Those words were published on October 22, 1993.
As her article went on to note, the subject of sexual assault was “virtually part of the curriculum at U.S. colleges.” At Princeton, orientation included a student-performed play about date rape. The institution had just “adopted a sexual assault policy establishing disciplinary proceedings and services for victims.” Counselors were available 24 hours a day. And then the 25-year-old Princeton graduate student Katie Roiphe had recently published The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism.
Roiphe argued that an alleged “rape crisis” on American campuses was exaggerated and that feminists were producing “endless images of women as victims,” a “portrait of the delicate female” that resembled “that ’50s ideal my mother and other women of her generation fought so hard to leave behind.” Controversy surrounding her thesis ensured that Princeton was a national lightning rod in that era’s mainstream debate about sexual assault on campus.
Analysis of that era’s protests, debates, and administrative interventions might inform a question that ought to loom large in the controversies of spring 2019: Does hiring new administrators really help reduce sexual assault on campus? But memories are short at institutions that students pass through in four years.
Today’s Princeton students frame their protest as a response to a five-year-old controversy about Title IX, a law that prohibits colleges that receive federal funds from excluding, discriminating against, or denying benefits on the basis of sex. “In 2014, the Department of Education found that Princeton was not in compliance with this federal law,” the activists note. At the time, Barack Obama’s administration had adopted a new interpretation of the statute, pressuring many institutions to change how they handled claims of sexual misconduct.
“Five years later, Princeton’s Title IX system remains broken,” the manifesto asserts.
To underscore Princeton’s problems as they see them, they activists have compiled “34 stories of survivors” at the college who have been affected by what they call “the negligence of Princeton’s Title IX processes.” The system is “plagued by a lack of transparency regarding the Title IX process,” they write. Administrators “have not communicated effectively or compassionately with survivors … Outdated precedents jeopardize the fairness of the adjudication process … And Title IX panels have not adequately collected and aggregated evidence.” They seem to believe that efforts on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and against the crime itself are best focused on improving that bureaucratic system.
The first three of the student activists’ 11 reform ideas are promising:
Transparency and consistency in Title IX processes.
An external review of the implementation of Title IX at Princeton, along with a parallel and incorporated committee for student oversight.
The establishment of an opt-in restorative justice track for survivors who wish to avoid the process of Title IX proceedings.
Those on the other side of the issue, who insist that Obama-era Title IX guidelines deprive accused students of due process, agree that the system is plagued by lack of transparency, ineffective communication, outdated precedents, and failures to adequately collect and handle evidence. When the student activists say, “We need a document that educates all Princeton community members on Title IX and how it is implemented at Princeton at every step,” they’re urging a reform everyone could accept.