Last week, the University released the results of the WeSpeak survey. In the survey, 34 percent of undergraduate women reported being victims of sexual misconduct broadly defined, while 27 percent of undergraduate women reported unwanted sexual contact or assault. To address the unacceptable pervasiveness of this disturbing problem, we must both double down on our commitment to swift and proportionate punishment for offenders and look for new ways to combat misconduct. In light of the survey results, the Editorial Board recommends implementing mandatory bystander intervention training for leaders of student organizations. Additionally, the Board calls upon all Princeton students to take action on an individual basis to discuss and address these problems.
The Board has previously endorsed efforts to expand bystander intervention; we now suggest implementing mandatory bystander intervention training for all leaders of official student organizations, as well as captains of sports teams. The University should ensure that student leaders who host social gatherings and are respected by their peers be empowered to intervene in potentially dangerous situations. We also recommend involvement by athletic coaches, residential college advisers, and anybody in a position of authority to address the problem from as many angles as possible.
Crucially, this training must be a serious improvement from the status quo. Students currently lack the necessary resources to be effective at bystander intervention in the wide variety of potentially dangerous situations one might run into at a pregame, on the Street or walking around dorms. Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education provides guidance with the “Three Ds” of Direct, Delegate and Distract. Yet often there is a very narrow window for intervention in cases of potential sexual assault, and the threat of misreading the situation is often too difficult for bystanders to overcome. Having a more specific protocol or a social script would greatly help facilitate bystander intervention in situations of potential sexual misconduct. Public Safety could bolster these efforts by implementing a hotline for assistance during such situations.
Additionally, students must take the lead in fighting these problems. Discussion in public or private settings is a great place to start. The next public forum to discuss the survey results will be at the upcoming Council of the Princeton University Community meeting on Oct. 12 at 4:30 p.m. at 101 Friend Center. Judging from a similar event held last week, student turnout has a long way to go: only a handful of students attended the WeSpeak forum on Wednesday night. Privately, students should discuss what constitutes enthusiastic consent and effective bystander intervention with their peers. Such discussions serve to educate students, demonstrate support for victims and signal to predators that their behavior is not tolerated.
It is important to note that many students are already making commendable efforts to address these issues on campus. The Board applauds students who have made an impact on campus by involving themselves in SHARE programming, the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Assault and other venues for effective action. The Board also supports students who have specifically taken action to create alternative social events without alcohol. While students should feel safe from sexual threats no matter how much they’ve had to drink, the WeSpeak Survey’s finding that alcohol was involved in the vast majority of incidents is alarming. Increasing the number of alcohol-free social venues and separating sex from alcohol can play an important role in making some members of the community feel safer.
British author G. K. Chesterton once said “the true soldier fights not just because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Students should certainly hate the problem of sexual assault, but should fight the battle against it primarily because of a love for and duty to our classmates, whom we should always seek to protect. By taking these measures, the Board believes we take a step forward in fighting this serious epidemic.
The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.