Upon first glance, Millsaps’ campus is shocking. A large iron fence surrounds most of the campus’s parameter due to its placement in Jackson, the city with the highest murder rate per capita in the United States in 2021. While intimidating, this fence keeps its students and faculty safe and has become comforting to many students and faculty alike. Millsaps does indeed do an excellent job at protecting itself from outside dangers, but what about the perpetrators that lie within its small campus?
In an interview with a Millsaps third-year student, she described her personal experience being sexually assaulted on campus and the abrupt end of her pursuit for justice. In November of 2021, the woman, a then second year Millsaps student, attended the annual SAE Christmas Party. After consuming twelve shots of hard liquor, three mixed drinks, and three Truly seltzers, her awareness of reality dissipated; the next thing she remembered was waking up in her room with a naked man, a man she knew had assaulted one of her friends, strewn across her bed.
In the days to follow, a mutual friend and member of the same fraternity as the perpetrator would fill in the gaps that the victim’s memory could not. The mutual friend informed her that the perpetrator had told the friend that he had been sober, claimed that she was tipsy and “not even drunk,” and said that she had performed fellatio on him. At this point in the interview, the woman pointedly looks at me and clarifies that “[she] would have never slept with this man sober.”
Initially, the woman did not want to come forward with her report of the sexual assault, but after emotional support from a close friend she decided to reach out to Nicole Carter, the Care and Accessibility Specialist/ Title IX Coordinator at Millsaps College. At this meeting, Ms. Carter presented the woman with her options: file a Title IX or go through the school with a sexual misconduct claim. In the interview, the woman explained that “[Ms. Carter] very much made it sound like [she] shouldn’t file a Title IX and that [she] should go the school route, but the school route wasn’t giving [her] many options.” The options she was presented through the ‘school route’ were giving her and the perpetrator different blocks of time to go to the cafeteria and having the perpetrator taken out of her classes. Ms. Carter asked the woman if her and the perpetrator had the same major and when she said “yes,” Ms. Carter conceded that taking him out of her classes no longer seemed like an option. The woman also mentioned that the Title IX Coordinator “made [filing a Title IX] sound scary” and “did not seem welcoming or helpful.” The victim left, defeated, and took her sexual assault case no further.
Earlier in the semester, I interviewed Nicole Carter and asked her if sexual harassment and misconduct Title IX cases had risen since she had been working at Millsaps, which has been the last three years. She told me she did not know but told me to check the Millsaps Clery report. Immediately after I looked up Millsaps’ Clery report, or the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. The 2018–2020 Crime Data of Millsaps College claims that in 2018 there were six forcible sex offenses, three on campus and three in residence halls. In 2019, this statistic dropped to two and in 2020 it dropped to zero. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “one in five women in college experiences sexual assault.” The Clery report is not an accurate reflection of the amount of sexual misconduct and abuse occurring on campus which poses the following question: is Millsaps doing enough to make students feel like they can come forward when they have been a victim of sexual misconduct or assault?
A female sophomore student, also a victim of sexual assault on Millsaps’ campus, argues no. Early in the first semester of the 2022 calendar year, a Millsaps freshman coerced the sophomore to come to her dorm building under the pretense that she was belligerently drunk and had lost her room key. After the sophomore walked her to her room and called campus security, the first-year student threatened her, pulled the sophomore girl into her dorm room, kissed her aggressively, pulled at her clothing, and groped the other girl’s genitals underneath her pants as the victim continuously told the perpetrator she needed to leave the dorm room and attempted to exit through the door. The sophomore girl never filed a Title IX report against her perpetrator and when asked why she stated that “no matter how people say Title IX is anonymous, it’s not.” The victim has a friend that was involved in the Title IX process and shortly after, social media posts were made about her and the incident. She included that “[Title IX administrators] would have personal knowledge about you, and they don’t deserve it because they don’t do anything about it. It doesn’t feel like they actually care about me, they’re just doing it to save themselves.”
When asked if she would have filed a Title IX report if she knew it would be completely anonymous, she said, “Absolutely. But the thing is you Title IX somebody and they just have that on their record. They get to stay here and walk around campus and exist as people.” She went on to ask rhetorically, “What even are the consequences? Nobody talks about that either. What happens when a Title IX is filed, and it’s approved? You’re still here on campus. You still get to go to school here. That’s a privilege. That’s not a right that you have. That should be revoked if you do something wrong. And you know if you cheat… if you go to the honor council for cheating you get zeros in your classes, you get F’s, but for sexually assaulting somebody and causing trauma for other people, what? What happens? That makes it feel pointless. That makes it feel like it’s just here so legally they can say ‘yeah we have places for people to report sexual assault.’”
The student conceded that “it’s not a trash on Millsaps and not the way Millsaps handles these situations, it’s a society thing.” This student also opened up about a professor making her and other female students uncomfortable with comments about their appearances and touching them unnecessarily. The student asserts that other faculty know about this professor’s inappropriate behavior, but believes no action is taken because the professor is tenured.
A contributing factor to inappropriate behavior from students and faculty alike is a lack of education. Title IX administration educates student-athletes on what Title IX is, what consent is and what it is not, and shares eye-opening statistics about men also being prominent victims of sexual assault on college campuses. This education for student-athletes is mandated by the NCAA; however, this same education is not required for all Millsaps college students. This lack of mandatory education is partially caused by the college’s geographical location; Mississippi is situated in the center of the Bible Belt, a region where societal and political beliefs are dictated by conservative Protestantism. One of these core beliefs is abstinence and abstinence-only education dictates a third of the government’s spending on teen sexual health programs. These programs focus on the negative consequences of pre-marital sex and hyperbolize the ineffectiveness of contraceptives and commonness of sexually transmitted diseases. Simultaneously, abstinence-only education does not teach adolescents about female and male anatomy, sexual health, sexual behavior, sexual identity, birth control, etc. Because of this lack of education, young adults rely on pornography for their sex education and one fourth of 18 to 24-year-olds have reported porn as their “most helpful source of information on how to have sex.”
Many of Millsaps’ students, including the students mentioned above, attended high school in states such as Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas which are also situated within the Bible Belt. This lack of education in both high school and college is one of the root causes of sexual assault and misconduct plaguing our campus, and Millsaps is one of many institutions that are not doing enough to combat this issue. The Title IX and consent education required for first-year student-athletes needs to be required for all students. One way to do this is to mandate sex education for first-year students, as either a separate class or integrated into our newly implemented Pathways program. Also, reoccurring education on sexual misconduct should be required by college’s administration, faculty, and staff as a mandatory part of working on campus. And, most importantly, Millsaps needs a way to hold Title IX administration responsible. Many colleges utilize a student tribunal to investigate Title IX complaints and reports which would simultaneously hold administrators accountable and give student victims more incentive to come forward. No matter the course of resolution, Millsaps College needs a change, and it needs one urgently.