WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 10, 2015
Earlier this week, as millions of students stepped foot on a college or university campus, members of Congress returned from their districts to continue their work strengthening America’s higher education system. As we all know, that effort often requires difficult but necessary conversations about tough issues, which is why we are here today.
Every college student should be able to learn in an environment that is safe and free from fear and intimidation. Yet for some students, that is not the case. According to one study, approximately one in five women in college has been sexually assaulted. Several universities – including Rutgers, Michigan, and MIT – report similar findings, and a number of recent high-profile cases further highlight the scope and seriousness of this important issue.
As a former community college president, a mother, and grandmother, I know I’m not alone when I say that all of us have a responsibility to protect students from sexual assault on campus. As one university president exclaimed, “The issue of sexual assault keeps me awake at night … I feel personally responsible for the safety and well-being of all students.” Another said, “I see the issue of sexual violence and sexual assault on colleges and universities as a matter of national importance.”
Students, parents, educators, administrators, and policymakers across the country share this same sentiment, and have joined a national conversation about these heinous crimes and how we can better protect students.
At the college and university level, efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault are underway. For instance, some colleges and universities now require students to participate in seminars to help them understand what sexual assault is and how to prevent and report it. At the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, for example, these seminars reinforce a safe campus culture and explain university policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual violence.
Institutions are also improving how they support victims of sexual assault, providing resources and counseling services to help students recover from such a terrible event, complete their education, and continue on with their lives. Just as important, administrators are working to put in place a fair resolution process that respects the rights of the victim and the accused.
At the national level, the federal government has been working with colleges and universities to prevent and respond to sexual assault for decades. More recently, members of Congress have introduced legislative proposals intended to improve protections for college students. Additionally, the administration has established new policies institutions must follow.
Colleges and universities have rightly raised concerns about the administration’s one-size-fits-all regulatory approach. While well-intended, the administration has further complicated a maze of legal requirements, added to the confusion facing students, administrators, and faculty, and made it harder for institutions to guarantee student safety. As Dr. Rue will explain during her testimony, the patchwork of federal and state policies has impeded the efforts of administrators and educators to effectively prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses.
As Congress works to strengthen higher education, it must ensure tough, responsible policies are in place to fight these crimes and support the victims. I am pleased we have a panel of witnesses to represent all sides of this difficult yet important discussion. Your observations and recommendations are vital to our effort to help colleges and universities provide students the safe learning environment they deserve.