The campus safety threat they don't tell you about

Colleges and Universities are required by law (the Clery Act) to disclose campus security policies and crime statistics. This information may provide parents with some measure of comfort when sending children off to college, but knowing the odds of your child becoming a crime statistic does not mean you should assume that your child is safe. Hazards still remain, and as I have argued in my comments about "helicopter parents," as a parent you need to help your child understand and cope with the risks. 

More than 25% of students drop out before completing their freshman year in college. Stress and depression are common reasons.

A young college student will be confronted by many stress factors. Many of these actually represent challenges to be faced.

But there are two stress factors that are matters of safety and not just something for a young adult to deal with on their own:  sexual harassment and bullying.

A study published in 2005 by the AAUW (American Association of University Women) found that almost two thirds (over 60%) of college students have been subjected to some form of unwanted behavior that the students themselves thought was a form of sexual harassment.

From that two thirds,  if you take out those who complained about jokes,  gestures and looks they found disturbing,  there are still 28% (almost a third) who have suffered some type of "serious" assault.

The study notes that some forms of assault are "relatively" uncommon. For example, "only" 11% reported having been cornered, blocked or followed in a sexual way, and "only" 6% had been been encouraged to do something sexual in exchange for a better grade or a recommendation.  But what the authors noted is that even when you are talking about "only" 6% or 11%, that means there is a huge number of actual cases and incidents.

Are students troubled and disturbed by these experiences? Yes. Except in the case of jokes and gestures, almost all of the students said that these experiences are upsetting.

Do they typically report these events to campus authorities or administrators?  No.   Only 7% will tell a campus employee.

Is this just a matter of students harassing other students? No.  The AAUW report concluded that while it is much more likely that students will suffer at the hands of other students, 7% report having been harassed by professors.

Again, 7% is not a big number in relative terms (according to the report), but it is huge for those who are the victims. And it is an exceedingly huge number if you even just think about it for a moment. If 7% of students say that they were sexually harassed by a professor, that's 70 out of 1000 or seven hundred students on a 10,000 student campus.

Students surveyed for the AAUW study said that they were particularly distressed when the perpetrator was a faculty member. Not only does it involve a betrayal of trust, but it also generates a range of fears relating to academic progress and success.

Obviously,  you don't want to scare and alarm your children,  and you don't want to add this to the list of things that keep you awake at night when your they go off to school.  But you want to discuss this with your children. 

It's not that difficult.  All they really need to know is what they should have learned in high school,  if they had been paying attention:
  • if it makes them uncomfortable,  they don't have to put up with it;
  • sexual harassment could come from another student,  or it could come from a professor;
  • if it happens,  they need to tell someone and talk about it. 

Copyright, Paul G. Mattiuzzi, Ph.D.