In previous articles I have made a few comparisons between distance education and on-campus studies. I have found that each method has inherent advantages and disadvantages. A recent incident at the University of Saskatchewan has highlighted an important aspect of home-based distance education such as that available through Athabasca University.
On November 28, 2003, between the hours of 22:30 and 23:30, a twenty-two year old female student suffered a violent sexual assault on-campus. The incident occurred in one of the women’s washrooms in the Arts building. That Building is separated from the College of Law where I attend classes by only the Commerce Building and I walk through both every day to procure a coffee from the Kiosk.
The horrible event took place late on a Friday night so most of the university students didn’t hear about it until the following Monday. Unfortunately, most found out through the notoriously unreliable “grape-vine” because the university failed to announce anything to the university community until 14:09 that Monday when an email was sent out from security services warning of an “alleged assault”. The communiqué failed to reveal the sexual nature of the assault or its level of violence, and the students were left guessing as to what exactly had happened. More than a few students have expressed their anger at the University for its failure to more rapidly and effectively inform the university community so that vulnerable people could take preventative measures against reoccurrence.
The front page of the December 20, 2003 edition of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix newspaper had an article on the assault. The University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon (http://www.usask.ca/president) was quoted as stating that “those kinds on incidents are very rare on the U of S (campus): Years go by without incidents like that becoming known” (emphasis added).
I’ve seen no evidence showing that the U of S suffers greater or fewer sexual assaults than other Canadian University campuses. But there is empirical evidence that shows that sexual assaults are extremely underreported crimes in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, only 10% of all sexual assaults are reported to police (http://www.voyageur.ca/~ksac/myths.htm). According to the University of Alberta Health Center: “After the age of 18, one out of every four women and one out of ten men will be sexually assaulted. The majority of sexual assault victims are between the ages of 17 and 24. More than 80% of rapes that occur on university and college campuses are committed by someone the victim knows, and 50% occur on dates. Many of these assaults happen during the first eight weeks of classes. 15% to 30% of women at university report experiencing acquaintance rape. Among university students, studies most commonly estimate that between one in six women and one in four women will be a victim of sexual assault during her university career” (http://www.ualberta.ca/dept/health/public_html/healthinfo/sacan.htm#def).
The same Star Phoenix article cited supra also detailed a sexual assault that occurred to a teenaged girl in the summer of 2003. She was working on-campus at the University of Saskatchewan in the middle of the day when the attack occurred. Given the abovementioned statistics, it is likely that these two reported incidents amount to an approximation of merely 10% of the sexual assaults actually occurring at the University of Saskatchewan; and a similar number of cases per capita are likely occurring at every university campus in Canada. Like any business, universities are likely to downplay their negatives and promote the positive aspects of their campuses. This is especially true as competition increases between universities to attract the best and brightest students to their programs. However; with an issue such as sexual assault, the priority must be the safety of the students and incidents of assaults that are reported should be communicated to the university community rapidly and candidly.
Returning to the opening topic of this article, students of Athabasca University who study in the comfort of their own homes should not take for granted the fact that they need not worry about being assaulted while at, or on their way to or from, a conventional university campus.