that we have many different services, but the trouble is that too many students don’t know about them in the first place.
Our main focus at the meeting framed itself as more of a question: Why has so much sexual misconduct taken place this semester without us knowing about it?
According to WCU’s sexual misconduct policy, “university administrators must issue timely warnings for incidents reported that pose a substantial threat of bodily harm or danger to members of the campus community.”
Sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence all fall under the umbrella of sexual misconduct.
Bicking repeatedly stressed that we have not received any timely warnings on sexual misconduct because the reported incidents were not “ongoing threats.” President Greg Weisenstein reiterated this at the latest President’s breakfast on Friday, Nov. 6.
At the Nov. 5 meeting, it was implied that sexual misconduct incidents involving couples did not constitute “ongoing threats.” Why is that? Why exactly is sexual misconduct not considered an “ongoing threat?” How much sexual violence has to happen before we begin taking it seriously?
Numerous first-year students at the meeting confessed that because they were not aware of the sexual misconduct that had occurred, they had felt lulled into a false sense of security and were shocked to learn of the sexual misconduct crimes that had actually been committed.
We made our point clear that even if these crimes do not constitute timely warning notifications, something must still be done to let the WCU community know they are happening. Bicking said information is available online, but the people who are seeking out the information are not the ones we have to be concerned about. These crimes must be made public to all students and faculty, and we proposed the solution of sending biweekly or even monthly emails to the community.
Since the meeting, some progress has been made. In the past, there was nothing on the Department of Public Safety website that mentioned sexual misconduct. Now, under the DPS announcements, they have a link to WCU Sexual Misconduct Responses.
Sister is optimistic that the meeting left an impression on Bicking and Klingensmith.
“For the most part, they heard what we had to say, and they realized the large amount of people that showed up wasn’t going to go quietly,” said Sister. “Towards the end of the meeting, I think they really opened their eyes to see the unrest and the anger building amongst the students.”
Sister has organized a committee dedicated to pursuing this cause, and she hopes to host meetings in the near future to foster more discussion. Hopefully, as we continue to make our voices heard, the university will do right by us as students and start to keep us informed.
Casey Tobias is a second-year student majoring in women’s and gender studies. She can be reached at CT822683@wcupa.edu. Her Twitter handle is @Casey__Tobias.