Campus sexual assault survey highlights need to serve marginalized populations

| Senior Editor

Attendees expressed concerns about how Washington University planned to address the high rate of sexual assault reported by transgender, genderqueer or nonconforming and questioning (TGQN) students at a forum to discuss recent campus sexual assault survey data.

Provost Holden Thorp and Vice Chancellor for Students Lori White address the audience at a forum discussing the 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.  During the forum, University officials reviewed results of the survey and engaged in discussion with students and other audience members.Jessie Colston | Student Life

Provost Holden Thorp and Vice Chancellor for Students Lori White address the audience at a forum discussing the 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. During the forum, University officials reviewed results of the survey and engaged in discussion with students and other audience members.

At Washington University, 47.8 percent of the survey’s 26 TGQN undergraduate respondents said they had experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation while at the University. That number rises to 53.3 percent when acts involving coercion or the absence of affirmative consent are included.

Senior Cameron Kinker voiced concern about the relative lack of resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus, noting that the University has only one full-time employee—Christine Dolan, coordinator of LGBT student involvement and leadership—devoted to working with LGBT students.

“Not having many visible queer people who are working on these issues is disheartening,” Kinker said, adding that the University is behind a number of its peer institutions, which have dedicated LGBT centers.

Emory University founded its Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life in 1991, and the University of Chicago opened its Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Student Life in 2008.

Beyond the high rates of nonconsensual sexual contact, TGQN students across the country also reported feeling less trust in administrative processes than cisgender students. Overall, fewer TGQN students believe that university officials would take a report of sexual assault or misconduct seriously or conduct a fair investigation.

Because of the relatively small sample of TGQN respondents, the survey could not make many comparisons across gender groups at Washington University specifically, but nearly 50 percent of Washington University TGQN undergraduates indicated they felt that sexual assault is very or extremely problematic.

“The students who are most vulnerable are…the least trusting of the system, and I want to know what the University is going to do to increase that trust in the system,” junior Sarah Trigg said.

“If the system isn’t working the hardest and the best it can for the students who are most at risk, then it’s not being as effective as it needs to be,” she added.

Having to report sexual assault to professionals who don’t reflect their identities is an additional barrier to reporting for TGQN students, Kinker said.

“There’s the question of, will this person understand what I’m going through, will this person understand me and will this person be able to help me given the fact that I identify in this way?” Kinker said. “They don’t know that that professional has the knowledge base to really understand and empathize with a transgender student, for example.”

Dolan said that although students “trust Kim Webb infinitely,” an issue with the current reporting structure is that Webb, the director of the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, is one of the few confidential resources—or University employees who aren’t required by law to report any sexual misconduct—on campus.

“It’s not about how friendly Kim [Webb] is; it’s about how many identities Kim [Webb] can hold,” Dolan said. “If you don’t see yourself reflected in the resources, how do you know that people are going to believe you about your identity? ‘I identify as trans and I’m a survivor’—there’s multiple levels of feeling like you will be believed or not be believed.”

Vice Chancellor for Students Lori White agreed with this notion, speaking from her own position as a minority on campus.

“I’m an African-American woman, so if I were sexually assaulted and wanted to talk to somebody about that, I would feel much more comfortable, probably, talking to an African-American woman about how I feel,” White said.

At the end of the hour-long discussion, Trigg voiced her displeasure with the event’s length, saying that after the chancellor and provost presented their opening remarks, the time allotted for questions and answers wasn’t enough.

The University needs to continue speaking to students about this issue, Trigg said, “and not just getting data, but getting stories and real understanding of why our queer students, why our marginalized populations aren’t feeling safe on campus and aren’t feeling trust in the University to report.”

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