UChicago and Its Environment of Sexual Misconduct

UChicago must immediately take responsibility for and work to rectify its complicity in the environment of sexual misconduct on campus.

By Jennifer Rivera

As I was engaging in my daily routine of clicking through Instagram stories and Chicago News, I noticed an article detailing a U.S. Department of Education investigation into a UChicago Title IX violation. The alleged violation, while still under investigation, is deeply unsurprising considering UChicago’s historical failure to address sexual misconduct. My first thought was that maybe the University will finally take responsibility; this should not have been the response of any UChicago student—or any student on a college campus for that matter. The unfortunate reality is that cases like these are not isolated or rare. In fact, sexual misconduct is pervasive on campus, and there are almost certainly more cases that have not been brought to light.

Similarly, it is certainly not the first time that UChicago has failed to address sexual misconduct and properly take action. The people in power on campus treat sexual misconduct in a callous way; faculty members have even made rape jokes without facing any form of repercussion. Unfortunately, UChicago has a history of failing to address sexual misconduct—and, once again, they remain apathetic. The University distancing itself from addressing and being responsible for the pervasive sexual misconduct on campus is harmful. Sexual misconduct is a silent epidemic rampant on college campuses—an issue that UChicago is not immune to. Despite UChicago administration’s utter neglect and insensitivity, the issue still exists and proliferates. Following the recent Title IX investigation, UChicago needs to take responsibility in addressing and combating sexual misconduct on campus.

My first year consisted of being notified multiple times, via email, about sexual assault incidents that had occurred on campus. It consisted of people I knew having to modify their entire schedules to specifically make sure that they wouldn’t run into their assaulter. It consisted of nights filled with conversations with friends about their resulting trauma from such encounters and fear of reporting. It consisted of cold autumn mornings making my way to classes, wondering who on campus was a predator. Between many students hesitating to set foot in fraternities to students having had their own experiences of sexual assault, it’s clear that there is a need to address the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct on campus. So, if you ask me, it is time to talk about responsibility.

The most recent UChicago climate report revealed that 30 percent of undergraduate women and 29.8 percent of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary people) were sexually assaulted or raped. This report found that sexual assault allegedly occurred most frequently in campus housing, with fraternities ranking second. Following these results, it is evident that our current sexual assault training is not enough. It’s not enough that UChicago says that they provide support. As is seen time and time again, supporting students is a continuous process and does not cease when it’s favorable for UChicago administration to stop. Additionally, having resources for survivors does not mean that they are easily accessible, or that UChicago is doing everything in its power to combat sexual misconduct on campus. To do more for their students is to take responsibility and engage in open discourse with them. This discourse on the culture of sexual misconduct would entail using students’ insight about safety, awareness of resources offered, and allowing them to voice whether or not current resources are adequate. It’s crucial that campus leadership comprehends the climate on campus—especially from a student's perspective—so that they can evaluate and modify current prevention efforts. This would, ultimately, make campus safer. With that being said, UChicago administration needs to improve its dialogue with its students because, right now, the door for meaningful discourse is deadbolted.

To further illustrate its harmful inaction, UChicago remains convinced that, by not recognizing Greek organizations, they are serving their students and reducing sexual assault on campus. On the contrary, sexual misconduct still transpires on campus grounds. One of the various emails I received in my first year regarding a sexual assault incident was about an “off-campus” event. Rather than stating that it occurred on campus grounds, the fraternity house address was listed instead. It prompted me to plug the location into my maps application and see that it is, in fact, on campus. The most concerning aspect of this lack of recognition is that it prompts the question of oversight. Oversight and accountability lie within Greek organizations to ensure that they are adhering to their own standards of safety, and it is on the Panhellenic Council to intervene when sexual misconduct cases have been reported. Having the responsibility rely on students, rather than administration, is not an acceptable manner of combating sexual misconduct. It does not make students feel any safer to have their own peers be the ones imposing restrictions and attempting to follow them, which we cannot ensure if they are without proper oversight from campus administration. Sexual assault is a silent epidemic, but one that is perceptible by campus administration. No administration is oblivious to what occurs on their campus grounds. While the policy of not recognizing Greek organizations protects the University from any future legal repercussions, it is not protecting potential victims of sexual misconduct.

However, UChicago is not the only entity minimizing sexual misconduct cases. The Board of Education recently passed a federal regulation that offered more protections to students accused of sexual assault. It’s a change that Betsy DeVos claims is needed because “the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.” The definition of what constitutes sexual harassment was also modified to be “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive,” as if any form of sexual harassment is not severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive. This modification is reflective of a culture that places the blame on the victim, rather than the perpetrator. It’s reflective of the desperate need for institutional change that should offer more resources to victims in place of inducing trauma and creating barriers for them.

The safety of each and every one of UChicago’s students is of the utmost importance, and, with the current state of affairs, the University administration is not engaged in meaningful discourse with its students. While they appear to be listening, they are not taking note of their students’ concerns. The University’s inaction on sexual assault is not working and is completely inconsiderate of students on campus. The malice of campus administration is much more than mere negligence; it exposes their dark past. It’s a murky past that is left to students to uncover and attempt to piece together when questions of responsibility arise. By not taking a comprehensive, rigid stance concerning sexual misconduct, UChicago is complicit in a form violence that pervades college campuses. And, unfortunately, Jamshaid’s case demonstrates the failure of campus leadership and their complicity in violence. Their history of shameful behavior towards victims of sexual assault runs deep and undeniably promotes a culture in which assailants are given wings to prosper, while victims are stripped of their dignity in trying to prove their trauma. This is inappropriate and requires an immediate response from campus administration.

Jennifer Rivera is a second-year in the College.