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Sexual Assault is NOT a Partisan Issue



Fordham University


Sexual Assault is NOT a Partisan Issue

Is it time for Fordham to appoint a new Title IX Coordinator?

Jennifer Clark


Read time: 6 minutes.

Half of all interactions with RA’s involve hiding bottles of your latest Beer Cave purchase and avoiding noise complaints as you cram 15 people into a tiny dorm built to hold only three people and a TV. Although we often think of them as disciplinarians, RA’s also give students (especially freshmen) a sense of safety and a person to talk to when it feels impossible to communicate with anyone else. They are also the first person thought of when reporting a case of sexual assault.

The two week training period that RA’s receive before the start of the school year is meant to be a time of beneficial education for the sake of improving the campus life of all Fordham students. However, this year’s Campus Assault and Relationship Education (CARE) training left many RA’s disturbed and questioning Dean Rodgers’s competency as Fordham’s Title IX coordinator after he chose to frame sexual assault as a political issue. The framework of thought Dean Rodgers presented not only distracted from the issue at hand, but also derailed the education process and left Fordham’s RA’s with sub-par training on sexual misconduct.

Because RA’s are the mandating reporters on campus for cases of sexual misconduct, they participate in CARE training before the beginning of each academic year. Every year, Dean Rodgers leads CARE training with what one RA described as, “slightly offensive commentary.” With an already poor track record on the subject, Dean Rodgers’s willful ignorance reached new heights this fall. He did not start off by explaining the tragedy behind sexual assault, warning signs, or how to comfort and help victims. Instead of working toward a greater understanding of sexual assault and its multifaceted causes, Dean Rodgers kicked off his presentation with a tasteless joke and then stated, “I'm going to show you guys what the political climate thinks of rape at college campuses right now. First I will show you a video made by the ‘lefts’." He continued his blundering presentation with a showing of “The Hunting Grounds” (meant to represent the left) and this video from Prager University (meant to represent the right). The audience reportedly dwindled rapidly as many RA’s couldn’t make it through the callous presentation that assumed that no one in the room had been affected by sexual assault. The same RA went on to say that after they had left, it was explained to her that, "the RD's had gotten this same presentation a few weeks prior and had left telling Alex Fisher that those videos SHOULD NOT be shown to us because of how off topic and triggering they were.”

It’s important to mention that Prager University is not a legitimate educational institute. It is a conservative digital media organization created by radio talk show host Dennis Prager. Prager is quoted saying that he created the channel in protest of the “unhealthy effect intellectually and morally" of the American higher education system.” Prager University’s mission is to spread the conservative cause with a viral method, further reinforcing the partisan approach to sexual assault, an issue that is immune to politics. He offers a whole host of “educational videos” covering topics such as a moral argument for colonization, denial of climate change, and an advocacy for building a United States-Mexico border wall.

Dean Rodgers stated that neither video was “correct” but that it was important to understand the political context behind the issue at hand. There are cases in which educating oneself about a topic’s political context is important for comprehension. However, sexual assault does not care about your political leanings. It does not care who you voted for. It is blind to your partisan, moral, religious, and social beliefs. It is an epidemic that exists regardless of whether or not you believe in it.

I received comments on the issue from Lexie Neffinger and Sarah Lundell, key members of Fordham’s Women’s Empowerment Club. Lundell has also worked in conjunction with USG to create the Sexual Misconduct Task Force back in 2014. The task force's goal was to create a comprehensive report on student’s thoughts on sexual assault and also to provide training to student groups. They found that as it is, 37.01% of students feel uncomfortable reporting their sexual assault to anyone on campus. Even more disheartening, a miniscule 9.09% of students who have needed Public Safety’s reporting system felt comfortable coming forward. Overall, a whopping 90.90% (10/11 applicable respondents) of participants reported that they would feel “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” in reporting an incident to anyone on campus.

Lundell also worked on a subcommittee designed to analyze past CARE training brochures said, “The largest problems we found were the focus on preventing oneself from being assaulted, the insufficient section on bystander intervention that included an FAQ asking if people are required to intervene if they suspect sexual misconduct is occurring, and the use of exclusive he/she language.”

Even after discussing this point of contention, Dean Rodgers chose to ignore the subcommittee’s recommendations because, “Some people ‘believe in two genders’ and others would not find it grammatically correct.” This is a direct violation of the responsibility of Title IX coordinator’s job to prevent sex based discrimination.

How is Fordham to prevent prejudice when our Title IX coordinator allows his own prejudice to affect his work?

Lundell went on to say, “This demonstrated his lack of care for marginalized students and his refusal to acknowledge any issues in Fordham's sexual assault policy.” In the end no changes were made to the CARE program, unless you count a measly change in brochure color. This was in 2015. Almost three years later it seems that our CARE training has only gotten more divisive and less helpful. She continued, “Even when USG and student leaders worked closely with administration, which they made clear was preferable to protests criticizing Fordham, nothing changed with how Fordham handles sexual assault.”

Lundell also pointed out that the fact that Dean Rodgers is so involved with student leaders in a litany of contexts makes his position as the mandator of sexual assault cases exceedingly inappropriate, “Fordham regularly pressures students to follow the reporting process even if they do not want to, and my position as a club leader which required direct contact with Dean Rodgers made me unequivocally unable to report at Fordham.”

Lexie commented that, “[Fordham’s] training reinforced the idea that sexual assault can be seen as an nonexistent issue on college campuses, that an RA may not see their assault as valid because their ideology does not align with, in Dean Rodgers’ words, ‘the political left’s viewpoint.’” If students do not feel comfortable reporting assault, perpetrators will never be held responsible, the University will fail to grasp the magnitude of the issue, and the system that produces and allows sexual assault will continue unchecked.

Lexie continued, “In these sensitive cases, especially as a new student, an RA may be the only person with which a survivor feels comfortable disclosing their experience. That safety is taken away when being made aware that RHA trains their RAs not to approach the situation with care, comfort, and advice, but from a political standpoint.”

I attempted to speak to another RA, but they refused out of fear of punishment from the University. I reached out to administration that was also present during Dean Rodger’s presentation and received no comment. Fordham’s silence is not only deafening, but defines where it stands on such issues. It's been over a month since Dean Rodgers was placed under investigation and our community still waits for transparency and answers that have not come. Individuals are more concerned with punishment or controversy they may face by coming forward than the actual mishandling of sexual assault by the University. It is understandable for students and employees whose jobs are at stake to fear repercussions. However, we must ask ourselves why our University has created a climate of such fear and hesitation instead of one in which victims feel understood and comforted.

So why exactly was Dean Rodgers showing a video from an unaccredited “university” that doesn’t believe in the basic science behind global warming? Why did Dean Rodgers decide to show the video even after Residential Directors warned him not to? How does framing sexual assault as a political issue teach RA’s how to handle on-campus issues? Who decided that this man was qualified to lead CARE training? What should the future of Fordham’s CARE training look like?

It feels as if Dean Rodgers was wantonly awarded the position of Title IX coordinator without proper vetting. Allowing someone ignorant on the subject to lead the CARE training not only leads to the embarrassment of the Fordham community, but also comes at the cost of past, present, and future victims of sexual assault. This is the type of environment that protects assailants and makes victims fearful to speak. It is the framework of thought that led to the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal. Even in a deafening cacophony of “me too” training such as this makes our voices feel silenced. If we do not take the time to establish adequate sexual assault training we are putting every student on campus in a more vulnerable position.

Note: Original article title (Sexual Assault is NOT a Bipartisan Issue) has been changed to more accurately reflect the author's argument.