Recent events and news stories have illuminated horrible and even criminal behavior on college campuses involving college students or employees. Presently, nearly 100 colleges including some highly selective ones are under investigation by the US Department of Education (USDOE) for Title IX sexual violence issues. If you are considering whether to apply or enroll at an institution that is under a cloud of controversy, what impact, if any, should these stories have upon your decision-making?
Here are issues that might cause a student or family to reconsider a college choice:
- Amherst / Dartmouth / Harvard / Princeton / University of Chicago: These are among the most selective colleges being investigated by the USDOE for Title IX sexual violence issues.
- Florida A&M: In 2011, a marching band member’s death was attributed to hazing by fellow students on a team bus after a performance.
- Hobart & William Smith: In 2014, the New York Times ran a story on a woman who was allegedly gang raped on-campus in the fall of 2013, just weeks into her first year of study.
- King’s College: In 2012, the religious college’s president resigned after checking into a hotel for a profession conference with his fiancée, while he was still married.
- Penn State: The 2012 conviction of a former assistant football coach for sexually assaulting boys; some acts took place inside the university’s athletic facilities.
- Rutgers: The 2010 suicide of a gay student after fellow students, including his roommate, used a webcam to expose him kissing another man.
- Virginia Tech: The 2007 campus shooting by a student, which resulted in 32 dead, including students, faculty, and the shooter.
- University of Oklahoma: The 2015 video of students on a party bus singing a song that referenced lynching and seemed to be about denying fraternity membership to blacks.
- University of Virginia: The 2010 murder of a woman lacrosse player, the 2012 resignation and reinstatement of the university’s president, and the 2014 murder of another female student.
Each college is required to report crime statistics usually on their website under “consumer information”. This data is available to view and students can compare information for each college they are considering. Also, students can compare campus crime data to statistics for that region or the one in which they live.
When advising students who are concerned about troubling events, I try to help them distinguish whether the campus culture fosters this behavior, how college leaders are dealing with the issues, whether the events affect programs of interest to them, how the campus community is responding, and whether these issues are ones students would face at any university or in the larger society. Often I talk with male and female clients regarding behaviors to promote safety at college and what to do in a situation that they know is wrong or that makes them uncomfortable.
Anyone can use a search engine to enter the name of a college along with words like scandal, resignation, rape, suicide, or death and see what surfaces. I was surprised when I did this to find incidences that had not captured national attention.
Finally, explore how each college is responding to the controversy. For example:
- How is the leadership responding? What steps are being taken to make improvements or prevent future problems? What is the timetable for implementing the changes / improvements?
- Who is likely to leave the institution? Do those departures, and the events that led to them, affect campus morale or the programs that interest you?
- How are students being affected or handling the changes? What is being reported in the student news?
- What is the messaging around the issues? What messages are aimed at prospective students and families? While there may be short-term fixes, what are the long-term strategies for making the college stronger?
- Do the issues signal a breakdown of integrity, culture, leadership or accountability? Is the scope of the problem limited and solvable by removing the bad apples involved?