Cari Simon Published in The Washington Post

Attorney Cari Simon advocates on behalf of sexual assault victims, spotlighting the academic impact of sexual violence.

Cari begins with Deena’s* story, a young woman who was raped while attending university.

The semester Deena* was raped, her grades plummeted: She received a “D” in one course and failed another. It was the classes requiring participation in which her grades suffered the most, as some days she was too terrified to leave her dorm room, especially after running into her assailant on campus.

When Deena went to her academic dean to explain, he patronized. “Lots of students graduate with a 2.0,” he said. Sure, Deena was aware that some students did. But Deena graduated at the top of her high school class; she shouldn’t have been one of them.

Cari has worked with over a dozen campus sexual survivors and states that unfortunately, Deena’s experience is a common one – all saw their grade-point averages unfairly deflated due to sexual violence, sometimes dramatically. As one of her clients bluntly put it, “it’s as if my transcript is covered in his semen.”

These deflated GPAs have a rippling negative impact on survivor’s graduate school options and access to professional opportunities. Those lost opportunities are devastating on a micro-level — individual students miss out on what they had worked hard to achieve, Cari explains.

But the problem also has serious consequences on the macro level. It means that we as a society are losing out on the contributions that these students would have made had they been able to start off in professional careers and attend graduate schools that are reflective of their merits, not their rape.

A supportive school is well-positioned to help students like Deena, and lessen the academic impact of sexual violence.

She asserts, it is the responsibility of the school, not the student, to ensure the academic accommodation needs are met and proposes some remedial measures a school could offer to do just that:

Restore Academic Record. Where a student’s grades have already suffered because of a sexual assault, for example because the student had not yet informed the school of the assault, or the school failed to provide accommodations, schools should provide opportunities to remedy the survivor’s transcript. For example, the school could remove affected grades, allow the survivor to retake a course, replace poor grades with “passes,” or offer to attach an official addendum to transcripts explaining impacted grades.

Graduate programs. Graduate schools should invite applicants to explain low grades related to sexual violence, and provide opportunities for students to recalculate their GPA without the assault-affected grades. These efforts should be done in a manner that respects the applicant’s privacy.

Schools should make every effort to ensure that their misconduct proceedings do not to interfere with academic success. I worked with a student who was required to complete an appeal of his rape case during his exam period. His final grades that semester were the worst of his academic career. Access to campus justice should not have inversely impacted his GPA. Schools should take care not to schedule hearings during midterms or final exams.

GPA requirements. Where schools have a GPA requirement for maintaining a scholarship or participation in school programs, survivors should be offered a semester or year-long forgiveness period in which their grades would not count towards eligibility.

Warning signs. Where a student’s grades take a sudden downturn, academic deans should be on alert that the student might have experienced sexual violence-related trauma, and reach out to that student before placing her or him on academic probation.

“Survivors have gone on to achieve great successes. But they shouldn’t be handicapped by grades impacted by sexual violence. And schools can do much to prevent the academic fallout that all too often follows a sexual assault,” Simon concludes.

Click here to view The Washington Post Article

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