Editorial Board

Syracuse University has a big role in fighting the Trump administration’s toxic views on sexual assault

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The Task Force on Sexual and Relationship Violence should foster trust and prioritize conversation on sexual assault.

Sexual assault can be inherently political, especially at a time when United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is addressing the “failed system” of campus assault enforcement and former Vice President and SU alumnus Joe Biden spearheaded the “It’s On Us” campaign.

In a Thursday speech, DeVos extended support to those accused of sexual assault and problematically — and perhaps unintentionally — downplayed the trauma sexual assault can have on college students. It doesn’t help that the administration she’s a part of already has a shoddy track record on sexual assault.

With sexual assault back on the national radar, it’s an opportune time for Syracuse University’s Chancellor’s Task Force on Sexual and Relationship Violence to ensure the federal government’s toxic rhetoric around sexual assault on college campuses doesn’t trickle down to SU.

With a fresh face at its helm, Diane Lyden Murphy, dean of the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, will join Rebecca Reed-Kantrowitz as the task force’s new co-chair. Murphy co-authored the university’s original sexual harassment policy and served as director of what’s now known as the women’s and gender studies program for 17 years.

Murphy’s history with SU’s sexual harassment policy can fuel conversations that perhaps have not been had on the task force in the two year since its establishment. Likewise, her time heading a department that is known for supporting an open dialogue when it comes to sexual assault will likely only benefit the task force.

Despite Murphy’s credentials, it is concerning that both task force chairs are university administrators. Given there’s often distrust between authority figures and victims of sexual assault in addition to the possibility of being out of touch with what SU community members need most, it’s essential that the co-chairs’ voices don’t dominate the conversation. Faculty members, and students especially, should have a sizable stake in everything the task force does.

After all, sexual assault isn’t an easy topic to discuss — or to fight. Students and other community members must have access to forums where they feel safe discussing and coping with the issue. These spaces can better foster trust between students, faculty and administrators and keep SU on the right track when it comes to assault.

Murphy certainly doesn’t seem like a newcomer when it comes to sexual assault and gendered violence. But it’ll take all the diverse voices within the task force and on the SU campus to create effective forums for students and repair the culture of sexual assault at SU and other college campuses.

The Daily Orange Editorial Board serves as the voice of the organization and aims to contribute the perspectives of students to discussions that concern Syracuse University and the greater Syracuse community. The editorial board’s stances are determined by a majority of its members. You can read more about the editorial board here.


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