On July 3, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger released a B-Line News Addition addressing Instagram accounts that feature the stories of sexual assault survivors at BU. One account, @shareyourstorybing, has gained significant traction with close to 300 posts. The account consistently updates its page with more stories, but the account’s owners are currently no longer accepting submissions due to the massive outpouring of stories.
The anonymous posts range in allegations from harassment to rape. Members of Greek organizations, resident assistants (RA), professors and other individuals were mentioned in these posts. However, some posts identified specific individuals, including abusers that were mentioned several times. Additionally, individuals have detailed their discouraging experiences of holding their abusers accountable, often receiving a lack of support, or in some cases, even shame from the administration.
Once again, Stenger took a noticeably long time to address the issue at hand. His response came six days after the start of the @shareyourstorybing account following outrage from the account’s followers. As the head of the administration, Stenger’s lack of a timely response is direct negligence, especially when several University employees were named as offenders.
In the statement, Stenger cited statistics about BU’s handling of sexual violence. Since the start of the 2017-2018 academic year “the names of 63 alleged perpetrators have been referred to the Office of Student Conduct … Of those 63 alleged perpetrators: 45 were charged by the office, 5 were not charged due to lack of sufficient information and 13 were not investigated/charged/brought to hearing at the request of the reporting individual.” Out of the 45 charged, “36 were found responsible, of which 17 were suspended or expelled and the remainder were placed on probation and/or lost housing privileges, eight were charged and found not responsible and one had the charges dropped.” These statistics do not bode well for any university as it isn’t an indicator that the crimes aren’t being committed but rather they are not being pursued further. When comparing the 63 reports over three years to the sheer amount of social media posts, it is evident that the University needs to be more transparent to increase the likelihood of survivors reporting these crimes. It is no secret that universities across the country experience higher rates of sexual violence and BU is no exception.
Stenger did mention that the administration will “improve the ways we go about informing our students of available help and resources. [Health Prevention and Promotion Services] provides more than 100 interpersonal violence prevention presentations during the academic year, including on topics of bystander intervention, consent education and dating violence.” He also stated that a review will be conducted for several departments’ internal processes, beginning with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. This sounds like a good start, but the 20:1 program, designed to educate incoming freshmen about sexual assault, had been cut earlier this year, only to be reinstated after student backlash. The statement also does not explain how the review process will be conducted and which departments will be examined. Once again, it is clear that students at this university deserve transparency and honesty about what will change when the current system is failing them.
If the current system of educating students on sexual assault is to change, BU must admit that there is a serious problem within the community and put an end to victim blaming. Students in social and pre-professional Greek organizations should complete comprehensive and updated training on how to prevent sexual violence. Information regarding “stealthing,” sexual coercion and filming someone without consent must be included since they are mentioned frequently in the stories shared on social media. Information regarding the use of drugs to incapacitate someone must stay updated, including information on how to recognize signs and symptoms of drugging. Students who wish to join Greek life or work at BU must complete this comprehensive training every semester since it is common for other organizations to implement similar procedures into their training schedules. If a potential member does not pass the training, they should not be permitted to join until they do.
There should also be information specifically geared toward both members of the LGBTQ community and students of color. For example, 44 percent of lesbians, 61 percent of bisexual women, 29 percent of gay men, 37 percent of bisexual men and 47 percent of transgender individuals experience sexual violence, compared to 35 percent of straight women and 29 percent of straight men. Men and women of color are also at risk for higher levels of sexual violence, with as many as 60 percent of black women being assaulted before they turn 18.
When sexual violence happens, the administration must take every case seriously. The reporting and support process not only needs to be made transparent for all students, but it must also be fiercely advertised so that students can feel confident about their options. Abusers need to be held accountable, regardless of position, status or seniority. Counseling and support resources for survivors must be expanded as the trauma felt from sexual violence can last a lifetime.
The Inter-Fraternity Council must work directly with BU officials and coordinate with programs like 20:1 to educate their members. L.C. Coghill, director of fraternity and sorority life, has been publicly silent on the issue. If students cannot trust the director of fraternity and sorority life to hold abusers within Greek life accountable, who are they supposed to turn to? Furthermore, the organizations accused of the most heinous acts are listed as off-campus organizations on the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life’s webpage. Regardless of where the group resides, its members are still students and the University needs to take action, something Stenger neglected to mention in his response. Comprehensive policies must be established to ensure that these fraternities and sororities are held accountable despite not being recognized as campus organizations.
There are also many accusations that are directed at now-alumni of the University. Current and graduated survivors who have come forward deserve proof that this broken system will not hurt others. Powerful United Ladies Striving to Elevate at Binghamton University (P.U.L.S.E.) said it best in their response to Stenger’s statement, “We demand action from this university, you owe it to us: the students that pay your salary, the survivors that have to live with the trauma that they endured at your university for the rest of their lives.”
Whether the survivors who shared their stories are seeking justice for what happened to them or are ensuring that these acts will not happen to future generations of students, all want to heal from their trauma. The Editorial Board stands with survivors of sexual violence, regardless of whether or not they have come forward. If the University has time to make a Fourth of July post during a pandemic, a global movement for racial justice and a student-led movement to combat sexual assault, it has the time to hear survivors’ stories and implement much-needed change.