This sentiment was expressed by Director of the Women’s Center Amada Sandoval in a recent ‘Prince’ article, in which she expressed that “anything about Princeton goes international, practically, and no other universities do that, so does Princeton want to be the one to say that this many of our students are sexually assaulted?” She added that “there was no ‘real benefit’ to releasing it because ‘a story that Princeton’s rates of students who have been assaulted is on line with national averages is really not a story.’ ”
I would argue that Princeton should be the university to own up to its statistics about sexual assault. It is true that we are very much in the public eye and about as vulnerable to scrutiny as any university can be. But I feel this is all the more reason Princeton should have made the results of the 2008 Sexual Experiences Survey public.
We can agree that the idea that “nothing ever happens at Princeton” is just as silly and absurdist as any other Triangle song. However, it is also severely harmful. By relegating sexual assault to what we consider the fringes of society — dark alleys, abandoned warehouses and basically any location featured in the opening credits of “Batman Beyond” — we delegitimize those cases that are not as cinematic or obvious.
Had Princeton released these statistics back in 2008, the University could have made an important demonstration in the fight against sexual assault: Hiding behind FitzRandolph Gate does not shield a person from the potential of being a victim of a violent crime, nor should it shield a person from the consequences of perpetrating these actions. Sex crimes are not absent from places like Ivy League campuses. Safety is, unfortunately, not a guarantee that comes with your SAT score. Ivy League campuses, just like any other, must take active steps to prevent these crimes from happening.
If the Amherst rape scandal back in October of this year and the recent controversy at UNC over an assault survivor publicly addressing her experience have taught us anything, it is that a university’s efforts to cover up cases of sexual assault cause even more damage than the crime itself, both to the university and the crime’s survivors. As a university in such a public position, Princeton had the opportunity to own up to its statistics and, contrary to what Sandoval told the ‘Prince,’ make a story out of this.
Because there is a story here. It’s the story that when an Ivy League school’s numbers are in line with the national average, the issue of sexual assault is truly a national — and international — issue. Even if the iconography completely excludes male victims and the statistics are a bit hazy in terms of whether or not Princeton students were the actual perpetrators of the sexual assaults, they still demonstrate the fact that rape is not simply a matter of class or education and that sexual assault is a problem in both the real world and the Orange Bubble. Princeton could have taken this as an opportunity to say, “We recognize that sexual assault is a problem of national importance, especially on college campuses. We recognize that Princeton is not immune to this issue. So, as a university in the public eye with the potential to influence the behavior of other universities and greater national movements, we are going to set a precedent by taking steps to alleviate this problem by raising awareness of this issue, owning up to our shortcomings and taking a firmer, more public stance on cases of sexual assault on campus.” I hope that Princeton takes this incident as an opportunity to move in that direction. I am not comforted by the idea that one, instead of two, members of my Tuesday afternoon seminar have been sexually assaulted, but I would be comforted by a legitimate, substantiated promise of change.
As a university in the nation’s service and in the international conscience, Princeton should be the university to say that its students are sexually assaulted and set the precedent for improving. Perhaps, at the risk of losing some face, Princeton could save some skins.
Lauren Prastien is an anthropology major from Fair Lawn, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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