Unreported cases of sexual misconduct on Christian college campuses add to the question of whether Title IX policies have been effective thus far.
By Annaliese Grellmann
Holding a key between your knuckles, crossing the street to stay within the glow of a streetlamp, or having a friend stay on the phone as you walk home could be misconstrued as paranoia to the untrained eye, but for many, this is vital vigilance.
According to the 2020 report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, 13% of all students reported having experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since enrollment.  In addition, at least one experience of sexual harassment was reported by 41.8% of students.  It is easy for eyes to roll past these percentages, assuming that as a Christian University, we are immune.
Neil Best from Geneva College and Jim Vanderwood from Redeemer University College disproved this assumption through a survey which found that 15% of students at Christian colleges and universities reported having been sexually assaulted, compared to 21% at public colleges and 27% at private schools.  A 2017 study published in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education found that 18% of women on Christian campuses reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact within the past year, compared to 21.4 to 31.4% on secular campuses. 
According to this data, there is less sexual assault on Christian campuses, which should be encouraging, but we must also acknowledge that all these numbers are lower than accurate, because sexual misconduct is often not reported. For victims, it is not just the original incident that causes harm, but also the shame, rumors, and the compounded trauma that comes from recounting their experience for a report.
Lower rates of sexual assault on Christian college campuses can be partially attributed to the Christian sexual ethic and the discouragement of alcohol consumption.  These unique cultural elements can have a protective factor, but they can also increase the stigma that prevents a victim from reporting. 
According to Walla Walla University’s Equal Opportunity, Harassment, and Nondiscriminatory Policy, it is the responsibility of the Title IX coordinator to implement the policy laid out in this 40-page document.  In addition to the coordinator, the Nondiscrimination Coordinated Response Team, made up of specially trained faculty, is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring a timely, fair, and thorough process in response to every report. They fulfill the obligations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in any education program and activity receiving federal funding. [8-9]
In a poll on The Collegian Instagram, 106 of the 151 of account followers and WWU students who were surveyed said, if needed, they would feel comfortable making a report to the Title IX coordinator, yet 14 of the 155 followers and students surveyed said they experienced sexual misconduct on campus that they did not report .
In response to the survey, one student said she chose not to make a report because the perpetrator was in a position of power and she was nervous that the school would not properly address the incident and protect her. 
Another student was nervous her identity would be exposed.  This is a common fear, especially at a small Christian university where it is easy for names to be recognized, word to spread, and rumors to start. Anonymity is more challenging.
According to The Collegian’s Instagram poll, 24 of the 190 students responded “yes” when asked if they had experienced any form of sexual misconduct on the WWU campus.  Although sexual misconduct is a term that encompasses a wide range of actions, from verbal harassment to rape, that ratio reflects the national average of sexual assault on college campuses. 
These numbers are not abstractions. They represent real people: the person studying next to you in the library, waiting in line behind you in the cafeteria, and living in the room across from you.
In an anonymous interview, a WWU alumna shared her experience reporting the sexual misconduct of a peer. “They were pretty detailed,” she said in reference to the 14-page report she completed and the three extensive interviews she had with the Title IX coordinator, “They did everything in their power to keep us safe.” She felt that the University did everything they could during the investigation portion of the report, but she still questions if the severity of the perpetrator’s punishment was sufficient. 
When asked how students would define consent, words that continually showed up included: enthusiastic, sober, mutual, and yes!  These student-created definitions echo the University’s extensive definition which leaves no room for misinterpretation when it says, “Absence of protest is not consent.” 
In an anonymous interview, a current student shared her experience making a report to the Title IX coordinator after a professor continually made comments in class that clearly made students uncomfortable. She remembered a presentation that was given during her freshman year about Title IX, so with the encouragement of a friend, she emailed the Title IX coordinator with her concerns.
The Title IX coordinator promptly responded, saying that she would address the situation, reminded her that the report was anonymous, but asked if she could contact her if more information was needed. The student said that after sharing her concerns with the Title IX coordinator, there was a noticeable change in the professor’s language. 
Language is significant because it indicates to the people in our environment what is appropriate. It helps create the answers to questions like, “Is it ‘just a joke,’ or is it harassment?” “Was it a misread situation, or was it assault?” and, “Is that person creepy or are they dangerous?”
Calling out small instances of discrimination and harassment has a significant impact, because if ignored, these relatively inconsequential behaviors are what morph into more pervasive and damaging acts. If victims of sexual misconduct are all around us, so are the perpetrators. This is not meant to villainize, but to point out that the words we say or don’t say, the actions we take, and the standards we hold ourselves and others to will create an environment for sexual misconduct to either thrive or starve.
After all, in 90% of campus sexual assaults, the victim knows the perpetrator.  Campus discussions about consent, the Title IX coordinator’s phone number in every syllabus, and a clearly outlined policy make it clear to possible perpetrators that people are watching.
A good policy is necessary to ensure that victims are taken care of, respected, and acknowledged. Clear procedure ensures that people are treated fairly, held accountable for their choices, and feel the full weight of the consequences.
A good policy is crucial, but the goal should be that misconduct is prevented so that the binder filled with detailed procedure sits on the top shelf in an office collecting dust. If we want this campus to be a safe place, we must answer this question: Who is WWU? This institution is not a monolith.
This University is a web of hundreds of individuals, interconnected to create the culture of our campus. WWU is us: the students and faculty. If we want WWU to be a safe place, we each bear some responsibility for making it that way.
1. Cantor. D., Fisher, B., Chibnall, S., Harpes, S., Townsend, R., Thomas, G., Lee, H., Kranz, V., & Herbison, R. (2020). Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. Association of American Universities. https://bit.ly/3jGOhot.
3. Camp, K. (2018, February 6). Sexual assault less likely, gender discrimination more likely on Christian campuses. Baptist Standard. https://bit.ly/2Ngjy5J.
4. Vanderwoerd, J. R., & Cheng, A. (2017). Sexual Violence on Religious Campuses. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 47(2), 1-21. https://bit.ly/374qc6a.
5. Johnson, A., Thomas, K. H., Shields, M. M., Butcher, & M., Jemsek, J. (2016). Stopping Sexual Assault on Private College Campuses: Impact Evaluation of a Prevention and Awareness Intervention Conducted with Community Partners at a Christian University. Journal of Health Education Teaching, 7(1), 23-31. https://bit.ly/3tRZfwa.
7. Walla Walla University. (2020). Equal Opportunities, Harassment and Nondiscrimination Policy. https://bit.ly/3pcrhPo.
9. Department of Education. (2020). Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance. https://bit.ly/375g2lD.
10. Instagram poll conducted by @aswwucollegian, 2/9/2021.
12. Interview with a current student. 2/10/2021.
13. Instagram poll conducted by @aswwucollegian, 2/9/2021.
14. Cantor. D., Fisher, B., Chibnall, S., Harpes, S., Townsend, R., Thomas, G., Lee, H., Kranz, V., & Herbison, R. (2020). Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. Association of American Universities. https://bit.ly/3jGOhot.
15. Interview with an alumni. 2/11/2021.
16. Instagram poll conducted by @aswwucollegian, 2/9/2021.
17. Walla Walla University. (2020). Equal Opportunities, Harassment and Nondiscrimination Policy. https://bit.ly/3pcrhPo.
18. Interview with a current student. 2/10/2021.
19. Fisher, B., Cullen. F., & Turner, M. (2000). The Sexual Victimization of College Women. U.S. Department of Justice. https://bit.ly/2NqQjNG.