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Public not-so-Safety

Last Friday morning, Hofstra students received an alarming email blast. It was only three sentences long, but if anything, the brevity only contributed to the shock. In case you’re one of those people who never checks their school email (and if so, how do you live like that?), here’s the full text: 

“It has been reported to Public Safety that a residential student was assaulted in their room by someone they had recently met. Please be careful about inviting people you don’t know well to your residence hall room. Call Public Safety immediately at 516-463-6789 if you or someone you know needs assistance and follow all guest policies as outlined in the Guide to Pride and Living Factor.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, the subject line of the headline was “Hofstra University Safety Alert,” which could mean anything from an inclement weather warning to an active shooter warning. Opening an email like this, which begins with a mention of an assault with no prior warning, could potentially be triggering to survivors of sexual assault, especially on-campus sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 11.2 percent of graduate and undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. This means that roughly 1,247 graduate and undergraduate students at Hofstra could be victims, and these statistics likely only include reported incidents. 

Additionally, it’s unclear as to whether or not this student consented to this email being sent. Even if the student is anonymous, it could be an upsetting experience to have your story of sexual assault sent out to the entire school. This surely cannot be the protocol for every sexual assault that is reported to Public Safety. 

What makes this one unique enough so that an email blast was necessary? Not providing a warning when discussing sexual assault on campus is a massive oversight and is hugely insensitive to this survivor and all survivors on campus.

Then there’s that second sentence, which is the real kicker. First of all, what is Public Safety doing to apprehend the perpetrator, if anything? Second of all, if a student reports an assault, the appropriate response is not to basically blame the student for inviting someone into their room, even if that’s someone they just met. And it’s especially inappropriate to do so in an email blast. 

That’s an incredibly humiliating position to be in, and an additional source of stress that this student surely does not need. Also, and this should go without saying, assault and rape are never the victim’s fault. That’s Advocacy for Survivors 101, and the fact that Hofstra failed that speaks volumes. Telling me with a patronizing “please” not to invite strangers into my room does not make me feel safe – quite the opposite, actually. 

Yes, Hofstra is getting better with addressing issues of sexual assault. Starting next semester, Hofstra’s Title IX administration will be coordinating with a student advisory board, who will provide a more direct line of student insight into policies and their implementation. But if this email is any indicator, Hofstra has a long, long way to go before this campus can be considered a truly safe space, not just for survivors, but for all of us. 


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