Why Doesn't Princeton Review Rank Best Sexual Assault Prevention and Response on Campuses?

Why Doesn't Princeton Review Rank Best Sexual Assault Prevention and Response on Campuses?

As high school graduations are celebrated around the country, a number of seniors and parents are turning to the Princeton Review to make final choices about colleges, but the women's rights activist group UltraViolet worries that incoming freshmen—and their parents— don't have all the information they need.

The Princeton Review ranks colleges and universities in a number of categories, including financial aid options, religiousity, LGBT friendliness, parties, and political activism, among others, but they have no information in their guides about sexual assault on campus. This month, UltraViolet launched a petition to the Princeton Review to change that by listing sexual assault prevention and response rankings for schools in its 2015 college guide.


Campus sexual assault awareness campaign by UltraViolet. (Flickr)

"With 55 schools under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault on their campuses, it's evident that it's a widespread problem," their open letter to the popular guide reads. It goes on:

"Every year, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors consult your guides before deciding where to apply, and ultimately where to go to college. They deserve to know if the schools they pick have a rape problem. Right now, Princeton Review is failing to share critical information about safety that students and parents need to make the right decisions.

For too long, colleges and universities have been able to sweep sexual assaults on their campuses under the rug. It's time for that to end. As the go-to guide for college-bound students, the Princeton Review must include crucial information about how schools handle the epidemic of sexual assault and if they're working toward prevention. Students and parents alike look to you for accurate and complete information about what to expect from their college experience."

Over 35,000 people have signed the petition since it launched on the first of this month. This isn't the first time the popular school ranker has received criticism, over a decade ago, they refused to remove the list of top party schools from its rankings, which the American Medical Association described as a perpetuation of "the false notion that alcohol is central to the college experience."

The response from the Princeton Review to the current campaign has been similarly ineffective. On the safety section of its site, which offers resources for student safety, a message appeared addressing the pressure to include assault response and prevention rankings. It said, in part:

"While some individuals have asked The Princeton Review to rank colleges on campus sexual assault records, we have never—nor do we expect ever to—create rankings on matters of campus crime, including sexual assaults. Such issues involve very serious and complex legal matters. Among them are issues of student confidentiality and reporting guidelines that vary, campus to campus, case to case, and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Currently there is no uniform system in place by which such data is obtainable sufficient to us or in our opinion for any organization to make fair or accurate school-to-school comparisons."

On the same page, the popular college guide tells prospective university students,

"We encourage applicants, as part of their search for their best-fit college, to ask questions about safety during campus visits, read news coverage of the local area, and to become familiar with the resources and information provided."

How the Princeton Review can quantify the best parties among schools but fail to do the same with sexual assault response and prevention programs is a mystery.

People worry that forcing the guide to list these things will bring a focus on the crime numbers submitted by schools that receive federal funding under the 1992 Clery Act. The Center for Public Integrity showed that these figures are systematically underreported, and the fear is that using them as a ranking function will penalize schools that are honest and encourage more lying. But what seems to escape people making this argument is that the Princeton Review relies on surveys from students — 126,000 students — according to their site.

Ironically, student surveys are exactly how the White House suggested colleges themselves approach the issue of sexual assault on campus.

“With epidemic rape on campuses across America, it's time to make colleges compete to be the best at addressing this issue,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet.

In addition to this open letter, the activism group has launched a campaign of online ads to bring attention to this issue.

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