MSU Sociology professor tackles campus sexual violence in new book

September 21, 2022 - Karessa Weir

Dr. Sarah Prior

Dr. Sarah Prior recalls an incident when she was an undergrad at Gonzaga University, the then-president of the university told her they didn’t have a problem with campus sexual assaults. Instead, they had a problem with alcohol and “to solve it, girls just needed to stop getting drunk and going into rooms with boys,” Dr. Prior remembers him saying.

Dr. Prior, together with co-author Brooke de Heer (Northern Arizona University), have found that attitudes like this still perpetuate in college and universities across the country and they have highlighted many of the cases in their new book “Campus Sexual Violence: A State of Institutionalized Sexual Terrorism.”

“We look at the ways in which we hold institutions accountable for the rampant sexual violence that happens on campuses,” Dr. Prior said.

Drs. Prior and de Heer state that the term “terrorism” applies to the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses because it includes not just the physical acts of violence, but the implicit threat of violence women and sexual minorities face daily on college campuses. It also includes harassment, intimidation, exploitation as well as rape.

“For many women and sexual minorities on campuses, they feel like it’s not an ‘if” they will be sexually assaulted but a ‘when’,” Dr. Prior said. 

“In this book, Sarah Prior and Brooke de Heer shine a much-needed spotlight on the role of institutions of higher education in creating, maintaining and perpetuating harm associated with sexual violence,” said Dr. Carrie Moylan, Associate Professor of Social Work at MSU.

Drs. Prior and de Heer argue that the push toward neoliberalism within institutes of higher education have made them more focused on brand management which often means less concern for students and student safety. The authors encourage colleges and universities to instead focus on engaging in civic responsibility, becoming institutional advocates, and practicing institutional courage. 

“Most parents think they are sending their kids off to college for this experience and that they will be protected by this institution that we are paying all this money to. What happens when they don’t? These trusted institutions that have violated our trust, how can we restructure the university as a courageous institution,” Dr. Prior said. “What does a courageous university look like?”

Along with discussing the case of Larry Nassar at MSU, Drs. Prior and de Heer highlight the case of Harvard University professor John Comaroff who was accused of sexual misconduct by three graduate students, who sued Harvard for “downplaying or ignoring complaints about sexual misconduct.”

The authors also examine Baylor University’s handling of the gang rape of a student athlete by football players which revealed a “rape culture” at Baylor.

At Columbia University, three separate issues appear in the book including Emma Sulkowicz, the student who carried her mattress with her for her senior project “to demonstrate the weight victims of sexual violence carry with them when their institutions fail to respond.” They also discuss the mishandling of sexual violence against LGBTQA+ individuals at Colombia and Barnard College.

Finally, Drs. Prior and de Heer discuss the long-term effects of sexual assault by a team doctor at the Ohio State University and the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State.

Stanford student Brock Turner and Vanderbilt football players were also included. Overall, the cases show that institutions have failed when it comes to hearing, believing and supporting victims of sexual violence, the authors state.

“Within higher education, one of our most trusted institutions, sexual violence is regularized and minimized in ways that are deeply troubling and evident by the ongoing rates of victimization,” they wrote. “We hope this is a starting point in a conversation about different ways to think about and respond to campus sexual violence at the institutional level.”

Dr. Prior is Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Program Director for MSU Sociology. She is Core Faculty at the Center for Gender in Global Context. Dr. de Heer is Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University.

 Dr. Prior will be discussing her book on the campus of her alma mater, Gonzaga, at 12 p.m. Friday Oct. 14 in a talk sponsored by the Women’s & Gender Studies Department.

You can order Campus Sexual Violence:  A State of Institutionalized Sexual Terrorism here:

 Watch a short video of Dr. Prior discussing her book here:


Summary of video: Dr. Sarah Prior, Assistant Professor of Sociology, discusses the basic tenets of her newly published book "Campus Sexual Violence: A State of Institutionalized Sexual Terrorism": The book looks at the ways in which is hold institutions accountable for the rampant sexual violence on campus. We take a deep look at several examples of the ways universities choose brand over humans in their universities. They focus on how they protect their brand instead of their students. They are much less about knowledge producing because they have become businesses. Because they are no longer fully funded, they have to make money to survive that had lead to a prioritization of brand over students, faculty and staff.