Amid growing national concern over sexual violence on college campuses, West Chester University has had it own share of assaults — five in the last four weeks.
The spike since March 30 led to a new student group, West Chester Student Safety, that held a rally and vigil Tuesday to raise awareness of the problem.
“In my 20 years here, this is the most concentrated rash of sexual assaults that we’ve ever had,” said Loretta MacAlpine, assistant director of public relations for the school. According to campus statistics, which are reported as required by the Clery Act, West Chester University had five sexual assaults reported in all of 2010; six in 2011; and seven in 2012.
At the rally, group co-founder Shannon Bertoni, a junior, shared her own experience of being assaulted off campus and took a jab at one of the campus public awareness campaigns trying to emphasize the importance of consent between sexual partners by branding it as “sexy.”
“We need to make sure that everybody else understands that consent is not sexy, consent is mandatory, consent is something that every person must always have before anything happens — before anything is committed,” she said.
Another co-founder of the student group, senior Cynthia Jones, offered a spoken word poem to the crowd: “Let’s tell everyone we know to tell everyone they know that our conversation about sexual violence isn’t working, obviously.”
Whether the uptick is related to increased reporting or a real surge in violence is unclear, but it’s nevertheless troubling students and administrators, who have increased the number of officers on patrol on certain evenings.
Junior Jill McGovern acknowledged the university’s efforts to curb the violence and called on students to change their own behavior.
“No matter how many police officers they put on this campus, unless we change the mentality of the assailants, people will continue to be assaulted. In the famous words of Mr. Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, ‘No law is gonna change us, we have to change us,'” she said.
MacAlpine noted that West Chester University’s sexual misconduct policy was revised in 2012 to make it easier for students to report assaults.
“In terms of awareness, we try to keep our students aware of not only the fact that they need to be safe themselves, but that they need to take care of each other and that there are many, many programs out there so they can be safer,” MacAlpine added.
West Chester University is not on the U.S. Department of Education’s list of schools with ongoing Title IX investigations — although five area schools are, including Swarthmore College and Temple University.