Sexual Violence at Trinity: Policy Changes That Make No Change

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1975- 1979: “ Getting sexually assaulted in a shower at Trinity (on campus). I vividly remember the incident as well as the Tripod’s (writers) insensitivity to describing it” (Channels).

1988-1989: “[My] friend was physically and sexually assaulted off campus by five Trinity “men” in their apartment. This young woman then contacted the authorities at Trinity and pressed charges against the men. In the end, the result included no formal punishment for the culprits but the young woman I knew left the college never to be heard from again” (Channels).

2010: “I have been sexually assaulted on this campus by another student (not at a fraternity)” (Hughes).

2010: “Getting sprayed with [beer] after refusing to have sex with a hall brother ” (Hughes).

It is a highly problematic and widely acknowledged fact that sexual assault and sexual harassment are prevalent on college campuses. As demonstrated by these direct quotes from female students when asked about their most memorable experience on campus, Trinity College as an institution of higher education is most certainly not immune from this. Though it has never been exempt from the atrocities of sexual assault and harassment, the beginning of coeducation at Trinity effectively brought these issues to the forefront of student experiences, when in 1969 the college’s first class of women were officially admitted. This momentous step toward coeducation also brought increased incidences of sexual misconduct in the decades following the introduction of women on campus. In order to understand the context of this research, it is important that I shed light onto the time frame I have chosen to focus on, which is the years between the start of coeducation at Trinity, 1969, through 2018, the beginning of the current academic year. I do not attempt to make any assertion that sexual violence did not occur on this campus prior to these years, but for the purposes of feasibility and manageability in conducting this research, I will begin in 1969 when women entered the stage of Trinity College and sexual violence more transparently reared its ugly head. I operate under the strong assumption that one can gain a more holistic view of the trajectory of sexual violence on college campuses throughout time by delving into official school policies, student reported experiences, and institutional reports that provide statistics of incidences of sexual violence. This paper will explore the extent to which Trinity College rules and regulations regarding sexual violence changed between the years of 1969 and 2018, and how Trinity women (and men and others) experienced sexual violence on campus during this time.

It is by comparing changes in official college rules and regulations in Trinity College Handbooks as the years progress, to student lived experiences via reports and sexual assault incident statistics that my research begins to take shape. It is clear that Trinity College policies have evolved from essentially nonexistent and focused on the victim’s role in sexual violence to well outlined, relatively extensive, and focused less on the victim’s role in the act between the years of 1969 and 2018. During the time period of 1969 to 1978, there was no explicit mention of sexual assault or harassment in the handbook policies and regulations. Therefore, for the first ten years of coeducation Trinity did not address sexual violence. In the decades that followed, policies shifted from minimal and placing responsibility on the victim to more detailed and less focused on the responsibility of the victim. However, Trinity student experiences largely remain stable between the years of 1969 and 2018 in their reports of abundant sexual misconduct and a culture of toxic dangerous male dominance, with peaks in intensity during the 1980s. Exceptions to this finding that should be noted are women involved in Greek life and women involved in a varsity sports team on campus in the 2000s; both of these groups’ reports were incongruent with the wider campus experience regarding sexual assault and harassment.

The first component of this research examines changes in Trinity College rules, regulations, and policies surrounding sexual assault between 1969 and 2018, and I will begin with the first ten years of coeducation. The first time that the words “sexual assault” or “rapist” are used in Trinity College Handbooks is in the 1978-1979 copy. Prior to this, sexual assault and harassment are not ever explicitly mentioned nor are there any regulations outright forbidding it. Between the 1969-1970 Trinity College Handbook and the 1977-1978 Trinity College Handbook, the closest the college comes to mentioning sexual violence is the rules that there could be no “abuse or physical assault of any person” and that “no exploitation or coercion of any other person shall be allowed” (Trinity College). While the latter hints at or suggests sexual assault, it is not explicitly stated until the 1978-1979 academic year. Just as there were no regulations forbidding sexual violence, there were no supports outlined for those who were victims of sexual assault or harassment nor were there repercussions for the perpetrators of this violence due to the institution’s general silence around the subject.

