Years ago, a friend of mine shared with me a very personal story. She had been attending a religiously affiliated college and had been sexually assaulted by an athlete. My heart broke for her. But what happened next left me in disbelief and just made me angry. She reported the assault to college officials, only to be told that she needed to appear before a panel (of all men) and recount the details.
The end result: They determined she was at fault. She was forced to leave school and the ramifications of that assault didn't stop there. The assault altered not only her academic career, but deeply impacted her relationships with friends, family and even her faith. To this day I wonder how different her life's path may have been were it not for that compounded injustice.
Over time, I have tried to process and push these feelings to the back of my mind, but lately the news of the day keeps moving it to the forefront.
The latest trigger was the release of a survey of 300 colleges and universities by Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. She found that more than 20 percent of schools allow their athletic departments to oversee cases of sexual assault if they involve student athletes.
The survey also revealed that more than 40 percent of the institutions have not investigated one case of sexual violence in the past five years.
Not one?! This is especially surprising when you understand that federal officials estimate that up to 20 percent of college students will be sexually assaulted while in college.
What I have realized is that my friend's experience wasn't unique. Too many young women are victims of sexual assault at the very places they go to pursue higher learning. As a woman, mother and president of an honors organization that is almost 70 percent female, it's a concern that continues to strike especially close to home.
While the statistics of violence against women on campus are staggering, I think it is also important to note that not all victims of sexual assault on campuses are women. According to one report, it's estimated that 5 to 10 percent of sexual assaults involve male victims. The real numbers are probably higher given that sometimes men may be less likely to come forward in reporting assaults.
At the end of the day, this is just a problem, period, which is why earlier this year I suggested members of honor societies, especially ones that admit students in their freshmen and sophomore years like NSCS, are in a unique position to help make a difference in our campus cultures.
These high achievers who are committed to academic excellence, community service and leadership are the dreamers who imagine what they want society to look like and will put in the time to create it.
Let me more urgently suggest they step up to the plate -- now. There is talk out of Washington, D.C., that a bipartisan group of senators is working on a bill to address these issues and they will present it in September. Great! But we already have laws on the books against rape.
We need the student leaders on our campuses to step up, too. Historically, student activists have led the way in efforts such as ending the war in Vietnam and apartheid in South Africa.
The current generation needs to look closer to home, to the dorm rooms and Greek houses where thousands of young people will be taking their tentative first steps into the "real world" this fall when school begins.
If students see an assault, they should immediately report it. Given what I know, I highly suggest they contact the local police instead of just campus authorities.
I also think students should do more to prevent underage drinking and especially severe intoxication. They don't have to "nark" but is it too much to ask that they tell an impressionable freshman, "Hey, I think you have had enough. Why don't you have some water and take it easy?" I bet you anything most would appreciate having an older classmate look out for them.
None of what I am suggesting or recommending is difficult. It's common sense. We have an opportunity for student leaders to help end an epidemic; we just have to agree that enough is enough.