Editorial | Pitt needs to address rape culture on campus

Pitt police issued a crime alert last Thursday alerting students to an alleged sexual assult that occured in the Cathedral of Learning earlier last week — an incident Pitt’s Title IX office is currently investigating. This is the third sexual assault Pitt police have notified the student body of since the semester began.

The incident inside the Cathedral sparked a Friday afternoon protest where more than 100 students demanded Pitt take action to protect students — a demonstration that The Pitt News editorial board supports and applauds. More than 6,000 students also signed a now-deleted petition urging the University to add security cameras to stairwells, bring back swipe access and increase accountability of perpetrators. 

After the protest, Ted Fritz, vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management, said in a campus-wide email that Pitt increased the number and patrols of Pitt police and security inside the Cathedral.

The student who created the petition said in a Reddit post that she regrets demanding an increased police presence. “I also just want to say that I’m really sorry about all of this. I did want to inspire positive change on campus — I have very, very close friends that are SA victims so it’s something really, really near to my heart. But if I could take it all back, I promise I would,” she said. 

She also asked to be anonymous in The Pitt News because other protestors raised concerns about an increased presence on campus, and she didn’t want to be associated with the petition anymore.  

However, she also said in the post that she’s considering academic leave or transferring to another school due to the backlash she’s faced. While The Pitt News editorial board doesn’t agree with upping the number of police on campus, since a police presence can intimidate students and create an anxiety-inducing environment — especially for students of color — she shouldn’t be made to feel like she needs to leave school, especially by people with similar goals of addressing and preventing sexual assults on campus. 

It’s unfortunate that, in the midst of a traumatic event that 81% of women and 48% of men experience in their lifetimes, people are treating someone attempting to make campus a safer place — no matter how imperfect their first attempt is — harshly. If people care about uniting behind a cause and supporting their peers, they must be open to compromise and voice their concerns through healthy, communicative dialogue.  

People are not perfect. We all make mistakes, especially when fueled by complex and intense emotions. The anonymous student ardently apologized on Reddit, saying she was “probably the least qualified person in the bunch.” 

Luckily, other Reddit users responded kindly to the student’s guilt over how the petition unraveled. Some even said even though they criticized the petition’s demands, they never meant it as a personal attack and hold no “ill will.”

So, how can students keep safe? 

In a campus-wide email Dean Carla Panzella encouraged students to download the RAVE mobile safety app. A variety of local organizations offer medical care as well as mental and emotional support to survivors. This guide also provides steps to help someone file a complaint with their university.

It’s also important that the University and campus community teach the influence of rape culture and actively work to discourage sexual assault. It’s unfortunate that the burden of preventing sexual assault often falls on student activists, including the organizers of last week’s protest, rather than large institutions or those who are likely to commit assault.     

We, like the creator of the petition, don’t have the solutions that will guarantee students’ safety or the answers on how to best address sexual assults on- and off-campus — but we know things need to change. Everyone deserves to feel safe, especially at school.