Jon Stewart weighed in last week on the debate surrounding sexual assault on college campuses with a satirical and poignant segment on The Daily Show entitled “The Fault in Our Schools.”
The segment opens with a searing indictment of James Madison University, which, Stewart reports, recently reacted to an instance of alleged sexual assault by announcing that the perpetrators would be “expelled upon graduation.” Stewart goes on to explain that JMU is only one of 55 colleges under investigation for mishandling cases of sexual assault.
“Are colleges trying to incentivize sexual assault?” Stewart asks the audience. “Clearly universities are not making their campuses safe for women.”
“The Fault in Our Schools” has been lauded by feminist publications and journalists who cover sexual assault. Eliana Dockterman, a reporter for Time who has been reporting developments in the sexual assault debate for months, wrote of the sketch: “The way [The Daily Show takes] on gender-related injustice is hilarious: they even get a ‘not all men’ reference in there.” Jezebel blogger Erin Gloria Ryan was equally supportive of Stewart’s coverage, writing, “it’s got everything a lady could want.” Carol Hartsell referred to the clip in The Huffington Post as a “withering takedown of the ridiculous double standards women face.”
But Stewart’s critique is just the latest in a raft of coverage of sexual assault on college campuses, an issue that has drawn increased media attention since the April announcement of a related government initiative. It was introduced with a public service announcement, called “1 is 2 many,” which quickly went viral and was accompanied by a report and the formation of a task force to combat sexual assault on campus.
The PSA features the President and several male celebrities explaining that sexual assault affects “our sisters, our daughters, our wives, and our friends.” The men call on the audience to help, speak up, and not blame the victim. The PSA inspired a slew of blog posts and articles, most of which were overwhelmingly in favor of the campaign. In one, Zerlina Maxwell at Feministing wrote:
This PSA means so much to me personally. In some ways, it’s powerful validation that no it was not my fault and even the leader of the free world agrees and wants everyone to do more to support people like me who are the “1.”
Coverage of sexual assault on college campuses surged after the PSA was released, but the issue has been creeping its way into the public eye for several years now. In October of 2012, an opinion piece in The Amherst Student penned by a victim of sexual assault elicited hundreds of comments. It was followed by an editorial in The Brown Daily Herald that November, entitled, “Let’s Get Serious About Sexual Assault.”
The following summer, sexual assault on college campuses made it out of college dailies and into national news outlets. In August of 2013, Jezebel and The Huffington Post attacked Yale University for not being harsh enough on alleged rapists, after a group of students announced they would be filing a sexual harassment suit against the school. During the following academic school year, the Yale Daily News published numerous pieces on Yale’s response, questioning Yale’s code of sexual misconduct and consent education workshops.