The Trinity College Handbook goes through its initial shift in the years between 1979 and 1987, wherein sexual assault begins to be explicitly mentioned, but the focus of the rhetoric emphasizes (almost exclusively) the victim’s role in preventing rape. Although during this time period sexual assault is officially addressed and seen as an issue, the college’s policy solely mentions steps of prevention that individuals, namely women, can take in order to not be raped or assaulted. Such steps include “BE RUDE, DON’T BE RAPED!”, being confident and walking with confidence, never changing in front of an open window, and telling your potential rapist that “I have my period” or “I’ve got V.D. [venereal disease]” in order to prevent assault (Trinity College, “1979-1980 Handbook”). Trinity College official policies and prevention ideology such as those listed above contribute to a victim-blaming culture where, if an individual was sexually assaulted during this time, the logical assumption was that they failed to do all steps necessary to prevent an assault and/or somewhere along the way did something (such as change in front of an open window or not walk confidently) that made them more susceptible to sexual assault.

In addition to an abundance of victim-centered policies on responsibility to prevent sexual assault, between 1979 and 1987 there was also an incredibly limited amount of information provided to students who had been victims of sexual assault. Until 1987, there were only four bullet points regarding the process that occurs after a sexual assault, only one of which included contact information of resources for students (Trinity College, “1985-1986 Handbook”). One of these mere two contacts provided was campus safety. Two of the bullet points discuss briefly the obligation and responsibility a victim has to others to report the assault, claiming that since a rapist doesn’t only rape once, victims have a responsibility to other potential victims to report. No options regarding pathways to reporting or instructions for reporting are given. The fourth and final bullet point under this section of “After an Attempted or Actual Assault” advises victims to get a medical examination following the incident. The utter lack of resources and contact information provided to students after an assault and the lack of instructions regarding how to report shed light on the minimal policies and regulations in place at Trinity College to prevent sexual assault and to support victims through a clear process of reporting during the years of 1979 to 1987.

The following several years, 1988-1995, mark a period of further evolution in policy within Trinity College Handbooks, wherein a “Statement on Sexual Harassment” is added to Trinity policy on sexual violence, clarifications regarding the scope of sexual harassment and assault are included, and certain language that place prevention responsibility on the victim are removed. In Trinity’s 1988-1989 Handbook, a “Statement on Sexual Harassment” appears for the first time. In this section of Trinity policy, sexual harassment is distinguished as different from sexual assault, and is explicitly acknowledged for the first time as a key component of sexually inappropriate behavior. Acknowledging the harm done from less extreme versions of sexual violence such as sexual harassment is a critical step in developing a more holistic policy on sexual violence. The added “Statement on Sexual Harassment” beginning in 1988 also states for the first time that men can be victims of sexual violence, not just women. The statement that “Most frequently, the offender in an incident involving sexual harassment is a male with authority or power over a female’s employment academic career. However, a woman in the position of power may be the aggressor in relationship to a male subordinate or student, or both victim and offender may be of the same sex” brings men into the picture as potential victims for the first time, yet the language while doing so operates under an assumption (as it did in past Handbooks) that sexual violence primarily occurs in powerful professional-student relationships (Trinity College, “1988-1989 Handbook). It makes the assertion that sexual harassment by and large happens in the context of a powerful faculty or boss who has control to some extent over the less-powerful student. Therefore, while making progress in the detail involved in descriptions of sexual harassment, the 1988-1989 handbook fails to make changes regarding the dynamics in which sexual harassment can take place, such as student-student interactions and not just faculty-student ones.

Perhaps the most significant and drastic changes during this period of evolution in policy between 1988-1995 are the removal of poignant language that places prevention responsibility of sexual assault/harassment on victims, an expansion of post-assault resources and clarity, and the addition of a “Sexual Assault and Awareness Education” section. In the 1990-1991 Handbook, the sexual assault prevention instructions of “BE RUDE, DON’T BE RAPED!” and telling one’s assailant that “I have my period” or “I’ve got a v.d.” are eliminated. The decision to remove such rhetoric from official college regulation surrounding sexual violence shows a pull away from victim-oriented prevention strategies wherein the person who is violated is somehow responsible for preventing the assault. However, the suggestion towards women to walk with confidence as a way to prevent rape remains in this copy of the handbook, suggesting that although significant changes in rhetoric that place responsibility on the victim do occur, they are not eliminated completely.

