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Organizing for Survivors demands Title IX reform, resignations at Parrish rally

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Just after 12:15 p.m. on Monday, March 21, Parrish Parlors was nearly full enough to prevent foot traffic as over 100 students and faculty members congregated at the base of the central staircase leading up to the second floor. They had gathered to watch Organizing for Survivors, a group advocating for survivors of sexual violence at the college, present a list of demands concerning what they feel constitutes administrative negligence and harm. Before listing their most urgent demands, several members of the group spoke of their personal experiences with the Title IX adjudication process.

“I felt like I didn’t have the space to be triggered, to hurt like anyone else when they had been violated by someone they trusted,” one core member said. “The adjudication process made me feel inhuman. I had to turn on all of my defenses every time I walked into McCabe or Essie’s and saw him because my contact restriction did not protect me.”

Another O4S member, who feels Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller failed to correct external adjudicator’s violations of Title IX procedure, spoke about questions she received during the process.

“It’s, ‘I know you didn’t enjoy it, but are you sure it wasn’t just a bad hookup?’ It’s ‘I know it was violent but was it rape?’ It’s ‘I know it was but was it really?’ When I think about it, it’s Dean Miller that comes to mind. Watching, listening, maybe, saying nothing. In my mind, Dean Miller, the school’s lawyer, Beth Pitts, every word, and worse, every silence — they topple over me,” she said. “The offices on this campus, the Deans, Public Safety did not protect me, before, during, or after, and more importantly, they still refuse to protect us now.”

President Valerie Smith, with whom the group had scheduled a meeting during the time of the rally, did not attend. Many in the crowd wore black in solidarity. In the full list of demands published in Voices earlier that morning, the organizers identified over 30 specific institutional changes that the college needs to make in order to better prevent and address sexual violence on campus.

O4S was founded earlier this academic year by a group of allies and survivors who wanted to bring attention to systemic inequities they had witnessed within the Title IX process. They held their first open meeting on March 4. In the following weeks, O4S core members collaborated with over 65 students to draft demands.

Though O4S is a new organization, the issues they are addressing are longstanding. O4S core members emphasized that they themselves, as well as other student activists at Swarthmore, have long advocated for the college to address its systemic mishandling of sexual assault and harassment.

For years, individually and collectively, we’ve tried to go through the proper administrative channels to advocate for change and for the protection of survivors,” one O4S core member said to the crowd. “We have been met with administrative apathy and inaction at every turn. We have been told that change can’t happen overnight. But these problems were not brought to the administration yesterday. They have had years of student activists and advocates pushing them to do the right thing, and they continue to fail us. We have been forced by their lack of meaningful response to go public, to get louder, and to formally demand what we know we and all of you deserve.”

O4S’s activism is especially relevant to the events that occurred during spring 2013, known colloquially as the “Spring of our Discontent,” brought on by increasing tensions on campus surrounding issues including Greek life and sexual assault. During that semester, several survivors brought to attention the college’s systematic mishandling of sexual violence. Swarthmore received national media attention when 12 survivors filed a Title IX complaint against the college with the Department of Education, asserting that Swarthmore had violated Title IX protections against sex discrimination. The survivors also filed a Clery Act complaint against the college for failing to report sexual assault cases.

The O4S demands include changes to Title IX policies, better support system for survivors, and stronger punishment and rehabilitation requirements for perpetrators. Notably, O4S calls for the resignation of Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun, Dean Miller, and Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts.

“We have identified the specific administrators who engage dishonestly and disingenuously with students, who perpetuate these practices, and who systematically prevent meaningful change,” one member said.

O4S also demands mandatory Title IX training for all students during orientation and that the college eliminate fraternity housing.

O4S went into further detail about these demands at an open meeting on Tuesday, March 20, which over 130 students attended. O4S requested that the college formally respond to each demand by the close of business on Monday, March 26. Along with complying with the demands, O4S asked for an apology from the college to survivors. The Phoenix will continue to cover this story as it develops.

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