As places of development and forward thinking, college students have a unique opportunity to make mistakes, to learn, and to do it together. With that opportunity, however, comes the responsibility to use that strength and progress to change for the better.
Lately I have found myself discouraged by so many campuses not living up to their responsibilities. At Occidental College, students and faculty had to file a federal complaint because punishment for sexual harassment and wrongdoing had been so light -- a student found responsible for rape was given a five-page book report. Dartmouth students who protested against their treatment and safety on campus received additional threats of rape after voicing complaints. Despite multiple Greek organizations being exposed for racial stereotype-themed parties and hazing, incidents like the California State University San Marcos sorority Latina gang-themed party and the now-infamous Delta Gamma sorority email continue to occur.
Groups that are supposed to enhance the college experience are instead making many students feel uncomfortable and unsafe. The colleges themselves are not reacting in a timely fashion to these growing dangers and often leave groups on campus unaccountable for their actions. There could be many reasons for this negligence among administrators; saving their reputations, saving money, or fear of losing alumni donors could all be motives. As seen in the Jerry Sandusky case, this type of campus culture can be extremely dangerous if left alone.
From the constant exposure these events get, students should now be well versed in how others deal with these offenses so that they feel comfortable speaking out. Unfortunately, too often students leave their incidents unvoiced, whether out of embarrassment or fear of losing social standing. This only leads to pain and suffering for victims and campuses alike. Here are steps you can take to solve issues on campus when you feel harassed or discriminated against.
1. Talk to Your Peers
If an incident occurs that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell a friend. The best way to understand and feel better about any negative event is to talk it out with a peer that won't judge you. Being able to talk through it first will also keep you from letting your emotions get the best of you when it comes time to act. Next time you are ready to discuss it or try to solve the problem, you can do so rationally and with a clear head.
2. Organize a Support Group
Have others experienced the same type of hazing or discrimination on campus? Spread the word! You don't need to explain every detail of your situation, and you can even remain anonymous by using social media. Create a Facebook group and begin an anonymous support group to share your experiences. Others who have been through similar events will understand your feelings. Knowing others on campus have been through hazing, discrimination, or harassment will also give you strength in numbers when it comes to solving your group's issue within your college community. It will be a visual reminder that events like these are not as rare as some might think.
3. Partner with Other Student Organizations
Chances are there are other groups and student organizations on campus that will be happy to take up your cause, too. Despite your negative experiences, the students or community members who offended you are not the majority and many would not be pleased to hear of any harassment on campus. Partnering with other student organizations will send a strong message to campus administrators. Groups already established on campus can help spread your concerns, too.
4. Hold a Discussion with Administrators
Before acting out at a public event on campus (though some have proven effective, they can be dangerous) make an appointment to see a top administrator at your school. Bring representatives from any student groups you have contacted as well as others who have been offended. Come prepared with ideas on how to solve this issue on campus. Maybe lectures, classes or seminars could be held on racism, or rape culture. Maybe the penal code could be restructured or amended. Coming into a meeting with a plan in mind can only help administrators take you seriously.
5. Be Heard
Some college administrations do not respond well to students proposing change or bringing attention to problems. Though this is not right, it is often true. When this happens, you might need to take alternate action. Posting informative fliers around campus and speaking to your professors instead of administrators is a great place to start. If you are having trouble getting anyone on campus to listen, bring the problem to the attention of local groups that support your cause. The American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org) has state representatives that are happy to provide help and information for various causes, including discrimination and women's rights. If hazing is a problem, contact the national headquarters of your Greek chapter and ask to remain anonymous.
No matter what, do not feel like your voice does not matter. It does, and as college students it is important to keep our rights and our safety intact on campus. Keep speaking out, and you will eventually be heard!