The expansion of post-assault resources for victims and increase in the clarity of policy (including a “Sexual Assault and Awareness Education” subheading) can be seen especially in the 1990-1991 Handbook and the 1993-1994 Handbook. In the 1990-1991 edition, a page of contact information/resources, instructions regarding how to report, and student options to either keep a complaint within Trinity or take it to the police is added to the previously existing “After an Attempted or Actual Sexual Assault” section of the handbook (Trinity College, “1990-1991 Handbook”). Prior to this expansion of information for victims, a mere four bullet points were listed as protocol and resources after an assault. Yet during this pivotal moment in policy change, a page worth of statements on confidentiality, options of who to report to, and eight additional contacts are added, effectively expanding post-assault resources for victims. Additionally, the 1993-1994 Handbook serves as an example of the period’s increase in detail and clarity, as well as an even further pull away from victim-oriented prevention. In this copy and increasingly others in the following years, labels and subheadings are clearer and easier to find grouped together. This makes the process potentially easier for sexual assault/harassment victims who go looking for regulations and policy about where to turn. The 1993 Handbook also introduces a “Sexual Assault and Awareness Education” component wherein the college explains programs implemented at orientation and throughout the school year that aim to educate students about the prevalence of sexual violence and various resources such as peer educators and peer counselors. Offering (and requiring) an increased amount of resources outside of the victim’s own actions demonstrates a continued separation from the victim-oriented prevention that previously dominated Trinity policy.

The last period of change addressed here stretches from 1996 until the beginning of this academic year, 2018-2019. The changes in regulation and policy that are outlined above have continued to evolve in Trinity College Handbooks. Definitions of sexual assault and harassment have continued to become more clearly stated and nuanced, and in the 2009-2010 Handbook for example, specific examples of physical, verbal, and written sexual harassment are given as well as different dynamics of sexual harassment (harassment in romantic relationships, in student-student relationships, etc.) (Trinity College, “2009-2010 Handbook”). This level of detail and specificity grows even more when one looks at the 2018-2019 Handbook, where a link is provided that takes the reader to the college’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct. This policy is more detailed than in any prior handbook, with 24 different subheadings on the table of contents (about the equivalent to the number of subheadings in the entirety of previous Handbooks). These headings relate to definitions of sexual harassment and assault, reporting protocol, the investigation process, education on sexual violence, sanctions/punishments, as well as an abundance of contacts and resources for victims. Although the college has included far more detail in recent years than ever before, the extent of this detail may in fact be confusing or overwhelming for new victims to work through and make sense of.

The college also still has a “Prevention and Education” component of their policy on sexual misconduct, yet the prevention tools given are incredibly different from those in the school’s earlier years of coeducation. Where prevention in earlier handbooks was primarily focused on what the victim should be doing to ensure they do not get assaulted, prevention in the 2018 version includes a mere paragraph which mentions prevention programs that focus on bystander intervention and programming about consent (Trinity College, “2018-2019 Handbook”). The length of this prevention section as well as the content are significant indicators that the emphasis in Trinity policy currently is much less focused on the victim’s responsibility to prevent sexual violence and is more focused on how others can intervene and/or prevent crossing lines of violation by getting consent. It is evident, then, through an examination of Trinity College Handbooks that policy and regulations regarding sexual violence on campus have evolved significantly from being essentially nonexistent, to minimal and focused on the victim’s responsibility to prevent assault, to finally more detailed and less focused on the victim’s responsibility in preventing assault.

Although official policy surrounding sexual violence at Trinity college has evolved between 1969 and 2018, an examination of student experiences during this time is necessary in order to uncover the relationship between change in policy and student experiences during this time. Through the analysis of student testimonies in Professor Noreen Channels’ “Survey of the Trinity College Alumnae”, Female Students Surveys, Campus Climate Surveys, and Title IX Surveys, I have been able to gain a solid understanding of student experiences at Trinity College surrounding issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The first of these examinations of student experiences with sexual violence that I will explore is Professor Noreen Channels’ “Survey of the Trinity College Alumnae”. This survey was conducted in the Spring of 1990, making its release immediately following the 20 year anniversary of coeducation at Trinity. In this survey, Professor Channels asks female students who attended Trinity during these first 20 years of coeducation (the 1970s-1980s) about their experiences on campus, discrimination they may have faced, and any notable memories from their time at Trinity, among other things. The findings reveal that during the 1970s and 1980s, female students experienced an incredible amount of sexual violence on campus.

