Last week, students and campus officials at Dickinson College ended a days-long sit-in to see Title IX reform on campus.
The sit-in was sparked by Rose McAvoy, a survivor of sexual assault who accused the college of mishandling her case. McAvoy, as well as more than 250 Dickinson College students, made demands such as a harsher minimum punishment for those found to commit sexual assault, a 60-day deadline for completing sexual assault cases, access by all parties to records involving the case and stricter enforcement of “no contact” orders.
This movement was not carried by social media or long-winded discussions in Dickinson’s administration or student government, however. It was initiated when Rose McAvoy used her voice in the student newspaper, The Dickinsonian, to raise this issue when all other avenues failed.
In a column titled “I’m Done Waiting for Dickinson to Take Sexual Assault Seriously,” McAvoy explained her situation, and how the college took 209 days to resolve the investigation. During that time, she claims the same person who assaulted her assaulted two more students at Dickinson.
McAvoy then discussed how when she asked for accommodations, professors told her to “get over it” and how after the attacker was found to be guilty of sexual assault, he was given a slap on the wrist in the form of probation for one semester, the same punishment students are given for underage drinking. Because he was not formally punished, the student transferred to another university that does not have access to any of his records.
McAvoy continues in many paragraphs to express her disdain for the way Dickinson neglected her rights during and after her case, and how she needed to turn to the student newspaper after official venues failed to defend her.
After McAvoy’s call to action, Brenda Bretz, the vice president for Institutional Effectiveness & Inclusivity, replied in a column of her own titled “We do listen. We do make changes. We welcome your input.” Bretz claimed many details in McAvoy’s column were new to the administration, and also said the administration would listen and work with students to help address concerns.
A few days after, students organized a sit-in demanding changes to the way sexual assault cases were handled on campus. Last Thursday, the sit-in ended and campus administrators agreed to concede to several of the students’ demands.
This only highlights why student newspapers on college campuses are essential now more than ever. When campus administrators fail to hold each other accountable for their abuses, who will step up and bring corruption to light? Where will students go to use their voices and speak out against injustices that impact them?
The role of journalism in a free and democratic society is to hold those in power accountable. Anything less than publishing what someone else does not want published, as Drew Kaplan, editor-in-chief of The Dickinsonian writes, is public relations.
And in a Trumpian era of dismissing the parts of truth you don’t like as “fake” or “unbalanced and unfair,” college campuses need journalists and student newspapers now more than ever to advocate when student governments and campus administrators fail to act. Only then can our communities usher in positive change.