College Admin

content warnings: sexual assault


CONTENT WARNING: sexual assault

NOTE: in the interests of anonymity, no names, places, or pronouns will be disclosed throughout this piece


There were a lot of things I loved about my college experience: my friends, the connections, the camaraderie, and the liberties of living away from home for the first time. College was the perfect stepping stone between high school and university—I had enough independence to reinvent myself, but enough security to keep me grounded. The two years I spent at college are two years I will cherish for the rest of my life. And yet, as much as the good parts mattered, they did not—could not—negate the bad. 

My college experience wasn’t perfect. And, in light of the 2021 National Student Safety Survey, I’ve started to come to terms with some of those experiences. The report shed light on the scale of sexual harassment across Australian universities, revealing that 16.1 per cent of the students surveyed had experience sexual harassment on campus, with 4.5 per cent experiencing sexual assault. These figures encouraged me to address what I feel was the most problematic part of college life; the part that enabled, excused, and covered up cases of serious misconduct.

College administration.

I was sexually assaulted during my first year of college. I was far too drunk one night and learned the next day that another student had publicly, repeatedly, made sexual advances towards me while I was unable to stand, let alone consent. Several students witnessed the assault, most of whom reported the situation to our college administration. The next morning, the Deputy Dean came knocking at my door. They escorted me to their office, where they sat me down and recounted two different versions of the previous night: my friends’ version and my assaulter’s version.

So, how much did I remember? At the time, I was far too scared and embarrassed to throw my assaulter under the bus. From the memories I could piece together, a fragment suggested I had given them my consent earlier that night, which was enough evidence for the Deputy Dean to corroborate their side of the story. The rest of the night became inconsequential—at least, inconsequential as far as ‘assault’ went. My drunkenness, however, became another issue. The Deputy Dean put me on one month’s probation, which basically meant no drinking, partying, or otherwise stepping out of line.

Only in hindsight did I realise how ridiculous this was. The college admin recognised I had gotten blackout drunk—this was the grounds for their punishment—but had not extended this recognition to my assaulter’s misconduct. Because, if I were that drunk, how could I have possibly maintained my consent? My drunkenness did not just outweigh my assaulter’s actions. It erased them.

He got off with a warning. I got off with a cold, judgemental confrontation, a threat to involve my parents and (more subtly) to kick me out of college for my misconduct.

But I made it through the year. My probation expired, I found a place for myself in the community and I decided it was worth returning to college for a second year. I even felt secure enough to report last year’s incident to two other members of the administration, asking if they’d review college policies around drunkenness and assault. They were horrified and promised they’d investigate it. But I never heard from them again. After all, I’d made it clear I had no intentions of pressing charges or of returning for a third year, so maybe they assumed it was in everyone’s best interests for me to just … let it go.

A year went by. Two years, then three. I wasn’t ‘letting go’ of shit. During all that time, I had flipped between blaming myself for getting that drunk, blaming the other students for telling on me, and blaming my assaulter for convincing me that we should remain friends. However, the reality was that I was a naïve teenager and those students were trying to do the right thing.

My assaulter’s manipulative behaviour notwithstanding, I’ve come to more seriously blame the college admin who effectively bullied me, silenced me, and ignored me when I was finally brave enough to speak out. It makes me furious to think of the time I’ve wasted beating myself up over what happened and how readily I subjected myself to a victim-blaming narrative. I didn’t care that I was put on one month’s probation. I care that I alone was punished for the events of that night, while my assaulter got off scot-free. I care that I alone was made to feel responsible. I care that my drunkenness was used to cover the assault, most likely because it was more convenient for them. A couple of drunk teenagers is no big deal, but a sexual assault case was an ugly thing to have on your college’s record.

Looking back over my college’s code of conduct, I can pinpoint several passages that indicate my experience was mismanaged. For starters, public intoxication is listed as a minor breach, whereas sexual assault falls under ‘Serious Misconduct’. This means that my assaulter’s actions should have far outweighed my drunkenness (rather than the other way around). There is also an entire clause about ‘Victimisation’, which prohibits hostile treatment against students involved in active investigations—including threats to their privacy and intrusive lines of questioning. What’s more, I was entitled to a secondary advisor during the Deputy Dean’s interrogation, whether that be my floor tutor, the college counsellor, or another member of admin. Finally, and most upsettingly, my formal complaint the following year should have been investigated.

Being told “I’m so sorry that happened” is insufficient. “Sorry” doesn’t stop it from happening again. They never even got far enough to ask me to put my claim into writing—which, once again, neglects the mandated process for alleged breaches of the code of conduct.

Without completely negating my own responsibility, or my assaulter’s, I’m now able to acknowledge the major faults of the college administration in upholding students’ safety and wellbeing. The mandatory safe sex and consent seminars at the beginning of the year start to feel a lot like lip service if we can’t trust the administrative body to back them up. And if something happens, it’s the college’s responsibility to remind us of our rights, rather than rushing headfirst into a verdict. Of course, the first line of defence is the students themselves—respect each other, communicate with each other and be mindful of each other’s boundaries—but when an issue requires intervention from our authorities, we need the college admin to exercise their duty of care.

When I was assaulted, I did not receive the proper duty of care from my college administration, nor was I extended the courtesies from their code of conduct. I’m not going to waste any more time blaming myself, or questioning myself, in the service of their reputation.

I am also painfully aware that my college experience is not one of a kind. If you’ve suffered from sexual assault, harassment, or administrative negligence on campus (college campus or otherwise), please feel free to consult the resources below.

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