A critical discourse analysis of intimate partner violence and sexual violence discourse on the websites of two institutions of higher education

Schulz, Jessica
Major Professor
Rosemary J Perez
Committee Member
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This critical discourse analysis focuses on the discourses of sexual violence and intimate partner violence on the websites of two institutions of higher education in the United States. Analyzing how institutions speak about sexual and intimate partner violence is an important step to learning about how they see victims, survivors, perpetrators, and their own obligations for supporting students. Many students, especially women, will be assaulted during their college years. Many students, especially men, will perpetrate these acts of violence against their peers. With these crimes happening on campuses, it is critical that institutions communicate clear, accurate, up to date, and inclusive information that supports victim’s and survivor’s autonomy. Framed by feminist theory, this critical discourse analysis aligns with existing literature by showing the dissonance in discourses within higher education. Compliance culture with a focus on reporting was the dominant discourse at one institution, while a fractured survivor-centered discourse framed the other. The agents of these crimes were often framed as gender neutral, with the gender binary being invoked if pronouns were present, and perpetrators were largely absent or disembodied. Intimate partner violence discourse was rarely engaged or was subsumed under interpersonal violence, while sexual violence was named or replaced with sexual misconduct. Hegemonic and institutional power were present throughout the discourses, especially surrounding reporting and confidentiality. While these two campuses missions may vary, sexual violence and intimate partner violence have been prevalent at both institutions. Relying on a culture of compliance places the needs of the institution above the needs of the victims and survivors. Similarly, using neutrality, omitting perpetrators, and failing to engage the ways that sexual and intimate partner violence looks different for people and communities does a disservice to the student body. Implications for practice and future research address these gaps.