Colleges forced to confront sexual assaults

At the end of April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an unidentified Mass.gov contractor tweeted, “Sexual assault is always avoidable.” After a torrent of criticism, Gov. Deval Patrick labeled the message a “dumb mistake” and Geoff Kula, the director of Mass.gov, quickly apologized.

 Yet the tweet reflects a common misperception: The blame for rape or sexual assault usually falls on the victim who should have been sober, dressed differently, or any of a number of other faults that people often ascribe to a woman who charges a man with a sexual attack.

Far from being bastions of progressive thought on the handling of these types of cases, the nation’s colleges and universities have responded in ways that are straight out of the Dark Ages. In its Sunday report on sexual assaults on college campuses The New York Times used the case of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University junior who had been raped by another student, to illustrate the ordeal that a woman can suffer when she decides to go public.

 

The man, who also had been accused of sexual assault by two other students, avoided any sanction. The case sparked campus protests and prompted a group of Columbia students to file a federal complaint.

The newspaper’s analysis of the Columbia case comes after a week of intense scrutiny on sexual assault on college campuses across the country. One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, according to a recently released, first ever White House task force report on campus attacks. The Obama administration called on schools to implement comprehensive sexual misconduct policies, including improved trauma training and more effective disciplinary procedures.

The US Department of Education has also taken the extraordinary step of publishing a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for Title IX gender discrimination, which covers rape and sexual assault in addition to harassment and equal access to athletics for women.

Six Massachusetts schools are on the federal list (the most of any state): Amherst College, Boston University, Emerson College, Harvard College, Harvard University Law School, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The schools could see their federal funding evaporate if federal officials find that they have violated gender discrimination laws.

In a case that promises to be closely watched by the schools facing possible sanctions, federal education officials recently found that Tufts University violated Title IX. The university initially agreed to make policy changes until they discovered the nature of the violation and instead decided to fight Washington.

The fallout at Harvard over sexual assault issues has been especially intense in recent weeks, and the federal attention promises to up the ante. Students rallied to fight the “rape culture” at the university after a young woman revealed how university officials failed to act after a male student living in the same dorm allegedly assaulted her.

The issue has taken its toll on Harvard faculty as well. Kimberly Theidon, an anthropology professor, claims that she was denied tenure because she spoke out against sexual violence on campus and supported women who came forward with allegations. She has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The spotlight on sexual assault comes at a delicate time for colleges as high school seniors make decisions about where they they’ll spend the next four years. “No school wanted to talk about this and scare away prospective students,” an Amherst College activist told the Times, “We’ve hit them where it hurts: their reputations.”

–GABRIELLE GURLEY  

BEACON HILL

Rep. John Keenan of Salem is trying to find common ground between opponents and proponents of an expanded bottle deposit law to avoid a ballot fight this fall, the Salem News reports.

Methuen and several other communities are hoping a House-passed bill that would help them comply with a minimum educating spending requirement makes it through the Senate. The legislation would enable Methuen to avoid a $1.6 million penalty, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Senate approves legislation to raze a landmark boathouse just off the Plum Island Turnpike in Newbury, the Salem News reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Globe‘s Spotlight teams rolls out, on Sunday and today, the first two parts of a three-part series on the overcrowding of Boston apartments with students, a widespread practice in which greedy landlords and desperate students collude to ignore city codes, sometimes with deadly consequences.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be something of a bully, but it hardly justifies the merciless  bullying of him that the incessant joking about his weight constitutes, says Ezra Klein.

Paul Krugman argues that the survey that showed one-third of new Obamacare enrollees missing their first premium payment was crudely rigged, since it included scores of people whose first payment was not yet due.

ELECTIONS

About 40 supporters of the Lucky 7 Arcade picket at an event in Gloucester where Attorney General Martha Coakley gave a gubernatorial campaign speech. Coakley shut down the arcade for allegedly engaging in illegal gaming, the Gloucester Times reports. The Herald devotes two stories to speculation about how Coakley’s handling of a potential casino repeal ballot question will impact her gubernatorial campaign.

Sen. Rand Paul woos Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby.

The Wall Street Journal finds Republicans poised to make a big push into state legislatures.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Developer David Daly is exploring the construction of a hotel on property he owns across from the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, the Sun reports.

Banker & Tradesman columnist Scott van Voorhis tackles the return of greater Boston’s housing affordability crunch, as wide swaths of the suburbs turn into millionaires-only zones.

EDUCATION

The number of minority students is rising steadily over the past few decades, but the number of minority teachers has not, Time reports.

Fall River school officials are expecting a $2.1 million budget shortfall at the end of the fiscal year even when health care savings are factored in.

HEALTH CARE/MEDICINE        

A protein found in the blood of young mice appears to reverse aging processes in the muscles and brains of older mice when they are infused with it, three different studies have found.

TRANSPORTATION

With the MBTA set to raise fares in July, South Shore officials are crying foul that commuters in the region pay the same fares and towns are levied the same assessments even though weekend commuter rail service has been cut.

RACE AND SPORTS

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson takes to Facebook to denounce the racist tweets targeting Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who scored the overtime game-winner against the Bruins on Thursday.

RELIGION

A new study from Boston College says the future of Catholicism in the US rests with drawing and retaining young Hispanics.

MEDIA

The Beat The Press panel discusses the age-old irritant for newspaper reporters when electronic media such as radio or television rips off their print stories in newscasts without attribution.

If newspapers and magazines think the going is tough now, wait until the next generation of readers, brought up on a digital diet, starts hitting its stride.

New York magazine asks whether Lara Logan is too toxic to return to 60 Minutes.

CIRCUS SCARE

Nine performers in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus were injured yesterday in Providence during an aerial hair-hanging stunt when a support platform collapsed, sending the women plummeting 40 feet to the ground.