I read with great interest President Eisgruber’s recent statement on sexual misconduct concerns for the University. The statement's vague language and unsupported claims remind me of writer Rebecca Solnit's observation, "It is the truest, highest purpose of language to make things clear and help us see; when words are used to do the opposite you know you’re in trouble and maybe that there’s a cover-up."
Notably absent from President Eisgruber's statement is any mention of the rapists, many of whom are Princeton students. Solnit gives a name to omissions of this sort in her essay, “The Case of the Missing Perpetrator.” She writes, "Rape is a willful act, the actor is a rapist. And yet you’d think that young women [and men] on campuses ... were raping themselves, so absent have young men on campuses been from the ... narratives. Men [who are rapists] are abstracted into a sort of weather, an ambient natural force, an inevitability that cannot be governed or held accountable." Of course, students of all genders face interpersonal violence, and perpetrators can be students of all genders.
Given the language President Eisgruber uses to discuss sexual assault, it does not surprise me that 200 students recently protested Princeton's implementation of the Title IX process. In the Nov. 11, 2015 Princeton Alumni Weekly "President's Page: New Data about Campus Sexual Assaults," Eisgruber calls sexual assault a public health crisis, but fails to mention that, in 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice found Princeton in violation of Title IX. Likening rape to a public health crisis, without recognizing the individual agency of the perpetrators, reduces rape to a population-level behavior and normalizes sexual assault.
In the "President's Page," Eisgruber recommends "collecting data and using it to identify what works to prevent this violence." I strongly agree. I believe we should start by collecting data on the perpetrators. What are the demographics of accused perpetrators who were not charged or held accountable by the University? What are the demographics of convicted perpetrators? Do those demographics differ and, if so, how? I challenge the University to publish anonymized data that answers these questions for Title IX cases at Princeton beginning in 2006.
According to the student group Princeton IX Now, some survivors describe being as traumatized by Princeton's Title IX process as by their assaults. Reforming Princeton's Title IX process will take more than oversight and town hall meetings. If the University is another kind of perpetrator, students may choose to seek redress through class-action lawsuits, in the manner of the Dartmouth scientists who are seeking to hold that institution accountable for similar failures.
Instead, I would like to see an alumni-led project (on the order of Project 55) whose mission is to make Princeton the safest campus in the country. Harness the considerable resources of alumni in partnership with the University. Respond directly to student needs and meet them. Start by providing survivors at Princeton with world-class trauma recovery services. Use public policy and interdisciplinary research to inform efforts to stop these criminals on campus. Continue the work of data collection and technology innovation on the topic that began under Obama. Let this Princeton alumni-sponsored project be the urgent, appropriate response this emergency deserves.
President Eisgruber touts impressive first-generation, low-income student matriculation rates as his administration's achievement. Princeton leads the way in making the finest education in the world available to students of all economic backgrounds. Now the University should lead the way in making the finest education in the world safe for all of its students.
Elizabeth Cobb is an alumna of the Class of 1999. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.