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Students concerned over sexual assault

sexual assault

Students at Dickinson college rally against recent sexual assault incidents on campus (Christine Baker/The Patriot-News/Landov)

By SOOJUNG KI and ANIKET MEHROTRA
Staff Writers

Amid recent sexual assault allegations against high-profile celebrities and professionals in the workplace, more UHS students are sharing their concerns in regards to their safety beyond high school.

In his 2011 letter on sexual violence on college campuses, “Dear Colleague,” former President Barack Obama outlined his Title IX guidelines, which established the responsibility of educational institutions to take “immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence,” in order to improve how schools handle sexual assault cases that occur on and off campus.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prevents gender discrimination in all aspects of the education system, including equal opportunities in athletic participation and equal access to bathrooms for all genders.   

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” Title IX of the Education Amendments Act 1972 states.

Current Secretary of Education Betsy Devos believes the Obama era guidelines denied “the due process rights of accused students” who may be “wrongfully accused,” and rescinded the guidelines on September 22, 2017.

Despite this, many universities, including the University of California system, continue to investigate sexual assault cases in accordance with the previous guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of their students.  

“We have always had policies in place to not only protect students but also to establish the expectation that nonviolence is what we expect from our campus community,” Director of the Care Office at the University of California Irvine Dr. Mandy Mount  said in an interview with Sword and Shield.

The now rescinded guidelines also required all colleges to have a Title IX coordinator who can actively address sexual assault cases on campus.

“We want all prospective students, regardless of gender identity, to know that USC takes the issue of sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence, stalking and harassment or discrimination based on any protected class very seriously,” Title IX Coordinator from the University of Southern California Ms. Gretchen Dahlinger Means said in a personal interview.

As they apply to colleges and universities across the nation, some students at UHS have shared concerns about safety on college campuses.

“When I go to college, I want to be protected,” Sasha Iraniha (Sr.) said.  “I would be afraid to tell people [about being assaulted because] society makes it seem like it’s your fault, and tries to blame you for what happened.”

“I wouldn’t want to tell people, especially now that the guidelines have gone away,” Iraniha added

Some students believe that the elimination of Title IX protections will not change the onset of sexual assault on college campuses.

“Personally, I would not feel any less safe on [a college] campus than before, as sexual assault will happen regardless, and in most cases, the law being on your side will never protect the victims [during an assault],” Anna Zeng (Sr.) said.

Advisors from universities and high schools alike want to make sure that students are aware of the resources available to them if they become victims of sexual assault.

“I think it’s really important, first of all, [that students] know that [they] are not alone and that there are many communities of support [which] are available to them,” Mount said.

The UHS counselling department handles all reports of assault, and, if the case is credible, are required to report the crime to the proper authorities.  

“There are three levels [of counselors]: me, a wellness coordinator and your school counselor,”  University High School’s Wellness Counselor Ms. Nilou Tohidian (Counseling Dept.) said. “It’s important for students to know [that] there is support here and there is a safe confidential space.”

The Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) also runs programs to help victims of assault.   

“We have a counseling resource called Irvine Family Resources, and they provide free therapy to any IUSD student or family member in various languages,” Tohidian said.

Apart from cases on college campuses, several recent sexual harassment controversies in Hollywood  have taken over the media.

At least 78 women have accused Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct and rape, and at least 13 men have accused actor Kevin Spacey.

The prevalence of such accusations has raised the question of the importance of effectively investigating sexual assault cases that occur on high school and college campuses.

“This is why I joined Uplift: to fight back against the normality of men and women being sexually abused and for those who have been personally affected,” Pailani Ledbetter (Sr.) said. “[I joined in order to help these people realize] that they are worth more than what happened to them.”

UHS Uplift, a chapter of the greater Non-Profit Organization Uplift, empowers students by openly discussing sexual violence and sexual consent.

“The club consists of beautiful and strong young women and men that have empowered the female and male students [who] have experienced some sort of sexual assault or want to be aware of the rights and humanitarian values of our own bodies,” Ledbetter said.

Uplift meets every other Wednesday in Room 220.

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