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Claims of sexual assaults on Rice University campus spark campus policy change

HOUSTON – Dozens of current and former students at Rice University recently shared their stories of sexual assault with the weekly student newspaper, the Rice Thresher.

The majority of the reported sexual assaults happened on campus. They were perpetrated by strangers, friends, roommates, even professors and advisors, the paper reported.

"I described it as our #metoo moment," editor-in-chief and senior Christina Tan told KPRC 2.

"We're journalists, but we're also students and this is literally our community," managing editor Anna Ta said. "Realizing how many of those people have been traumatized by this assault that you never knew about, it just wrecks you, it's so hard."

The editors put out a call for sexual assault survivors to tell their stories after the positive response to a related opinion article the Thresher published last week.

"We thought maybe we'd get, like, five or 10" responses, Tan said. "We didn't expect to get almost 60 responses, especially because the turnaround time was, like, two days."

Ta and Tan sorted through 22,000 or so words of detailed responses and wrote a 4,500-page article titled "In their own words: Survivors stories of sexual assault at Rice."

The editors wrote that they "verified certain objective details of these accounts," but "were unable to corroborate the facts of their cases with Student Judicial Programs" because many students wished to remain anonymous.

Rice's president and dean of undergraduates wrote a letter to the student body following last week's opinion article about sexual assault from a survivor.

They apologized to the student, changed policy and wrote: "We will continue to give students opportunities to be heard, and we will review all of our policies, procedures, and penalties regarding findings of sexual misconduct."

Included in Wednesday's Thresher was also a letter from Bridget Gorman, the dean of undergraduates, who wrote that the "events of the last week have been deeply emotional for many of us. I feel this emotion."

"Together, in the time ahead, we will be engaged in a detailed and thoughtful review of how our policies are structured," Gorman also wrote.

Rice Senior Rachel Carlton said she survived two sexual assaults on campus, first as a freshman and again as a junior.

"The first time it happened everyone was very quick to believe me" because the perpetrator was a stranger, Carlton said.

But after the second sexual assault, perpetrated by someone she said she and her friends knew, "it wasn't something that I shared with everyone right away, but when I did I was surprised by the reaction."

KPRC 2 does not usually identify sexual assault survivors, bur Carlton wanted to be identified.

Ta and Tan said they walked away from the weeklong project emotionally exhausted and determined to do more to solve the problem.

"If you think you're doing enough, you're not," Ta said. "Every single one of us should be doing more, and looking at ourselves."

"It's a lot harder to look internally, and I think our big takeaway is that it's critical to do that," Tan said.