How College Dorm Rooms Facilitate Sexual Assault

Everything from furniture selection to the fact that upperclassmen are more likely to have single rooms increases the risk of assault

Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan
GEN
Published in
5 min readJan 13, 2020

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Photo illustration/Photo: James Woodson/Getty Images

DDiscussions of campus sexual assault prevention tend to focus on alcohol, pathological perpetrators, and the culture of toxic masculinity. As important as these are, they’re also extremely difficult to change. After spending the last five years researching, analyzing, and writing about sexual assault — including interviewing 151 Columbia University students about their experiences — we have found several less obvious ways of understanding why assault happens. These point to an entirely different, and very concrete, set of strategies to make sexual assault less common on college campuses and beyond.

We’re talking about things like furniture.

It may seem absurd at first. But think about two college students heading back to one of their rooms after an evening of flirting. They’re not sure what they want, but the bars have closed, the parties have ended, and there’s nowhere else to go. When they open the door to that dorm room they see four items: a desk, a chair, a bureau, and a bed. If they don’t sit together it’s awkward. But sitting together means sharing a bed. And like it or not, that has a…

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Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan
GEN
Writer for

Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan are both professors at Columbia University. They are authors of Sexual Citizens, published by W.W. Norton