On the front line of Campus Sexual Misconduct

This New York Times Article, discusses the prevalence of sexual misconduct on the University of Michigan’s campus and the difficult role that Resident Advisors face to ensure their students are safe while following the University’s policies.

Reporting on sexual misconduct and assault can be a tricky task for journalists since it is such a highly sensitive topic. As readers and journalists, how do you think the author did on reporting this story? This story dealt with the receiving end of sexual assault and how RA’s are supposed to react in these types of situations. Did you think that this perspective was strong? Would you have rather heard an account from someone who was sexually assaulted? Did you think that the quote that ended the article was a strong way to conclude the story?

Seeing as though this story is directly related to University of Michigan students, how did you react in reading this story? Do you think that the University’s programs and policies are effective? What was your reaction when you heard that resident advisors were not allowed to keep things between you and them confidential? Do you think that this policy should be changed?

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11 Responses to “On the front line of Campus Sexual Misconduct”

  1. Because the author of this story focused on the RA’s, who act almost as “middlemen” between the victim and authorities, she managed to avoid digging deep into the more sensitive aspects of sexual assault. I thought the author did a great job of why students find this issue so important, and how they have channeled their motivation to act. On the one hand, focusing on RA’s makes the story feel more “real,” because we learn about students’ resolve to help their fellow students. On the other, the choice to revolve the stories around RA’s surprised me, because students will approach their resident hall advisors with news of sexual assault much differently than they would a close friend, and it seems this perspective would be valuable given the stronger relationship between two friends. I thought the ending quote was a good choice, because it related well to the perspective of this story, namely the role and lives of RA’s and how their job brings them into contact with sexual assault. I would have liked the author to explain why she chose to investigate U-M.

    I think that several of U-M’s policies are effective, especially organization such as SAPAC, which are hugely effective at facilitating productive dialogue around this challenging topic. Still, I think there needs to be more direct action in greek life, where many sexual assaults occur. One of my friends is involved in a sorority, and told me about her work providing counseling to women in sororities who have been sexually assaulted. Still, it seems like in addition to helping victims, more work must be done to change the underlying culture perpetrating sexual assault, and the University could play a more active role here. I do not think RA’s should be forced to keep such matters confidential. Beside concern about the safety of the victim and need to address the perpetrator, I think it would be unfair to expect the RA’s themselves to harbor such charged information in secret. Their duty to seek out a third party lifts the burden of the information from the shoulders of someone likely only a couple of older than the victim her/himself.

  2. I think the article did a nice job of showing a different perspective on sexual assault on campus. We often hear from scholars who have done research on the subject, or law enforcement officials, but it is rare to hear the perspective of somebody who works closely with college students in an authority position, but is still considered a peer. At the same time, I think this topic is extremely sensitive and intense, and there were moments when it seemed that the discussion was a bit too casual. I do not think that the article properly portrayed the severity of this issue, and it seemed to talk more about life as an R.A. rather than digging deeper into the issue. It would have been more powerful to have heard from a victim or to have some other relevant voices present in the article. Speaking from my own experience, I was not close with my R.A., so I would not have been comfortable talking to her about serious issues like assault. I know many of my friends can say the same about their R.A., so I feel that the R.A.s in this article were an exception to the norm, where most R.A.s probably do not have strong academic backgrounds and passions for social justice.

  3. I thought it was an interesting new perspective because so many sexual assault articles feature someone who was sexually assaulted. This article instead showed the perspective of some people who are approached by people who were sexually assaulted. In this way, it was unique.
    I have mixed thoughts about the U of M policy, though. I guess I understand why the R.A.s can’t keep these matters confidential. Maybe instead of forcing them to betray the trust of the people who relied on them, encourage them to seek help at a place where people can do something about it. They should definitely be there as friends, but they should not be unallowed to keep things confidential.

