Students call on university for a safer campus

Students call on university for a safer campus
Cal State San Marcos students Victoria Turrey, left, a sophomore and Alexandra Albarran, a junior, join in a rally for a safer campus following an alleged sexual assault in May. Photo by Tony Cagala

SAN MARCOS — As police and Cal State San Marcos officials continue to investigate an alleged rape at an off-campus fraternity party, dozens of people rallied in a show of solidarity with the alleged victim and called on university officials to create safer campus.

University officials issued a crime alert last week that a student reported being sexual assaulted at a Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity party in Oceanside the weekend of May 4. School officials said the circumstances involving the alleged incident suggested that date-rape drugs were involved.

The Oceanside Police Department is leading the criminal investigation as the incident occurred in its jurisdiction. Police officials said the suspect, a fraternity member, is cooperating in the investigation. He has not been charged, pending the results of DNA testing.

School officials said that the school has received other reports of sexual assault involving the fraternity and its members as well as other alleged criminal activities including pervasive hazing, illegal victim/witness intimidation, harassment and tampering, vandalism, providing drugs and alcohol to minors, and illegal drug use.

The fraternity, also known as “The Kollege Experience,” had been stripped of its recognition as a student organization in 2005, but the fraternity was recognized by its national organization until this week, when it was stripped of its national status as well.

On Tuesday, members of a group called Feminists Anonymous staged a rally on campus to bring awareness to sexual assaults on campus and to urge the university to take necessary steps to foster an environment where rape victims have access to reporting services and aren’t vilified for stepping forward.

Carrying signs with messages such as “No Means No,” and chanting slogans such as “Wherever we go and however we dress, no means no and yes means yes,” the rally participants urged students and faculty to join in making the university a rape-free environment.

“Growing up in the 21st century, there are so many things that perpetuate the rape culture…and places blame on survivors of abuse,” said Karen Guzman, a prominent local activist and a self-described “survivor of violence.”

“We want to create a sense of community where victims are willing to speak out without fear of retribution,” she added.

Some in attendance at the rally said they want to see the university do a better job of reporting incidents such as these in a timely fashion and educating both students and faculty about their roles in reporting a sexual assault.

Nancy Cairns-Pietrangelo, a Womens Studies professor at the university, said she believes all faculty members should receive some sort of rape reporting training.  Following last week’s crime report, Cairns-Pietrangelo said, the university sent out a notice to faculty reminding them of their roles as mandated reporters.

“They tell you that you are a mandated reporter, but what does that mean?” Cairns-Pietrangelo said. “Explaining that role could be easily done for the faculty as an online course in maybe 15-20 minutes.”

Additionally, Cairns-Pietrangelo said, she is concerned that some rape victims might have the impression that a visit to the student health center would count as reporting a rape. Student health centers, she said, are bound by patient confidentiality.

“Some might not know that they have to go to the school’s Title IX coordinator or the police,” she said. “If they don’t do that, then the school’s Clery report will claim we have a rape-free campus, and some of these incidents will fall through the cracks.”

On university campuses, issues of sexual violence and harassment fall under the auspices of Title IX, the landmark gender equity law that is often associated with athletics.

University officials, including the school’s Title IX coordinator were on hand at the rally. They said the school is doing everything to provide victims with necessary services and provide the public with timely information on incidents or occurrences of rape.

The university set up a hotline on Friday to allow victims to confidentially report sexual assaults, and have trained campus healthcare professionals to provide victims of sexual assault options for reporting the allegations.

School officials also said they are trying to adhere not only to the letter of the Clery Act, which, among other things, mandates schools report crimes in a timely fashion; they are trying to adhere to its spirit as well.

“There have been a lot of concerns to balance, such as victim privacy as well as the integrity of the investigation, in addition to our duty to alert the campus in a timely fashion,” said Bridget Blanshan, the university’s Title IX coordinator. “But, we want the student body to know that we released the information at the earliest opportunity possible.”

Guzman said she sees the actual reporting of the May incident as a step forward for the university.

“Oddly enough, this is the first time I have heard about a (sexual assault) on campus, and we were told there have been several in the past,” she said. “It’s good to know about it. We want to know about it pretty quickly so…hopefully in the future they can do it at a little faster pace, so that it can be addressed and we can move forward with the healing process.”

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