The pressure is on. On Sunday, high school seniors across the nation will be deciding where they’ll be spending the next four years of their lives. They’ve toured campuses, pored over brochures and, most likely, frequented college rankings websites. While college rankings, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, are based on multiple categories, from retention rates to admissions selectivity, one factor is missing: campus safety and, in particular, sexual assault rates.
Last week, dozens from the House of Representatives have urged U.S. News to add this category and include university prevention and response. After years of criticism over nebulous criterion such as “academic reputation,” it makes sense for U.S. News to include data on sexual violence, an aspect of college life that incoming students deserve to be well informed on beforehand.
After all, college rankings are supposed to provide all relevant information about life at a certain university. U.S. News states that its rankings are “based on our researched view of what matters in education.” For national universities, U.S. News rankings depend on undergraduate academic reputation, retention, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and the alumni giving rate.
These rankings, however, ignore the predatory culture so deeply entrenched in campus life. Even the recent release of the College Scorecard — a ratings system endorsed by the Obama Administration, aimed at providing more and better data and fostering greater transparency within university ratings — does not include data on sexual assault on campuses. And this Scorecard has caught the attention of President C. L. Max Nikias himself, who traveled to Washington, D.C. last year to point out what he viewed as shortcomings in the ratings system, saying it didn’t value things like academic excellence highly enough.
As things stand today, one in five women are sexually assaulted in college, according to a 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities. A campus climate survey released in September 2015 showed that 29.7 percent of female undergraduate students at USC have experienced some form of sexual assault or misconduct since attending the school. These appalling statistics should be enough to instigate change. They point to the gravity of an issue that scars and wounds so many, affecting students’ ability to thrive in their academic, personal and professional lives. Simply branding sexual assault as a health issue is a sore misstep — it is as much an academic one, and metrics of academic value should therefore include it. In excluding sexual assault as a criterion, rankings fail as an indicator of a truly valuable college experience.
Incorporating sexual assault statistics is also a matter of evaluating the incentives that universities care about. Even as the issue of campus sexual assault has reached national audiences, some students feel that they were unprepared for a culture that fails to adequately discourage sexual violence from taking place on campus. As the system currently stands, universities are disincentivized to provide potential students about sexual assault statistics. Outside regulatory bodies that have the power to influence university behavior — like college rankings — should step in and fill this gap.
Including data in the rankings will not only point to the gravity of the issue, but also force administrators to do more than pay lip service to the issue of sexual violence on campuses nationwide. University initiatives about campus sexual assault give researchers a measurable benchmark to identify which schools foster rape culture and which are making efforts to combat it — a factor that high school seniors should take into account.
Today, several campuses are making strides to address this issue. USC recently implemented a sexual assault awareness course; San Diego State University implemented a rape crisis advocate to respond to sexual assault.
But more often than not, little is done — if at all — and prospective students should know which colleges are culpable.
The Harvard Crimson ran an ad last Saturday that stood as a haunting reminder that many colleges still don’t side with survivors. The ad featured a mock acceptance letter that read, “The claims you will make against your rapist will be ignored, much like your right to feel safe at school.”
Then, below it, it warns, “If they accept you, don’t accept this.” It’s a short but powerful statement. Rankings have the power to affect the change needed and should aim to do so — because, if sexual assault remains at the bottom of universities’ priorities, the price of admission isn’t worth paying.
Daily Trojan Spring 2016 Editorial Board