  4. I thought that overall the author did a solid job of reporting in this article. Before this article, the only viewpoints that I have ever seen in a story written about sexual assault are the accounts of a survivor of sexual assault, a story about the statistics pertaining to sexual assault, or a story of a person falsely accused of sexual assault. All of these types of stories highlight the epidemic of sexual assault very well, but I like the angle that Katherine Rosman took in telling this story. Instead of writing about sexual assault from the viewpoint of someone directly involved in it, she highlights the position that resident advisors hold throughout the process of dealing with sexual assault. This perspective resonated strongly with me. Those who have had personal experiences with sexual assault are drawn to care about the story, but those who have not had personal experiences with sexual assault do not necessarily have a connection with stories written about sexual assault. The choice to focus the story on the resident advisors position, and their feelings and protocol about sexual assault, created a sense of empathy within myself for the awkwardness and delicateness that each resident advisor needs to adequately deal with the situation of reporting a sexual assault. I greatly identify with that feeling as I go through my daily life at parties, and when I go to Ricks.
    I think it is imperative that resident advisors report all instances of sexual assault. I believe that confidentiality is necessary to sacrifice in this situation given the statistics on underreported rape, as well as the general status-quo pressure to not report sexual assault. It creates a dilemma for resident advisors, but it is well worth the restriction that it puts on them. It bears a similarity in my mind to situations of students who are considering suicide: put the confidentiality aside, and make sure that person is safe and gets help.
    The most confusing thing about the program at Michigan is that it seems like the effort is not clear-cut, and therefore not as effective. When Ms. Daniels was asked the question about whether Miranda rights applied to the case of a resident advisor’s confidentiality restriction, she did not give a clear yes or no answer. She seemed to imply that resident advisors avoid the situation that was asked about, which may or may not be possible. In fact, most of her answers seemed rather vague and unhelpful. This highlights the difficulty of educating others about sexual assault: Where is the line between intoxicated and incapacitated? Where should we place the line of intervention with someone drunk stumbling down the street? I know that as a male, if I see a female stumbling drunk with a man down the street (in a hetero-normative situation), and try to assist her and assume that the male is planning to sexually assault her, from an outside perspective I could easily be seen as the enemy. It shows that the education process about sexual assault and the overall process of reporting sexual assault is still in its beginning stages, and needs to develop further to impact the “sobering” study results recently published about sexual assault.

  5. I think the author did a good job of trying to get details on the story, while also staying out of a great deal of the controversy and trying to keep opinions out of the reporting. I think it is important to consider the position of RAs in this situation because it is true that they want to make sure that students can come to them when they have a problem, but also they need to make it clear that on the subject of sexual assault they are obligated to report the issue. I think this is an interesting perspective to hear, but it would have been nice to hear from someone who had been sexually assaulted. Hearing from the actual people is something that has been reported on before, however, and so this perspective from an RA is new and interesting to read about. I think getting the story from the perspective of an RA is also a great way to stay objective and to not get into all of the controversy and start to put emotion into reporting. Journalists need to be objective and by interviewing someone that is not directly effected this can be achieved easier.

    This story was not too surprising for me because I know that sexual assault happens at Michigan and I know the policies that the RAs must uphold. I do not think that this policy needs to be changed because it is really in the best interest of the student. If students need to have what they say be confidential, then they can find another person to talk to who can keep what they say private. I think that U of M does a lot in the form of prevention for sexual assault based on the “Relationship Remix” that all freshmen must attend. This is a great way to get the information out to all students coming into the University and make sure that students know what the law says about consent.

  6. I do agree the article presents a different perspective than what is often reported in mainstream media. This is a perspective that is important for issues of sexual violence on college campuses. Although I appreciate the novelty of this perspective in looking through the lenses of an RA, I don’t necessarily believe that this is the strongest or most compelling perspective seen in journalism covering sexual violence. With that being said, as a University of Michigan student, I appreciate the journalist devoting so much of the article to the work being done to prevent, raise awareness, and address sexual violence as well as highlight the resources available for survivors of sexual assault.

