The University of Idaho and Washington State University are being investigated for not responding adequately to reports of assault.
Investigated, not found guilty.
But it should be no comfort to officials on either campus that out of more than 4,000 public and private institutions of higher education they were among 55 singled out by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Most times, it would be flattering to be lumped in with Harvard and Dartmouth of the Ivy League, or the University of Michigan among great state universities. This is not one of those times.
Providing a safe environment for all students should be a university’s first obligation. What parent would hand their young scholars off to a college without that fundamental assurance?
Both universities have specific guidelines on their websites on how to respond if assaulted, how to report an assault, and what support services are available to victims.
In March, WSU dedicated a day to educating students about prevention, intervention and the support of victims. The UI joined other universities in April, marking Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
On paper, as organizations, they are aware that assault affects a minimum of 20 percent of women on campus nationally, and have comprehensive response plans.
But the Department of Education investigation indicates WSU and UI fall short. WSU allegedly discouraged victims from reporting assaults, and delayed investigations. If true, those are very damning charges.
WSU has rejected those claims. We hope the university is cleared, but it’s more important that the investigation leads to better responses in the future, and a sense among students that officials are looking out for them, not the university.
The same applies to UI, which allegedly did not “adequately respond” to a 2012 rape complaint. Unfortunately, the student did not also report what was apparently a very vicious assault to the police.
Young women and young men, sophisticated as they may think they are, are not prepared for the shock of an attack. They must be provided every means possible to minimize the trauma in the utmost confidence, and at the time have a means of identifying their attacker, and seeing punishment that fits the crime.
WSU’s code of conduct includes a range of disciplines from something call a “reflection paper” to expulsion. UI imposes suspensions or expulsion. WSU requires only a “preponderance of evidence” – 51 percent – to substantiate a violation. That should reassure victims, and give the perpetrators pause.
WSU and UI administrators say they will use the Department of Education findings to take their anti-violence procedures to a new level. We have no doubt of that. Claims that a campus is unsafe catches a parent’s attention.
Full disclosure of the government’s investigation would help convince everyone involved with the institutions, and the taxpayers who support them, that WSU and UI protect students who come to the Palouse for an education.