I've remained relatively silent online about the Brock Turner case. I've felt speechless about this subject. What more could I add to this dialogue that hasn't already been said by other writers and courageous survivors?
A few weeks have passed since the story broke. I was in Washington D.C. attending a summit with fellow incoming and outgoing university Student Body Presidents when Buzzfeed published the heartbreaking article. Disgust. Anger. Sadness. Frustration. These were the emotions so many of us experienced in reaction to the letter by the Stanford survivor that we read over, and over again until the words "You don't know me, but you've been inside me, and that's why we're here today" played in our heads like a broken record.
I am not a survivor of sexual assault. But, I know one too many people who are. I am saddened to admit my advocacy work on the issue is, quite frankly, sub par. In my time at USC, we launched a campaign in parallel to the White House's It's On Us movement. We called it "Trojans Respect Consent." We had thousands of likes on our Facebook page, I gave press interviews, and wrote passionate statuses. But, did my work have any real impact besides a flashy photo campaign or social media presence? No. Not at all. It wasn't until I met with survivors and activists that I understood how intricate this issue is and how much learning I had to do.
They taught me awareness is only step one -- we aren't going to solve this unless we change policy.
Sexual assault on college campuses is poison. And while college administrators may not necessarily hold the horrid vial, they do have the antidote. Their failure to prescribe the solution, however, makes college administrators thoroughly complicit in rape. From protecting rapists with pitiful punishments such as expulsion after graduation (yes, this actually happened at James Madison University) to failing to support survivors with proper resources, college campuses have a rape problem. But, we know all of this (or at least, I hope we do). If we want to end sexual assault, we must recognize we cannot stop at liking, clicking, and sharing. Awareness is just a start. We must support and believe survivors.
We must do more than what we are currently doing. We have to hit these institutions where it hurts: M-o-n-e-y.
In a previous piece for The Huffington Post, I argued how American universities have turned into billion dollar businesses that are more concerned about their public relations image than about the welfare of their students. I want to delve a little deeper into this concept. Universities are laser-focused on their PR because perception impacts donations, which in turn impact rankings, which in-turn keep administrative salaries high and of course...keeps their doors stay open. Never underestimate the power of a Crisis Communications team or General Counsel in higher education, whose sole job can become making sure people forget about a sexual assault or discrimination case in order to revive a favorable public image.
At the University of Missouri, grad student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike and was joined by hundreds of student activists demanding Mizzou address racism and discrimination on their campus. I fully applaud the efforts of these activists. But, the tipping point and the final blow to System President Tim Wolfe came in the form of cold, hard cash. When Mizzou's football team refused to play any games until Wolfe resigned from his position, their act of protest put millions of dollars on the line. And that's when Wolfe stepped down: When Mizzou's source of revenue was at stake -- not when his students' lives were.
The sad lesson here is that higher education is driven by money. While I want to believe our leaders are driven by the profoundly necessary human quality that is empathy, real-life experiences prove otherwise. Many of our leaders are driven by the prospect of loaded coffers. Look no further than Congress for proof. The NRA fills the pockets of our politicians for inaction on gun violence prevention.
So if it is greed that drives university leaders to smother rape cases and if we want to embolden efforts to end sexual assault, we need to hit them where it hurts: The advancement office.
In August 2009, a Huffington Post article by Tyler Kingkade read: "Dartmouth Posts Fundraising Record Amid U.S. Sexual Assault Probe." Despite a 14 percent drop in student applications following the sexual assault fallout, Dartmouth alumni "made $287.2 million in philanthropic commitments for fiscal 2014."
Now imagine this: High profile donors refuse to send even a single dime to universities until a significant change is made to sexual assault policy on college campuses. Those policy changes come in various forms -- increased funding for Title IX offices so more cases can be effectively heard, increased support for survivors of assault so their trauma can be treated, education and training on topics such as toxic masculinity so the root problem can finally be addressed. These are policies that survivors and activists have fought for years.
Alumni and donors have a say in the type of environments they want to support. Taking a stand against sexual assault through a financial protest can be a potent way to urge change.
I'm not touting my proposal as the end-all solution to rape on college campuses. This issue is complex and we all have more learning to do. This is, at the end of the day, one observation that I believe could lead to tangible change.
If our leaders lack the empathy to listen and act accordingly after a young woman pleads to a courtroom for justice after her brutal rape, it's time we take charge in new ways. Money makes the world go 'round and it certainly makes universities go 'round. It's time we used our dollars to put a stop to something significant: sexual assault.