At Connecticut College, as at campuses nationwide, students are encouraged to speak up if they hear remarks celebrating or condoning sexual aggression against women. In one training scenario, male students ask a peer if he really means it when he boasts of such conduct. When news broke that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, had bragged of groping women, and then trivialized it as “locker room talk,” it felt to some students like a repudiation of their efforts, the Associated Press reports.
“It’s shocking that someone of that status thinks that that’s OK,” said Greg Liautaud, a senior who works with the college’s sexual assault prevention office. “It does make the work harder, because our goal here is to shift culture.” Trump’s caught-on-tape remarks about kissing women and grabbing their genitals are resonating deeply on campuses across the U.S., where sexual assault has been a long-standing problem. Many worried the comments, coupled with an apology that diminished their severity, could hinder efforts to educate youth when society often brushes off abusive behavior as “boys being boys” or blames the victim. The federal government, citing estimates that 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted in college, has stepped up pressure on higher education institutions to improve their response to allegations of assault. More than 200 schools are under sexual violence investigations by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Noncompliance could lead to loss of federal funding.