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Sexual assault at HBCUs: #TimesUp must include Black women college students

March 12, 2018

By Jaimee A. Swift*, AFROPUNK Contributor

The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality at historically black colleges and universities.

As in many instances when it comes to gendered-racialized violence, Black women’s concerns, bodies and lives are rendered inferior ––and this is no different at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). While the #TimesUp movement’s mission primarily addresses “systematic inequality and injustice in the workplace that has kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential”, it is imperative this charge is inclusive of Black women college students, who unfortunately endure sex/gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, prejudice, misogynoir, transphobia, homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments from peers and faculty alike.

As a Black woman who is a graduate student at a historical black university and who has been a victim of sexual harassment on campus, now more than ever, it is #TimesUp on sexual violence and harassment at HBCUs.

Although HBCU enrollment heightened recently due to police brutality and the racist and sexist rhetoric of President Trump and his administration, countless Black women who thought they were coming to safe academic spaces are instead met with sexual and physical violence and sexual antagonisms, which largely go unreported. While statistics show that 90 percent of women  who are survivors of sexual assault in college know their assailant; 84 percent of women reported being sexually assaulted during their first four semesters on campus and approximately 19 percent of women will be sexual assaulted in college, “nearly 40 percent of cases reported are not investigated by colleges and universities”, according to the African-American Policy Forum (AAPF). Even with this data, Black women’s reports and experiences with gender-based violence and sexual harassment on college campuses have historically been left out of statistical assessments and are thoroughly under-researched and investigated by administrations of HBCUs and predominantly white institutions (PWIs). There is also little research on how professors, faculty and staff at HBCUs enact sexual violence and harassment on students and fellow colleagues alike.

For Black women who attend and even work at HBCUs, there are an unfortunate range of the racialized-gendered and socio-cultural dynamics which perpetuate institutional erasure of the violence enacted against them––both on-and-off college campuses. For one, before Black women even step on a college campus, they more than likely have already experienced sexual abuse. A chronic culture of silence about sexual violence and violence against Black women writ-large is pervasive. This silence is compounded by shame and victim-blaming when stereotypes about Black women’s sexuality and Black women’s bodies are wielded to justify rape, sexual assault, and sexual and street harassment. Secondly, many Black women survivors at HBCUs are expected to protect their assailants, in particular, Black men, under the harmful guise of “preserving” and “safeguarding the race.” The pressure of this unwarranted

 

responsibility is further exacerbated by other oppressive societal mechanisms that castigate Black women’s lives to the periphery including anti-Black femicide; domestic and intimate-partner violence; racialized state-sanctioned violence; violence, harassment and intolerance against Black female, queer, and trans communities; the school-to-prison pipeline and more. Moreover, while Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 strictly forbids any sex discrimination at any academic institutions that receives federal funding, “white women are still benefiting more from the legislation than any other women.”

Despite the racialized-gendered, class and cisnormative biases, stigmas and assumptions that attempt to invisibilize violence against Black women at HBCUs, students and survivors alike are speaking up and politically mobilizing to break academic, administrative and societal suppression on these issues. Recently, Hampton students under the handle @RapedAtHampton took to Twitter to discuss their grievances with the university for ignoring and dismissing students’ complaints about rape and sexual assault. In January, two students filed a federal lawsuit against Howard University, alleging the academic institution allowed multiple serial rapists to remain on campus and claimed administrators were slow to respond and investigate their reports. In 2016, Howard students held a protest outside dorms and on Georgia Avenue under the hashtag #takebackthenightHU, which was a social media campaign that was catalyzed after a student alleged she was raped by another student on campus. HU Resist, a Howard based student-led social justice organization, also has created a list of demands of the university’s administration, one being to disrupt the “one-size-fits all approach to the Black community”, which to the student organizers, “disregards the intersecting nature of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, colorism, abelism, etc.”

Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University students also took to their respective universities and posted signs that stated “Spelman Protects Rapists”, “No More Secrets” and “Morehouse Protects Rapists” in 2017, which led to the viral hashtag #WeKnowWhatYouDid that spotlighted the chronic issue of rape culture in the Atlanta University Center (AUC) community. That previous year, a Spelman student anonymously took to Twitter under the account @RapedAtSpelman to discuss how the “school failed to respond adequately to her gang-rape.” Chardonnay Madkins and Synclaire Butler also have been very vocal about their ordeals with Morehouse and Hampton; as they alleged both college administrations refused to implement Title IX because their sexual assaults occurred when they visited their campuses and not as officially enrolled college students.

In the wake of #TimesUp, it is critical this mainstream call-to-action to end gender bias and gender inequities continues to have an intersectional approach and ensures Black women and women of color are centered in its efforts. Moreover, it is imperative the movement takes a closer look at campus sexual assault and gendered-racialized violence against Black women on Black colleges and universities and predominantly white institutions alike because especially in the world of academia, violence pervades.

 

  • Jaimee A. Swift is a writer and Ph.D candidate at Howard University, who is passionate about social justice. You can follow her on Twitter @JaimeeSwift.

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