    Delving deeper into this issue I am skeptical of how effective policies are in practice. Personally, I feel that there are still too many instances, even at Michigan, where we see the system fail survivors of sexual violence. In regards to the policy that specifically require RA’s to report sexual misconduct, I believe that this is an important aspect of addressing and preventing sexual misconduct in the future. However, these policies need to be carried out in a way that respects the feelings and wishes of survivors of sexual misconduct.

  7. I thought that the R.A. perspective is a weak one in this instance. Obviously, sexual misconduct is a very sensitive and serious subject, but that means that articles written on the topic should really hit home, and this one hardly scratches the surface. I also think that combining shocking statistics with this third party view lessens the impact. On the other hand, I do appreciate the discussion of the R.A. confidentiality rule. The policy surrounding sexual misconduct needs to change, because so many victims are afraid to speak up as it is. R.A.’s are a good starting resource to figure out where to turn, but the threat of an investigation seems like it would prevent students from seeking help.

    The ending quote was a very weak conclusion, in my opinion. After a focused discussion of assault, the final paragraph randomly says that Ms. Hong got chocolates and thank you notes for her job in general. Was this article about sexual misconduct, or R.A.’s jobs??

  8. I thought this was an interesting article, but as said above, it was weak in areas. It seemed to be more focused on appreciating the R.A.’s (who are doing a fine job) than actually talking about sexual assault and how they prevent it. One quote I thought was really good was “You can be talking to students about consent and contraception methods and someone will say, ‘Oh, at my high school we were just taught not to do it'”. I think part of the reason big universities have so many problems with sexual assaults is the college system is essentially taking 24,000 young adults with very little life experience and putting them in a small area together. While UM has a lot of great programs designed to inform students, I think it is too late in some cases. It is really important to get more programs in our high schools about preventing sexual assault and informing the students.

  9. My opinion may be biased because I’m a female college student at the University of Michigan but I think a personal account from a sexual assault victim would’ve added another element of emotional appeal to the story. Similar to the depression assignment we had to write for this class, the personal stories bring emotional connection to the audience.
    In terms of reporting the facts in the story, I think the author did a good job. She gave relevant information and included quotes from Resident Advisor’s that have been trained to deal with these types of tough situations. But I think the article really danced around the topic of sexual assault.
    As a student at the University of Michigan, I felt as though this article didn’t fully address the whole topic, but rather one aspect or viewpoint of it. I think the article could have dug deeper into why there have been new guidelines in investigating sexual assault, the root causes of this problem, and more of the emotional side of the issue.
    I think the hardest part about this issue is that it’s difficult to navigate. I ultimately think the role of the journalist is to leave the reader questioning the status quo and leaving them with more questions to think about. I believe the author of the piece raised good points but could’ve had a stronger message.

  10. If this article was really intended to address sexual misconduct, then I also found this perspective to be weak. It was interesting to hear the viewpoint of the R.A. , however, I think that a more poignant story would have been fairly easy to come by (ask the nearest 5 women). The R.A. perspective may have been nice to put in to bring further context to the story, but on its own, I think the article was pretty boring and not very insightful, and not very impactful to the topic of sexual misconduct at universities.

  11. This was a well done story with a lot of perspectives from the R.A. side of things. It showed the depth of the UofM community geared towards defending students from sexual misconduct. These are the people that are on the front lines of this issue, so getting first person perspectives from them was very powerful. However, gaining some perspective from the other side is also important, and this was missed. On one side, there are the RAs and other students who tend to play mother. On the other side, there are the students that are engulfed in the hook-up culture, trying to make new friends, who can often be suffocated by their overly defensive friends. This could have been a useful perspective in the article, and could also provide feedback for the campus programs.

    The quote at the end was out of place it seemed. While there’s no doubt that RA’s have a tough job and they are wonderful people for doing what they do, it did not seem like good ending point. There should have been something more optimistic here, looking forward to the improvement of campus programs.

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