Addressing Sexual Violence at Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Elisa Chen


Fernando Coello

From allegations of rape at Columbia University to the most recent Facebook scandal at The Penn State University, postsecondary institutions across the nation are facing increased scrutiny for how they handle campus sexual violence. This problem has become so pervasive that President Barack Obama recently established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, formally recognizing the growing epidemic overtaking higher education. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are not immune. For instance, Lincoln University’s former President Robert Jennings came under fire last year for his comments at an all-women convocation that included students and staff.

Additional federal protections include Title IX and the Clery Act. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities. As stated in the legislation, sexual assault and sexual harassment are forms of sexual discrimination. The Clery Act mandates institutions participating in federal student financial aid programs to disclose campus crime statistics, such as reports of forcible and nonforcible sexual offenses. Most recently, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) added new reporting and procedural requirements to the Clery Act. For instance, institutions must provide students with reasonable academic accommodations and living arrangements after assaults, and guarantee transparency in university disciplinary hearings.

Despite these laws, research reveals that campus sexual violence continues to be a problem. In fact, an estimated 20% of women attending Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) are sexually assaulted every year. At HBCUs, the rate is lower: 14%. Some have attributed this discrepancy to the fact that there is less alcohol use at HBCUs and that HBCUs tend to have inclusive family style communities. Conversely, others have argued that the rates are lower at HBCUs because of underreporting. Although it is extremely hard to determine the exact reasons for this discrepancy, the data does raise questions regarding what is being done at HBCUs to prevent and account for campus sexual violence, especially because HBCUs generally have less financial resources than their PWI counterparts.

Key questions include:

  1. What are HBCUs doing to comply with federal regulations?
  2. How are HBCUs dealing with campus sexual violence? How are HBCUs gathering resources and funding to fight campus sexual violence?
  3. How do HBCUs differ from PWIs in their approaches?
  4. How does campus climate affect students’ perceptions of campus sexual violence?
  5. How are students attending HBCUs encouraged to develop healthy sexual relationships?

It is important to conduct research on HBCUs and sexual violence because, when HBCUs rely on data from PWIs, HBCUs may not get a clear picture of the problem as applied to their own campuses. Additionally, understanding how HBCUs are combating campus sexual violence can shed insight into programs that are working versus those that are not.

The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions is currently working on a report that examines the impacts of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office on Violence against Women (OVW) Campus Grant Program. The Center will select three HBCUs that have been awarded multi-year grants from this program as case studies. The research will analyze how the grants have been used to:

  1. Affect the number of incidents involving campus sexual violence
  2. Support student services
  3. Bolster training for university administrators and personnel
  4. Improve university relations with external organizations, like local law enforcement and victim advocacy organizations
  5. Influence student behavior and their understanding of campus sexual violence

Ultimately, the Center hopes the research will reveal important implications for HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions with constricted financial resources looking to optimize external support in addressing campus sexual violence.

Elisa Chen and Fernando Coello are M.S.Ed. candidates in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and research assistants at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

One thought on “Addressing Sexual Violence at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

  1. I learned so much from this blog post and I definitely think that it would be critical to conduct research on sexual violence at HBCUs. I can’t wait to learn more about this research, especially the differences on sexual violence situation at HBCUs v.s. PWIs and what HBCUs should do to prevent sexual violence.

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