Sexual assault is not a “both sides” issue — a response to recent events

by the paper staff

This editorial is a two-part piece. The first part is the paper staff’s response to Dean Rodger’s actions at the Campus Assault and Relationship Training (CARE) and Bias event. The second part is the paper‘s response to an opinion article recently published in The Fordham Ram titled “In Defense Of Dean Rodgers.”

The staff was extremely disappointed when we read the letter that was circulating through Facebook addressing our Dean’s behavior during the CARE session. According to this letter and other first-hand accounts, multiple Resident Assistants got up and left; some were even brought to tears.  After watching video footage taken at the event, we think it’s more than fair to say that Dean Rodgers made a poor judgment call, especially by labeling the issue as being “left” and “right,” further polarizing an already difficult issue.

Dean Rodgers introduced the videos, saying that the purpose was to show how political opinions influence a person’s perception on sexual assault. The “political left” video was a trailer for a documentary called The Hunting Ground which showed how higher education institutions had a history of covering up sexual assault cases on their campuses. The “political right” video was a five-minute piece done by PragerU that said there was no such thing as a “sexual assault epidemic” and that sexual violence was not a cultural norm. After verbal outcry from the present RAs, the training was canceled for the rest of the day. Public Safety and the Title IX Coordinator launched an official investigation into Dean Rodger’s actions, but no findings have been released as of yet.

It is the opinion of the paper staff that the actions of Dean Rodgers were indisputably foolish and in poor taste. Dean Rodgers is a representative of the Fordham community, and his actions directly reflect back onto the school. While the ultimate fate of Dean Rodgers lies in the results of the ongoing Title IX investigation, his actions call into question Fordham’s capability to handle sexual assault cases. As an administrative professional, Dean Rodgers should have known better than to analyze sexual assault through politicized lenses, as it only got in the way of essential training for our RAs.

While many students and organizations have voiced opinions on the issue, this week The Fordham Ram published an article entitled “In Defense of Dean Rodgers” that sorely misinterpreted the ongoing controversy.

The article purports that “campus sexual assault is, naturally, a political issue” and says that “Dean Rodgers was right to present on the spectrum of [political] discourse.”

This situation not a political left vs. right issue, nor should it be presented as such. Dean Rodgers, as Dean of Students at Rose Hill, has an obligation to make sure our campus is an open environment where students can feel safe to go to the administration when they need help.  Playing a video that directly contradicts both state law and university policy is outrageous and inappropriate, and does nothing to help RAs address sexual assault incidents or foster a climate of open acceptance for victims.

Furthermore, criticism of Dean Rodgers for his speech is, in this instance, wholly justified. The author seems to believe that most of the criticism of Dean Rodgers is based in the notion that “emotional shelter is not a right,” and also claims that students “are not entitled to protection from challenging opinions.” Beyond the fact that both points dance around the ever-popular ‘political correctness’ cliche, this event was a training session, not a debate stage. It’s one thing to discuss approaches to sexual assault in a philosophy class or a policy seminar, where one is thinking critically and having a good-faith discussion. During RA training, playing a purposefully controversial video makes no sense. At one point, the author asks “What happens when a ‘PragerU’ inclined resident comes to an RA with an issue?” The obvious answer to that question is that the RA would listen to and assist that student without any question of political motivation, as they should have been told in RA training. A resident assistant’s job is to assist their students, not act upon political judgments.

Fordham students- female, male, gender nonbinary- should feel as though they are able to come forward if they experience rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment without the fear of dismissal or rejection.  There is nothing “natural” about campus sexual assault as a political issue. Frankly, chalking it up to another thing that the right and the left can’t agree on is ignoring the real issue. Statistics from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, estimate that 1 in 6 women will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Men of college age (18-24) are five times more like to be sexually assaulted than at any other age. Transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming college students are the most at-risk for being victims of sexual assault, at around 1 in 5. Only a sliver of those assaults will actually be reported, even less will go to trial.

As Fordham students, our concern ultimately lies with the well-being of our peers, and the understanding that our Resident Assistants have the training they need to address sexual assault cases. The actions of Dean Rodgers were misguided and put the safety of the Fordham community at risk, while the article supporting him misrepresented the purpose of sexual assault training. We hope that, in the future, Fordham can ensure better sexual assault training for RAs that ignores meaningless politicization and instead focuses on helping victims.

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