Sexual Assault on Campus: Who is Resposible?

In the recent media coverage of sexual assault at universities (The Today Show, May 19,  60 Minutes, April 17 and Care2), college administrations from Wake Forest to Yale to Indiana have been accused of quieting the claims of undergraduate assault victims in an attempt to save the face of their institutions.

Last fall, I began my freshman year at Princeton naively believing that the administration would never allow sexual assault to happen there — at least not without great promulgation and punishment. But I soon realized that Princeton’s eating clubs — the ten mansions that house the bulk of the university’s nightlife and, by extension, the bulk of the likely spaces of assault — are completely detached from the university itself. Although almost 80 percent of Princeton upperclassmen belong to an eating club, the university is not held directly responsible for what goes on there.

Luckily, all of Princeton’s eating clubs now admit both genders, making them infinitely safer spaces for women. However, it is significant that this crucial move towards a safer nightlife for Princeton women came from an undergraduate student, rather than a university official.

Harvard?  Not so much

But at Harvard University, women have yet to be fully inducted into final clubs (Harvard’s equivalent for eating clubs), allowing many of Harvard’s parties to be enjoyed exclusively on male terms. Comprising a social scene that millions glimpsed through the movie, “The Social Network,” final clubs are historic houses that constitute a unique part of Harvard nightlife. While some all-female finals clubs have sprung up in recent years, the most prestigious, popular, and historical clubs remain all male.

“Final clubs are pretty accessible if you’re a pretty girl who knows how to dress herself provocatively,” said a female Harvard freshman who wishes to remain anonymous. “If you’re a boy, you can’t get in unless you have membership or are on some list, which is tough to get on unless you really know someone there quite well.”

According to this Harvard freshman, final clubs only constitute the dominant social scene if “you’re not looking hard enough.” However, especially for freshman girls who don’t yet have a firm grasp on their university’s nightlife, the famous and glamorously depicted “final clubs” can hold an allure that is hard to resist. In an all-male environment to which girls are only admitted if they are appropriately dressed, Harvard final clubs seem to endorse an environment conducive to sexual assault.

Universities back away

So what role does the university play in the regulation of this social scene? At both Princeton and Harvard, the university administrations severed ties with their respective social clubs. While the key difference between Princeton’s eating clubs and Harvard’s final clubs lies in the fact that all of Princeton’s clubs admit women, the Princeton administration itself had little to do with this difference — a difference which, I have noted, changes things considerably.

The force responsible for the admission of women into the last three all male Princeton eating clubs (Ivy Club, Cottage Club and, finally, Tiger Inn) was the undergraduate student, Sally Frank. In 1978, Frank filed a legal complaint against Cottage, Ivy and Tiger Inn, which led them to finally admit women in 1986, 1990 and 1992, respectively.

A promise broken

On the May 19 airing of The Today Show, Maggie, an undergraduate victim of sexual assault at Wake Forest University, said, “[The school officials] broke the promise that they made to me — that they would keep me safe.” When it was an undergraduate student — not a school official — who finally succeeded in forcing all ten Princeton eating clubs to admit women, we have to wonder whether university administrations are really doing all they can to promote a safe social environment for women. Today, Harvard needs its own Sally Frank or, perhaps, something even stronger: an administration that espouses her convictions.

Representing an Ivy League “elite” — and thus setting examples for colleges and universities across the U.S., the administrations of both Princeton and Harvard need to do more than sever themselves from the situation. It is not enough to claim that the social scenes have nothing to do with the institutions. The fact is that a school and its social life are intimately connected. At all institutions of higher education, protecting the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of their women should be more important than saving face.

Related stories:

Study at George Washington Universtiy Examines Rape on Campus

Should Colleges Ban Fraternities?

Police Officer Advises Women to Avoid Sexual Assault By Not “Dressing Like a Slut”


Photo credit: Lauren Schwartz


Janine H.
Janine H6 years ago

This is so terrible. Always when i hear about terrible things it makes med sad, and i cannot understand how someone could do something terrible - hurt, rape or kill a person or animal. When i was a child this also happened to me... and surviving this is more terrible than not (parents and other may think different, but a victim?), living with all this pain... living with guilty feelings... full with hate for the own self
No one can understand, because most people cannot imagine this, cannot imagine how much it change. Some of them think, that this would not be so terrible, because all would make some sexual experiences, and so it would not matter if there were some without own interest or wish. This cruel and superficial society makes me sick.

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

Carter S.
Carter Staub6 years ago

University of Richmond has the same issues-- the University is aware that women are being taken advantage of, and yet it seems like nothing is being done. Thankfully, we have conventions and meetings like "Take Back the Night"-- but what do those accomplish? The people attending those things are the people looking for change, who are looking for some place to find help or seek a brighter future for women around them.

And still, the University of Richmond offers a "mens only" business club living and learning program. What is that about? And also- how will that better the respect and appreciation of women, if we are not looked upon as equals by the University?

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Until we banish the Good Ole Boy's club (GOB) sex assaults will remain a problem for society. If universities want to have a higher learning facility, they NEED to be proactive in ensuring that they're NOT catering to the "boys will be boys" attitude. That just excuses the date rape, sex assaults, drunken raids, etc.

It shouldn't be up to the girls to have to be careful. It's up to the rapists to own up to their irresponsible actions. So should the store have to be careful for thieves? Do we make excuses for them? How about murderers? No? Thieves and murderers don't get excuses, and we don't blame the victims? So why blame the rape victim?

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

Each person is responsible for their actions, and the campus has an obligation to ensure safety and higher educatin.

Kaitlin Carney
Kaitlin Carney6 years ago

And people in the US wonder why the government is such a "good ol' boys club", obviously because the schools that educate lawmakers are teaching them this behavior is acceptable. I'm sorry to say that the administrations at these universities will probably do nothing about sexual harassment or inequalities on campus, because these administrators were the same type of boys who act this way in the first place. All of these wealthy, white, heterosexual males want is to keep their status quo so that they can keep their privileges.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

Whilst the universities are responsible to take any allegation of sexual assualt seriously and support the victims.The perpertrators of these crimes need to know they will be punished and expelled not have they crime covered up or ignored.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Lindsey Williams
Lindsey W6 years ago


Pradip Chavda
Pradip Chavda6 years ago

I have been reading about Assault on Women on this site what makes me wonder is why is this happening in forward country like USA?? Why is so much SEX in the mind of the teenagers?? What is in their mind when they are assaulting a female?? I think psychologists should make an effort and read their minds and the states/universities to take appropriate steps to prevent this. I can understand it happening in south asian countries where security is lax and law is very far away. But in USA things should be different.

Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi6 years ago

college administration should be held responsible ,thanks for the article