By analyzing this survey I am able to see that between 1970 and 1989, during which Trinity policy evolved from nonexistent to minimal but focused primarily on victim-oriented prevention, student experiences did not decrease at all and in fact a peak in intensity of sexual assaults can be seen in the 1980s. When asked to explain one or two specific memories about being a woman at Trinity in Channels’ survey, women who attended the college in the 1970s made countless comments about the lack of safety that they felt and the sexual assault, harassment, and/or the hostile sexualized and male-dominated environment that they experienced. Time and time again, women during the 1970s at Trinity also reflected on their time at the college by describing the lack of support or care that administration had for their safety and for pursuing justice for their assaulters. Examples of such comments regarding this lack of safety and dissatisfaction with administrative actions surrounding sexual violence can be seen in one student’s comment (who attended Trinity in 1975-1979) that “Even though there were a significant number of physical assaults on women, there was essentially no college-sponsored remedy”, and another student’s sentiment, who attended during the same years, that “It felt like it was ‘open season’ on Trinity women my freshman and sophomore years. I rarely felt physically safe. Security should’ve been increased in every way possible” (Channels 6). Similarly, flocks of female students reported stories of sexual assault, harassment, and sexually hostile comments that they heard on campus. These sexually inappropriate comments from male students contributed to a hostile, male dominated campus culture that made female students feel unsafe. Examples of the type of sexual harassment that is frequently reported of female students from the 1970s in this survey include unwarranted visits from males in female bathrooms/showers and harassment from male Professors who humiliated students for refusing to succumb to sexual requests (Channels 19). These sentiments are reflected countless times throughout the Channels survey, demonstrating that female students in the 1970s felt incredibly unsafe and vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault in addition to feeling unsupported by administration/policy.

Through student responses in the Noreen Channels survey, the 1980s prove to be the worst decade in the years that I examine for this research, due to the significant spike in intensity of sexual assault incidences. It is worth revisiting the fact that it is in the 1980s that Trinity College policy in the Handbooks were incredibly focused on the victim’s role and responsibility in preventing violence done to them. During the time period where this victim-oriented prevention thrived in college policy, female students experienced the worst and most intense culture of sexual violence to date. Dozens of women who attended Trinity in the 1980s reported vulgar sexual assaults done to either them or those that they knew in this survey. Countless women spoke of a gang rape incident in which a Hartford woman was sexually assaulted by a group of fraternity brothers at a Trinity fraternity house; nearly all women who mentioned this incident in the survey also discussed the fact that they believed the administration brushed the whole scenario off and the brothers who raped the young woman were not held accountable to an appropriate level. In addition, women described the rhetoric at the time to be emphasizing the victim’s role in the assault and claimed that she was “asking for it” (Channels). Similar stories of various assaults are told over and over in this survey, with one woman explaining her own experience being gang raped by her date and his fraternity brothers. After describing how they forcefully held her down, ripped off just the amount of clothes necessary to do what they intended to do, and raped her, she goes on to discuss how she was made to feel about the situation by the campus culture. She writes:

As the victim I felt I must have done something to instigate this behavior or I should not have been in his room and it must have been my fault. I was finally able to tell a few friends after locking myself in a dark room tor a week, I guess to pay penance. My friends were sorry for me but we all came from nice towns and nice schools and this didn’t happen to “nice” girls. Maybe that’s one reason I didn’t report it. I also came to Trinity a year after the “Crow Incident” [where the Hartford woman was gang raped by fraternity brothers] and I know a few of those involved in that and also just hearing people talk about it made the woman out to be the instigator and the feeling seemed to be that she deserved it. Well now I know that isn’t true but back then I felt that was the response I would get. There was another rape incident which was reported and the girl sued the boy but be won because she had been in his room and according to many students she was asking for it.

