In Report, Task Force Paints a Complex Picture of Sexual Misconduct at Rose Hill


As graduation approaches, some panic. But remember: College is the last thing that was planned out for us by the adults in our lives. Elizabeth Zanghi/The Fordham Ram

By Joe Vitale

Fordham University “more than sufficiently meets” its legal requirements and, through its extensive campus programming, discussions and training sessions, “strives to create a culture where sexual assault cannot exist,” according to a new report by United Student Government’s Sexual Misconduct Task Force. 

In the report, which was released on Wednesday morning, the Task Force reviews and analyzes the issue of sexual assault at Fordham University. It also looks at sexual assault in a broader, national context.

The report includes survey results, testimonies and analysis of Fordham’s programming. It also provides an overview of other materials related to the issue of sexual assault, including state and federal regulations. 

“This report should deepen the Fordham community’s commitment to tackling the issue of sexual assault, and the Task Force will seek to use this commitment to foster both dialogue and structures that recognize and respect the dignity of the human person,” the Task Force said in a statement.

The findings followed 13 months of work from the group, which is co-chaired by Nicholas Sawicki, FCRH ’16 and executive vice president of USG, as well as Genevieve McNamara, FCRH ’17. Established in Sept. 2014, the Task Force is a collaboration among USG, Women’s Empowerment and other student organizations. It was formed to address “the national epidemic of sexual misconduct that is prevalent at colleges and universities across the nation.”  

In making the report, titled “Report on Sexual Misconduct and Assault Matters at Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus,” the Task Force used the survey responses of more than 300 participants, using their responses to gauge student opinion and attitudes toward sexual assault.  

Overall, according to preliminary information provided to The Fordham Ram, the Task Force made significant findings based on student responses. More than half of respondents, for example, found that they had “learned something useful” through university programming, while about 18 percent of students said that they had not. 

However, 56 percent of respondents felt they were “unaware as to how to report a sexual assault.” And, according to the Task Force’s statement, 63 percent of participants said they “did not know how the University defines sexual assault.” 

The report also found that 60 percent of students would feel comfortable bringing a case of sexual assault to the Department of Public Safety, while 40 percent said they would not. 

Relying on testimony from students of various genders, the Task Force also set out to assess the level of trust between students and administrators. “The report highlights that the lack of understanding surrounding the reporting procedure for sexual assaults leads to confusion, and this confusion leads to mistrust,” the group said in its statement. 

It continued: “Mistrust further breaks down the University-wide dialogue that needs to be ongoing to help create cultures and structures that effectively combat sexual assault.”

Still, the lens of the testimonies featured in the report “indicate the clear existence of a predatory culture amongst portions of our student body, a culture that sees others as objects to gain rather than as valued individuals,” said the group, though no further information was provided. 

The report also highlights some changes in the Campus Assault and Relationship Education (CARE) brochure and materials, a document that details university policies and procedures regarding sexual assault. 

Since its formation, the Task Force has worked with Christopher Rodgers, the Dean of Students at Rose Hill, to revise some aspects of CARE, each of which are detailed in the report. Revised sections, according to the Task Force’s statement, concern inclusiveness, bystander intervention and victim-blaming language. 

The most recent version of CARE outlines many of these topics, including the Students Bill of Rights, as well as definitions of sexual offenses, ways to prevent sexual offenses and tips for bystander intervention. In addition, the brochure provides information on the reporting process and procedures, as well as information about available resources, both on and off campus. 

While the work of the Task Force focuses on Fordham University students and student culture, it is set against the backdrop of the broader conversation surrounding sexual assault on college campuses. USG’s Task Force is one of many college student groups across the country working to combat sexual assault on campuses. 

In addition to grassroots work from student groups and organizations, larger groups have continued to assess sexual assault on campuses and seek ways to raise awareness on college campuses. 

One such report was published by the Association of American Universities, which reported that nearly 25 percent of undergraduate women reported being victims of sexual assault or misconduct. 

The AAU’s report, which surveyed more than 150,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students at 27 universities, also found that “nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol make up “a significant percentage of the incidents.”  Less than 30 percent of the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency, the study found. 

Stronger campus voices on the issue have urged politicians to pursue new policies and regulations regarding sexual assault. New York State’s legislature, for example, recently passed a statewide law requiring that all New York colleges and universities adopt an affirmative consent policy. 

Fordham University currently has in place an affirmative consent policy, which CARE defines as “a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.” This consent, the definition states, can be given by words or actions “as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in sexual activity.” 

It continues: “Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent.” (CARE, under a later subsection, adds to this, noting that “any type of manipulation, threat, or force that is used to obtain a “yes” to sexual activity, the “yes” does not qualify as consent.”)

Though it is its first major report, the Task Force has continued to maintain a high profile on campus. Following a false report in October, the group issued a statement, condemning false reports, but adding:  “We want to reaffirm the importance of fostering a culture in which consent is respected and the voices of survivors are heard.”

Last Spring, it released an awareness video that addressed the issue of sexual misconduct and extended support to survivors of sexual misconduct.

In a separate survey from one conducted by the Task Force, Student Affairs conducted a survey in May to assess “campus climate.” The online survey, which was answered anonymously, was tailored to Fordham students, but it also resembled the climate survey guide for universities and colleges released by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.

In addition to asking about personal experiences of students, the survey asked students to gauge their opinions toward the university, and existing attitudes on campus. The results of the survey have not been made public as of this month.