If last year was an indication of the high alert felt by HBCU students to defend their campuses against sexual assault, then it is up to HBCU leaders to start having bold, public conversations about policies and expectations right now.
Before classes are in full swing, before home football games kick-off and the beat drops at the first on-campus parties. Before students begin dating each other and people from surrounding communities. Before resident assistants, resident directors, police officers and student affairs vice presidents are tied up in unfortunate circumstances of who knew what and when.
Do it NOW
Start talking about rape and sexual assault right now. Start mandating student meetings and town halls on domestic violence, bullying, and reporting obligations now. Start reviewing the code of student conduct and federal guidelines on sexual assault reporting and response now.
Too many men and women on HBCU campuses are living in the painful space of last resort when it comes to dealing with these issues. Tragic circumstances which should befall no one’s son or daughter, regardless of the gender with which they were born, should not be viral posts on social media. Their pain should not be a catalyst for campus community members uniting for the universal rights of safety and decency.
That students are willing to out themselves, their sexuality and their suffering as a means for the most basic administrative response to campus crime should be an alarm for every HBCU president, student affairs vice president, police chief and counseling center director.
And because the last few years have made the practice global in news coverage and social media reaction, the projection is that more students living with these horrifically permanent memories are willing to sacrifice their privacy in the name of justice and protection of themselves and others.
From the top
Those principles – community caring and justice – should be coming directly from HBCU administrators. It is clear that the student handbook, posters around campus, Denim Day and student organizational fairs are not enough. It is time for campus communities to hear directly from presidents and chancellors in the public square about the cultural and legal ramifications of these actions.
Rape and sexual assault have never been and never will be okay. Being drunk or high is not consent. Schools cannot simply and automatically throw out students accused of rape, and sometimes even prosecuted of the same. Reporting and preventing sexual assault is everyone’s duty, not just those unfortunate enough to be involved in an incident, but those who suspect an incident may take, is taking, or has taken place.
No more silence
Sexual assault is not a “keep it in the family” issue. Faculty, staff and students deserve training on how to properly handle a claim, connect to resources, and the requirements of privacy and confidentiality.
These are the things are presidents and chancellors must make clear, from as visible a pulpit as can be built or amplified on campus. Because if our leaders don’t take the step of making student safety a big enough priority deserving of campus-wide attention, students know how to take a much bigger step in front of a much bigger audience.