The attitude that this woman expresses about the shame and blame she put on herself as well as the blame that the Trinity community put on other female victims of sexual assault is incredibly reflective of Trinity policy during this time. The overwhelming majority of material in Trinity College policy (as seen in the handbooks) during the 1980s emphasized actions that women should be sure to do in order to prevent being sexually assaulted. Putting the responsibility to not get raped on women via instructing them to never walk alone, to walk confidently, to not be alone with someone they don’t know well, or to tell a potential assailant that they were on their period or had a venereal disease, created a campus culture that blamed female students for being raped. If a woman was sexually assaulted, the campus community spoke of the ways that she must have been asking for it since she was at the man’s dorm alone with him or was dressed provocatively. This in turn lead to women feeling ashamed of being assaulted and placing blame on themselves, as described above. The college policies in the 1980s that did not hold rapists and perpetrators accountable for not assaulting women and instead held women accountable for not being raped, is strongly correlated with a decade of alarmingly intense reports of sexual assault and harassment.

As Trinity College policy regarding sexual violence in the handbooks continued to evolve to become more detailed and less victim-oriented in prevention tactics moving into the 1990s and 2000s, student experiences continue to show an abundance of sexual assault, harassment, and a culture of toxic male dominance on campus. Although the intensity of student reported experiences are not at the same level as they were in the peak of the 1980s, recent student experiences of sexual harassment can be seen as just as abundant and male-dominated as they were in the 1970s. One source that sheds light on the still sexually violent and hostile campus environment is Trinity College’s Report on 2010 Female Students Survey (Hughes). In this report, in addition to several questions about campus involvement and interest, female students were asked to recount one or two specific experiences of being a woman at Trinity, a similar question to that in the Noreen Channels survey. Although the question makes no explicit reference to sexual assault or harassment, many students’ responses focus on these aspects of life at Trinity. An overwhelming majority of comments reflect those mentioned at the beginning of this paper, where women described what can only be explained as a male-dominated, aggressive campus culture of objectification and sexual violence on various levels. Sexual violence is seen through these student testimonials to include harassment such as derogatory and inappropriate language, non-consensual sexual touching, ridicule and bullying when one doesn’t consent to sexual acts, and sexual assault. While explicit and easily identifiable trends of sexual assault and fearing for one’s safety at parties are seen in this survey, so too are more subtle but incredibly harmful trends of sexual harassment that contribute to a sexually hostile campus culture that persists today despite changes in policy. Examples of this harassment include being cat called and stared at when walking down the hall in a towel after a shower, groped and rubbed up against unwarrantedly at parties, the notion that, “If you hint at the idea that you’d like to make friends without taking your clothes off, you will quickly be ignored”, and being sprayed with beer when refusing to have sex with a fraternity brother (Hughes, “Female Students Survey”). Many women spoke of a campus culture wherein “male domination still pervades on campus” through verbal harassment, physical harassment, and systems such as fraternities that exist in such a way that male students are given power to selectively let in women they deem sexually attractive enough to pursue once they are inside (Hughes, “Female Students Survey” 13). The abundance of incidents such as these reported in the 2010 Female Students Survey alone indicate that, although as the years after coeducation have passed policies and expectations have evolved to be more blatant, detailed, and less focused on the victim’s job to prevent assault, there still remains a sexually hostile and unsafe environment on Trinity’s campus.

It is true that a large proportion of respondents in the 2010 Female Students Survey indicated this level of sexual violence through harassment and assault, yet by and large female students who were members of Greek life or athletic teams in the 2000s reported quite the opposite. Both female students involved in sororities and in varsity athletics reported an overwhelming sense of comradery and safety on campus. One sorority sister wrote “I loved my experience at Trinity.  Any small negative experience I encountered had NOTHING to do with the fact I am female.  I would actually say being a woman enhanced my experience a ton because I could be part of a sorority which I absolutely love.” Similarly, a student athlete whose view is reflected in several other female athlete’s reports said “As a member of the Women’s Rugby team, I feel empowered to be a woman on Trinity’s campus. I feel that the girls on the team really take pride in their status as women and they have taught me so much about appreciating being a woman” (Hughes, “Female Students Survey”). No claims of sexual violence during their years spent at Trinity were mentioned in statements by women who also claimed that they were a part of a Greek life organization or athletic team. A handful of female athletes did report discriminatory practices in the spending and resources that men’s teams as opposed to women’s teams received, but none mentioned incidents of sexual assault or harassment.

