By Connor Ryan
Fordham’s Office of Safety and Security filed 23 claims of on-campus sexual assault between 2010 and 2012 — a statistic that is higher at Fordham than at any other Jesuit university in the country during the same period — according to an analysis of data collected by the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education.
During that three-year timeframe, which represents the most recent data collection available, 19 forcible assault claims — which can mean anything from inappropriate touching to rape — were made by undergrads at Rose Hill, 15 of which allege a sex offense took place inside a residence hall. Meanwhile, four assaults were reported at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, three of which occurred in school housing, according to the data.
Along with on-campus claims, two reports of sex assault in the Bronx were reported in 2012. Of the 25 total claims, three resulted in security alert emails to the student community.
John Carroll, vice president of Safety and Security, characterized the data as “an honest tally of every piece of information we could gather, using every resource we’ve put out there to get that information.” He suspects, however, that the number of sex offenses reported is smaller than the number of offenses that actually occur on campus each year.
“I think, unfortunately, a lot of victims do not report when they should,” Carroll said in an interview Monday.
Still, Fordham, which has an undergrad population of 8,325, has filed more on-campus sex offense claims between 2010 and 2012 than any other Jesuit university, federal data shows.
Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., which has a student body of 4,896, is ranked a close second on the list with 21 claims. Marquette University, which has 8,300 students, reported 20 on-campus sex offenses and Boston College, with a sizable student body of 9,100, reported 18.
Georgetown University, College of the Holy Cross and the University of Scranton round out the top of the list with 15, 14 and 13 claims, respectively.
Christopher Rodgers, dean of students at Rose Hill, downplayed Fordham’s high seat on the list, saying: “It is difficult to infer very much from comparisons between schools like this, but even a single complaint is unacceptable in our community.”
Carroll declined to compare Fordham’s number of sexual assault claims to other schools, saying simply, “I can only comment about the accuracy and process that’s done at Fordham. It is what it is.”
He strongly refuted the claim that the data is hidden or kept away from the eyes of students, saying crime statistics are posted on Fordham’s website and students are welcome to view the university’s crime log at any time.
“We’ve done everything we can to put [the numbers] out there,” Carroll said. “If somebody hasn’t chosen to look at that, that’s a choice that they’ve made, but they’re out there for everybody to see.”
Rodgers said he asked the Student Life Council’s executive board — made up of a small group of student leaders and administrators at Rose Hill — last month to put “consent culture and sexual assault” on the next meeting’s agenda.
“I am also meeting to discuss this same topic with [representatives from United Student Government] and have offered to give student leaders a tour through the training we provide our staff on the critical role each plays in assisting students to report crimes such as sexual offense,” he said via email.
When asked about the data, Rodgers made a connection between Rose Hill’s “bar culture” and the sexual offenses that are reported on campus. He said administrators can only do so much — ultimately, it comes down to establishing “a culture that emphasizes the dignity of others.”
“Student bystanders are not powerless,” he said. “There are safe and reasonable ways to intervene when friends are taking risks out in the neighborhood late at night or at parties, including calling for help from security, the dean of students or one of the many contacts listed in the student handbook.”
Rodgers said last summer’s new student orientation emphasized the role student bystanders could play in preventing sexual assault. “We are looking forward to working together with student leaders concerned about this problem and to generating new ways to assist one another and increase safety,” he said.
Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the University, has remained silent in recent months on the knotty subject of sexual assault on college campuses — including Fordham’s — despite the issue’s swiftly expanding national spotlight.
A spokesman for McShane declined to comment for this article.
In the weeks leading up to this article, undergrads from across the country have ignited a national movement by accusing elite institutions of mishandling sexual assault complaints and mistreating victims.
The Department of Education is currently investigating Occidental College in Los Angeles after students alleged violations of Title IX, a federal civil rights law, last April. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is similarly under investigation.
Earlier this week, Swarthmore College said it was reshaping its process for handling sexual assault claims based on recommendations made by an outside consultant. Last April, the college was struck with a Clery Act complaint, which legally requires the full public reporting of campus crime, and a Title IX action.
“I need your help and feedback as we continue to refine these new practices and policies,” Rebecca Chopp, the president of Swarthmore, said in a statement.
Late last month, the Department of Education said investigators would begin looking at how Pennsylvania State University handles its claims of sexual assault after a spike in reports was discovered, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
New York City has also fallen prey to this movement of scrutiny.
Columbia University — which recorded three less claims of sexual assault than Fordham did between 2010 and 2012 — has revised its internal process of handling sex offenses and adjudication after students spent months pressuring administrators to make the process more transparent.
Carroll says he is not aware of any such accusations of sexual assault mishandling or victim mistreatment at Fordham.
In fact, the widespread investigations have gotten the attention of President Barack Obama, who late last month established a task force dedicated to reducing the number of rapes and sexual attacks on college campuses.
“I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women,” Obama said at a ceremony in the White House, pinging a message similar to Rodgers’ emphasis of bystander support.
Senior advisors on the White House Council on Women and Girls put together a report, called “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” that characterizes the current state of sexual assault on campuses and plots prospective administrative actions.
One in five female college students has been assaulted, the report found, though only 12 percent of them reported it. Seven percent of male students said they had committed or tried to commit rape, and almost two-thirds of them said they have done so multiple times, according to the report.
Connor Ryan is a staff writer for The Fordham Ram. You can follow him on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/connortryan