A couple of weeks ago, Dean Braun asked for community feedback about the College Judiciary Committee (CJC) process. Although I am grateful that she is open to feedback, I don’t know how the community can respond to her request when the process has been largely hidden from the public eye. So, in response, I write this to inform the campus about the process and to ask for help from the community to restructure our broken system. I am a survivor – a survivor of sexual assault, but more than that. I am a survivor of Swarthmore College’s CJC process. I decided to pursue campus adjudication as a survivor of forcible, penetrative assault after discovering that my assailant had demonstrated a pattern of violent behaviors on campus. For the last six months, the CJC process has consumed my life, but it was the college’s handling of my case that made the process unnecessarily torturous. Now, I want discussion and I want change so that those who go through the CJC process in the future will not share my experience.
In continuation of and response to Amanda Epstein’s October 31 article, I, Meg*, have highlighted some questions that I think are particularly important for me to address in light of my own experience. Each question arose as a result of the obstacles I faced as I moved through the CJC process. Below I will describe my experience in short episodes, each followed by italicized questions that I would like the campus to consider as we move forward to change our system.
When students are on campus during the CJC process, they have access to a CAPS therapist, a trained third party whose priority is the student. Because I was off campus for most of the process, I could not access this resource. Furthermore, I was silenced and isolated at the moments when I most needed support because I could not speak with friends for fear of breaking confidentiality. My word limit prevents me from describing the trauma of the night before my hearing, but it was amplified because I was not allowed to talk to my closest friends, who were serving as my witnesses. Although I was offered support from members of the administration involved in my case, I found these individuals were not easily accessible, and their priority was the well-being of the institution, not mine. How should cases be handled when one or both of the individuals involved are off campus (summer break, study abroad, leave of absence, etc.)?
The conversations throughout my CJC experience were almost exclusively spoken without written record. This lack of record presented a huge problem. The investigative process is emotionally exhausting, and I struggled to process information. When a policy or procedure was unclear, I had no concrete information to reference. Furthermore, when the actions of various administrators did not match my memory, without written evidence, I could not hold them accountable. How can the administration ensure communication is clear?
Although I was extensively briefed on the importance of upholding confidentiality on my end, I was stopped in front of McCabe and questioned by my investigators while with a friend. I was also repeatedly called while at my summer internship to discuss my case even after I told them I was unavailable at those times. What is included in a survivor’s right to privacy? As we consider the survivor’s rights, how can we protect the accused student’s right to privacy while still taking accusations seriously?
The college hired a judge to hear my case. I cannot speak to the experiences of survivors whose cases were heard by a panel of students, faculty, and staff. I can say I appreciated having my case heard by an unbiased third party who was trained, experienced, and professional. These fundamental qualities may exist in a variety of hearing formats. Who should adjudicate CJC hearings concerning sexual assault?
The judge found my assailant responsible for rape, yet a single dean determined the appropriate sanction for my rapist was a two-year minimum suspension. After my assailant and I both appealed, a dean previously uninvolved in the process received the case and rejected both of our appeals. I question why at these three moments in my case, serious decisions were made by single individuals with varying degrees of involvement in my case and hearing. Who should determine the sanction after an accused student is found responsible? Who should make decisions about appeals?
My assailant was banned from campus until I graduate. Because his suspension was not made public, he was able to bypass these terms and visit campus. I feel the sanctions Swarthmore imposed to protect me and my community are failing. The administration left me responsible to see that these sanctions are enforced. Should the outcomes of CJC hearings and appeals be made public with identifiable names of perpetrators?
My rapist was not expelled. Swarthmore does not have a zero-tolerance policy. My assailant was found to be responsible of rape but is permitted the opportunity to re-enroll. Suspension is a strong sanction, but not strong enough to actually do what it should: protect both me and my community. His suspension implies that my assailant is solely my problem instead of a threat to the community as a whole. It assumes that upon his return to campus, other people aren’t at risk of falling victim to his demonstrated pattern of violence. I do not understand this decision. If rape does not merit expulsion, then what does? I am beyond furious, but I am also hurt and confused. Despite validation from the judge, I feel like Swarthmore only sanctioned my assailant to shut me up. I do not know how I am supposed to trust in these members of the administration, individuals who are supposed to advocate for survivors, who are suppose to be resources, when they have left me feeling unacknowledged, unheard, and invalidated. Should Swarthmore have a zero-tolerance policy in the case of rape?
These are only questions that came out of my experience, and I am only one person. I have not asked everything, nor do I have a solution to everything I have asked. I said in my introduction that I want change, and I urge each and every member of this community to action. We have access to our deans. We have access to each other. Let’s create solutions so concrete that they are impossible to ignore. Let’s have conversations and email those capable of implementing these changes such as Dean Braun, Dean Miller, and Patricia Fischette who have requested our feedback. I would love to be involved in your conversations.
Name Withheld. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.