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Will College Rankings Soon Include Sexual Assault Stats?

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Posted on Apr 29, 2014

Valeri Pizhanski (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A dozen members of Congress decided students applying to college should know what the risks of rape and other forms of sexual assault are on individual campuses, so they wrote a letter to U.S. News & World Report “asking the publisher to include sexual-assault and prevention data in its venerated annual college rankings.” Although the move was gutsy, The Atlantic poses an important question in a piece about this recent effort: How effective will this tactic be in combating the “rape crisis” plaguing higher education institutions the nation over?

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and some of her colleagues in the House of Representatives seem to think it will be, and they’re willing to do more than just send snail mail; they’re ready to pass legislation that will include a slew of new ways to protect and assist students who are victims of assault. Inspired by the callous remark by the Pentagon that military sexual assault numbers are at least “better than college campuses,” Speier decided to confront the issue that she believes is “not being taken seriously enough” in “both settings.” She holds that “when it starts to affect your rankings on the U.S. News & World Report ‘bible,’ as it’s received by both universities and parents evaluating colleges with their kids, then we’ll see things change.”

Although there are plenty of other things that can also be done, such as ensuring that rape kits are available at campus clinics (seriously, UC Berkeley?), Speier and her fellow House members have hit upon a good idea to raise awareness about this issue.

The Atlantic:

Six percent of men are sexually assaulted in college, and more than 70 percent of LGBT students are sexually harassed during their college years, Speier said. In a recent op-ed, Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., who joined Speier in signing the letter [to U.S. News & World Report] , also noted that an average-sized university with 10,000 students can expect “as many as 350 rapes per year.”

The U.S. News push is just one prong of a larger congressional effort to reduce sexual assaults on college campuses. Speier is planning to unveil legislation in the next two weeks to combat the issue.

That bill will require universities to conduct annual “climate surveys,” asking their students anonymously about sexual assault and related issues, the results of which will later be made public. “You know, oftentimes survivors don’t file claims and don’t report for a number of reasons that in a survey, they are more likely to choose to speak to reflect their experience,” Speier said, noting that the Defense Department has seen great results from similar surveys within the military.

The legislation will also require the Government Accountability Office to assess sexual-assault training for students and administrators, and would make schools post victims’ rights under Title IX—rights that are typically buried on college websites, Speier says. The bill will also attempt to put better resources for victims in place on campus.

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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