• Curbing Campus Sexual Assault is Not About the Money

    Aug 19, 2014Hannah Zhang

    The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

    The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

    On August 13, I stood with Senator Gillibrand, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and survivors, among others, at the Senator’s New York press conference on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). Currently co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators, eight Democratic and seven Republican, this bill represents a tough but common sense reform. It requires universities to designate Confidential Advisors as a resource for survivors, provide a minimum standard of training to personnel processing sexual assault cases, and conduct an annual survey of all students on sexual violence. For schools that do not comply with these requirements, this bill increases the initial financial penalty to up to one percent of their operating budgets and $150,000 (previously $35,000) for each subsequent violation.

    As a student attending a university that struggles to combat sexual assault, I hope that this bill will hold my school accountable in the future. As an advocate for progressive change, I was proud to stand with the Senator on this bill that focuses reforms on survivors. 

    While increasing financial penalties is a common sense solution, the seemingly common sense objection is that CASA provides no funding for colleges to implement surveys and hire personnel. This much is true, but is financial cost really an issue compared to the cost that sexual assault imposes upon young women?

    In introducing CASA, Senator Gillibrand repeats a powerful tagline—“The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted,” a statistic from the White House Report on campus sexual assault.

    This cost far outweighs a fine that constitutes one percent of a university’s massive total budget or funds set aside to hire staff. For instance, Stanford University’s operating budget of $4.8 billion is more than the national GDPs of Cape Verde and Bhutan combined. While public universities arguably have fewer resources than these private institutions, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher gave the bill her full support on behalf of the SUNY system.

    One critic argues that the fines and expenses of compliance would take money away from academic programs. Lawmakers, another critic writes, have stated that the costs would “compromise the education of a college’s entire student body.” These statements neglect the sad truth that campus sexual assault has already compromised the education of countless students. Stopping sexual assault helps campuses to focus on academics, rather than hindering them from doing so.

    Talking about money misses the point. The goal of CASA isn’t to fine universities. It’s to incentivize compliance. By investing in the resources now, universities create a safer educational environment for current and prospective students.

    Curbing sexual assault should be a priority for our universities for yet another reason. Sexual assault on campuses exists as part of a larger, global problem – violence against women, which remains a significant barrier to full gender equality.

    Charlotte Bunch, founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and speaker at the upcoming Women and Girls Rising Conference, said it best in 1997, “Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today.” Bunch pioneered the inclusion of gender violence in the larger fight for human rights. Her words remain true in today’s world, where almost a third of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence (or both) perpetrated by an intimate partner.

    The U.S. has taken action on this issue in the past, most recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. We tend not to associate the U.S. with developing countries where wife beating is condoned and women are raped as casualties of war. Yet the evidence that 20 percent of women who step foot on U.S. college campuses face sexual violence proves that our work is far from over. To stand as a global leader in gender equality, the U.S. must start by fixing problems at home.

    Hannah Zhang is the Campus Network's External Engagement Coordinator for the Northeast, and a member of the Columbia University chapter. 

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  • Suspensions are Keeping Students of Color from their Diplomas

    Aug 18, 2014Bassem El Remesh

    Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

    Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

    Despite being ranked as one of the best states to live in, Minnesota still suffers from racial inequality. Even if laws and politics treat everyone equally, the educational experience is different for people of different races. In 2013, only 62 percent of students of color graduated from high school, as opposed to 85 percent of white students. Similarly, a smaller proportion of students of color will finished college compared to their white counterparts: 33 percent of white Minnesotans have a degree, but only 19 percent of black Minnesotans.

    Suspension, studies show, is a key reason why students drop out of school. A study conducted in Florida found that being suspended out-of-school even once was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of dropout. Moreover, each additional suspension increased the risk of dropping out by 20 percent. By the end of the suspension period, students tend to lag behind academically and feel very excluded in classes. As a consequence, that feeling of disconnectedness convinces students that they are not smart enough to continue their education and that quitting is a better option. Dropping out of school early can have tremendous effects on someone’s life, taking away employment opportunities and increasing the likelihood of crimes. A paper published by Northwestern University shows that students who drop out of high school have only a 46 percent chance of finding a job, and those who manage to find a job will likely have an income below the national average. Moreover, 22 percent of black males who drop out of high school are jailed. This means, if you are a black male student and you get suspended, it's more likely that your future will involve unemployment, working in in a low paying job, or jail.

    Suspension policies in Minnesota schools are further disadvantaging students of color, and are widening the gap between them and white Minnesotans. Students of color have a tremendously higher suspension rates compared to their white peers. In the 2009-10 academic year, 37 percent of male African American secondary school students in Saint Paul, Minnesota were suspended as opposed to nine percent of white male students and only three percent of Asians.

    Giving students an equal chance of an enriching classroom experience is an urgent necessity in Minnesota today. It is a first step towards bridging the educational gap between different racial groups and paves the way towards a race less society in Minnesota and the rest of the country. Other states have implemented policies to combat racial disparities in school suspensions. In California, the Department of Education issued a law that limits and specifies cases where suspension and expulsion are allowed. As a result, in-school and out-of-school suspensions dropped 14 percent, and the suspension rate for students of color such as African Americans went down by 9.5 percent from previous year.

    Alternatives to suspension should be taken very seriously and the circumstances under which a student can be suspended should be limited and clearly defined. Some of the measures to avoid suspension in California include programs to resolve conflicts by bringing all parties together and offering incentives for good behavior, as well as in-school suspensions, school service, counseling, community service, detention, and mentoring (with a teacher or a counselor). These measures help the students have a stronger connection with their teacher and their school. By implementing such measures in Minnesota, we could begin to close the racial education gap.

    Bassem El Remesh is a junior at Macalester College and a Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy Fellow. He was the Campus Network's Field and Political Landscape Intern.

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  • Lenny Mendonca: The Inconvenient Truth About Inequality

    Aug 13, 2014

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Lenny Mendonca of McKinsey & Company discusses the groundwork that's been laid for a serious national debate about inequality -- and the forces working to silence it.

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Lenny Mendonca of McKinsey & Company discusses the groundwork that's been laid for a serious national debate about inequality -- and the forces working to silence it.

    "Thomas Piketty and Capital will be to this decade what Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth were to the last decade," speculated McKinsey & Company Co Director Emeritus Lenny Mendonca. Piketty's findings on inequality are much discussed among academics and progressives; however, there is a set of vested interests preventing real policy discussion on the topic of inequality.

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  • Sarah Burd-Sharps: Without Public Investment, the U.S. Will Fall Into Chaos

    Aug 8, 2014

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Measure of America's Sarah Burd-Sharps looks at the sweeping consequences of the government's failure to invest in the future.

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Measure of America's Sarah Burd-Sharps looks at the sweeping consequences of the government's failure to invest in the future.

    Sarah Burd-Sharps, Co-Director of Measure of America, speculates on the consequences of declining public investment in infrastructure, regulation, education, and more. With government abdicating its basic responsibilities, the U.S. will face increasing chaos -- collapsing bridges, food contamination outbreaks, falling elevators, and unemployed teenagers. Burd-Sharps imagines a moderate political wing moved to act by the rising economic costs of under-investment.

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