The 2011 Campus Climate Assessment indicates those least comfortable with the campus are minority groups. This includes individuals of color and members of the LGBTQ community, but it also includes women. The assessment also reveals those who experience the most harassment are women. Unfortunately, many women often feel responsible or guilty for being sexually assaulted or experiencing some degree of gender-based violence (dating violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and sexual violence). As we continue to further assess the Campus Climate, it is important to examine the prevalence of gender-based violence in our community, and equally as important to examine what our university in doing to in response to these incidents.
On January 8th, 2014, GVSU students, staff, and faculty received an email from Grand Valley Police Department Chief Renee Freeman. Many were rightfully upset by this email which engaged in victim-blaming through its disclosure of the prevalence of alcohol during the incident as well as the suggestion to practice “situational awareness,” as if had the victim/survivor been more careful, they would not have been assaulted. In response to this email, some students wrote letters to GVPD, others posted about it on social media, and some reached out to administrators to voice their concern. The Lanthorn published Student Senate member Anthony Clemons letter that criticized the email’s use of victim-blaming language. Unfortunately, there has yet to be any official follow-up on behalf of GVPD or the university as a whole.
As Women’s Center Ambassadors, we are students at GVSU who advocate for gender justice and engage in leadership through service and activism and are disappointed by the way our community has handled such a situation. Grand Valley is an institution that prides itself on education and teaching, and GVPD’s email clearly warrants some degree of sensitivity training, at the very least. Instead of using this email as an educational opportunity for the community as a whole, it appears university has tried to ignore the issue.
If traditionally and historically marginalized groups on campus are to feel safe, action needs to be taken so they do not feel that their voices are being silenced. We urge the entire GVSU community to respond to this incident so individuals who have faced similar experiences feel supported in coming forward with incidents of violence. Faculty and staff can also play an important role in this process by creating safe spaces for students to discuss their concerns. We must all become allies.
As Cornel West states: “justice is what love looks like in public”. While we believe the university cares about its students, its lack of response to the sexual assault email sends a very different message; the lack of transparency and urgency has not allowed those affected by this email to feel safe and supported.
This can and will change now.
As Lakers, it is our responsibility to ensure that our campus remains a bias-free, accepting, and safe environment for not only our peers, but for ourselves. GVSU needs to become a safe environment for students to express any and all concerns they may have, regardless of their identities. It is time for GVSU to efficiently and effectively provide support to each of its members, not only for the benefit and safety of the community, but for the progression in inclusion necessary for this institution.