In addition to the majority experience of females on campus regularly undergoing sexual harassment and assault in the 2000s even as Trinity policy became thoroughly outlined, students also failed to report instances of sexual violence likely due to a lack of knowledge/clarity regarding where and how to report. As mentioned previously, although the policy in Trinity College handbooks evolved to become detailed and elaborate, it is very possible that such an exorbitant amount of detail can in fact be confusing and overwhelming for victims looking to report. This is supported in the 2007 Campus Climate Survey, where, out of the individuals (both men and women) who responded in the survey that they had experienced sexual harassment of some sort during their time at Trinity, only 7% of women and 0% of men actually reported the incident to any campus faculty besides an RA or professor (Hughes, “Campus Climate”). Additionally, only 10% of women who responded in this survey that they had been sexually assaulted at Trinity actually reported the incident to any campus faculty besides an RA or professor. This is to say that 0% of men in this survey filed an official report or complaint of their harassment, a mere 7% of women filed an official report or complaint of their harassment to the college, and only 10% of women (women were the only ones to respond as having been assaulted) filed an official report or complaint of their assault. A source of information that explains this utter lack of reporting is the 2015 Title IX Survey. According to this 2015 Title IX Survey, “Only half [of respondents] felt they knew how to file a formal sexual assault/harassment criminal complaint, or were familiar with the disciplinary processes that would be put in motion by such a complaint” and  “Only one in ten could accurately identify the Title IX coordinator” (Hughes, “Title IX Survey”).” The disparity between abundant student experiences of sexual harassment and assault as described in the 2010 Female Students Survey and the lack of reporting seen in the 2007 Campus Climate Survey can certainly be attributed to the respondents’ lack of knowledge regarding the process of reporting and the resources to whom one should turn to in order to report. This confusion and lack of clarity about the reporting process is explained in the aforementioned 2015 Title IX Survey. It is also possible that, given student testimonies of victim-blaming culture on campus in prior years, students did not feel comfortable reporting and did not trust in the administration to deliver justice to their assailants. Even though Trinity College policies and regulations changed to become more detailed and less focused on victim-oriented prevention, student experiences of sexual violence did not decrease in the 2000s and due to a lack of clarity surrounding reporting (or perhaps a toxic campus culture), a shocking proportion of students also did not report their incidents of being victim to sexual misconduct.

By analyzing change over time in policy on sexual harassment and assault in Trinity College Handbooks, it has become evident that the college’s official regulations and policy shifted from nonexistent during the first ten years of coeducation, to minimal and emphasizing the role of the victim in prevention strategies for assault between 1979 to 1987, to extensive, relatively well outlined, and focused less on the victim’s obligations to prevent her/his own assault in recent years. However, while this progressive shift toward a more holistic sexual assault policy took place, student experiences did not improve. In fact, student-reported experiences of harassment, assault, and a dangerous male-dominated environment remained stable between the years of 1969 and 2018, with a dramatic peak in intensity of sexual violence in the 1980s. Female sorority members and female varsity sports team athletes seem to be the only exception to this finding, as this demographic reported feelings of safety and comradery on campus and did not claim to be victims of an abundance of sexual violence as the majority of other females did.  Additionally, student reporting of sexual harassment and assault did not improve as Trinity policy did, and according to one survey, startlingly low percentages of victims actually officially reported their incident to the college. This is likely due to either a lack of clarity about where and how to report, as the 2015 Title IX Survey suggests, or due to a victim-blaming culture on campus that several students reported left them feeling to blame for their own sexual assault and untrusting of college administration. By comparing various aspects of Trinity College policy and regulations in the handbooks to various aspects of student experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus, I have been able to discover the following: official policies evolved in quality and quantity of description and prevention strategies between 1969 and 2018, while negative student experiences peaked in the 1980s and proceeded to remain stable in terms of sexual violence and male-dominated environments between the years of 1969 and 2018.


Works Cited

Channels, Noreen L. “Survey of the Trinity College Alumnae Conducted in the Spring, 1990.”    Watkinson Library at Trinity College, 1990.

Trinity College. “Trinity College Handbook.” 1969-2018. Accessed 06 April 2019

Hughes, James J. “2007 Campus Climate Frequencies.” Trinity College, 2007.

—“2010 Female Student Survey Frequencies.” Trinity College, Apr. 2010

— “2015 Title IX Survey Summary.” Trinity College, July 2015.

“Trinity College Policy on Sexual Misconduct.” Trinity College, 12 Sept. 2018.