One of the lighter moments of a conference on campus sexual misconduct here at the University of Virginia on Monday followed a serious question from a student, who asked the six presidents on a much-anticipated panel how they were specifically assisting minority and low-income survivors, who are especially vulnerable to assault.
The presidents didn't get a chance to answer—Association of American Universities President Hunter Rawlings, who moderated the panel, cut in to ask the student whether he had any suggestions.
"Oh, you wanted advice?" the student said, clearly in surprise, as the audience broke into laughter. "I can give you advice!"
He and another half-dozen or so students—as many as time permitted—offered up idea after idea after idea, and they weren't shy about expressing gratitude for the opportunity. They were speaking to presidents from campuses that have dealt with some of the most publicly scrutinized sexual assault issues in the country—Carolyn (Biddy) Martin from Amherst College, for instance, Royce Engstrom of the University of Montana, and Carol Folt from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
One could tell that the students don't often get such a platform.
Day one of the two-day conference was, as promised, a "dialogue." Where conversations like these are often one-way or glossed over, presidents, students and even the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights' head honcho spoke reasonably candidly about the extent of the problems and the colleges' response.
"It makes me feel an optimism today that I cannot say I felt five years ago," Folt said of the dialogue.