After temporarily halting their actions on Tues. March 27, Organizing for Survivors, a student group advocating for survivors of sexual violence on campus, officially announced that they are resuming their activism during a community forum on April 4. During their hiatus, O4S members held an information session for faculty and staff on Friday, March 30 at Bond Hall. Not only do faculty and staff carry institutional memory of spring 2013, they also vote on potential amendments to Staff and Instructional Staff Procedures on Sexual Assault and Harassment that appear before the Committee on Faculty Procedures. This semester, faculty have increased their role in advocating for administrative change.
Biology professor Vince Formica, who helped organize the event, estimates that over forty faculty and instructional staff attended, including President Valerie Smith. For about an hour and a half, two O4S members fielded questions posed by attendees about O4S’s demands, their personal experiences, and other topics relating to O4S’s mission. Formica felt that the conversation was productive.
“It was a really good example of civil discourse on campus,” he said.
According to Steven Hopkins, professor of Religion and Asian Studies faculty members found the session to be both informative and moving.
“What they did on Friday was a very stunning and lucid presentation of the demands and the context for their demands,” Hopkins said. “We were impressed by the students’ rationality and the systematic way they brought up the issues at hand. We were all disturbed that things remain really negative.”
In an article published in Voices on April 2, O4S members and other survivors described their experiences with sexual violence on campus and reflected on O4S’s mission.
Since its inception last semester, O4S has consistently aimed to engage with faculty, both through encouraging members to initiate private conversations and by inviting faculty to community events. O4S has called on the college to modify its Title IX hearings process, and to provide more support to survivors during and after Title IX proceedings. The organization has also called for the resignation of Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun, Dean Nathan Miller, and Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts.
Faculty and staff are also some of the few remaining people on campus who were present during the spring of 2013, colloquially known as “The Spring of Our Discontent.” That semester, student activism surged around a variety of issues on campus, including mishandling of Title IX cases. The college came under national scrutiny when in April 2013 a group of survivors filed a Title IX complaint and a Clery complaint against the college. The survivors testified that Swarthmore had systematically underreported and mishandled sexual violence on campus. According to Hopkins, who has taught at Swarthmore since 1993, many faculty members that have worked for the college since before 2013 feel that Title IX and leadership issues have not been sufficiently addressed by the college.
“All of us were impressed by students who chose to speak out. What they did was both difficult and risky,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been concerned since the spring of 2013 of issues with proper leadership in regards to Title IX … We felt, as faculty, that things had gotten better … I was concerned about the recent situation because we had expected much more to have happened since 2013.”
Some alumni, too, who attended the college during the Spring of 2013 feel that more needs to be done. Miriam Hauser ’13, who served on the Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Resource Team and was involved in activism, described how disappointed she felt that the issues brought up in 2013 had not been implemented.
“Everyone was stressed and angry, but there was this moment of hope that we were all having,” she said. “These things have been percolating for years but now they’re being voiced in a really public way. There’s no way that action isn’t going to be taken. And then it’s five years since I’ve graduated and the same complaints are being made.”
One issue that O4S has brought up is administrator competency. O4S members detailed various ways in which survivors have felt that Dean Braun, Dean Miller, and Beth Pitts have failed to support to survivors in a collection of letters published in Voices on March 23. In 2013, according to Hauser, similar concerns were raised specifically regarding Tom Elverson, who was quoted in the federal Title IX complaint filed in 2013 as telling survivors of sexual misconduct that he was “first and foremost a DU brother. Second an alum. Third a drug and alcohol counselor. And fourth an administrator,” The Phoenix reported. In addition, Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal retired. In the official Title IX complaint released in 2014, several survivors describe Westphal as being dismissive their safety concerns.
“Much as I was angry at the time, I don’t think that mostly administrators were being intentionally malicious per se, it was more cluelessness,” Hauser said. “An inexcusable degree of cluelessness. When you’re responsible for students, when you’re dealing with them, there’s safety. It’s completely irresponsible, it’s unethical, not to develop these clear systems.”
The Dean’s office and the Title IX team has had issues with unusually high turnover recently; some of the most prominent examples of this were the departure of Kaaren Williamsen, the former Title IX coordinator, in October 2017, and that of Jason Rivera, former Dean of the Sophomore Class and IC director, in December 2017. In addition, out of 11 people who were hired as Title IX liaisons and resources in 2014 as a response to the Spring of our Discontent, only six still work at the college. In campus-wide emails, Dean Braun and President Smith expressed “mixed emotions” at their abrupt departures. At the external review of the Dean’s office in February that President Smith commissioned, faculty gathered to speak to the reviewers about their views of the Dean’s office, the results of which should be shared with the President in the next two weeks. Hopkins expressed concern about the turnover rate.
“I’m also concerned and confused about the attrition rate of people leaving. Leadership with both the IC and Title IX is central to so many students,” Hopkins said.
Formica feels that many faculty members may be interested in advocating for Title IX reform. “There is a lot of faculty engagement,” he said. Formica himself has attended an O4S community forum and has talked with several activists.
Hopkins was spurred to action after talking with student activists and has pushed for action himself. Hopkins has talked to President Smith to express what he felt were the views of several faculty members.
“I’ve involved myself out of respect for students and out of an understanding of the situation,” he said. “What I did on my own was to write to Val. Val wanted to meet with me and I also expressed that there were a lot of other faculty members that were also concerned. She set up a meeting and we talked very frankly about the issues.”
Though faculty and staff were involved in Title IX activism in 2013, activists at the time were concerned that faculty and staff were ill-prepared to support survivors of sexual assault and that they occasionally caused harm to survivors, according to Hauser.
“We wanted there to be more training systems for the entire campus community — the staff, faculty members — about sexual violence, trauma, harassment, because I think that people were facing lots of insensitivity from administrators and staff, but also from professors … The line I think we heard was ‘we can’t make professors do anything, they’ve got tenure,’ which is just so ridiculous. You can make requests, these are people in your employ and that doesn’t mean you’re going to threaten your job security. But expecting people to go through training and to educate themselves I think that’s something that people working at an educational institution have a responsibility to do,” Hauser said.
Following the events of 2013, the College expanded Title IX trainings for faculty. According to the Title IX Office’s Sexual Harassment / Assault Resources and Education website, these trainings include “an overview of institutional obligations, a review of legislative updates, and a discussion of the training, education and prevention requirements of Title IX.”
Hopkins feels that it is necessary that faculty allies continue to advocate for Title IX reform in the coming weeks.
“Many professors are concerned about leadership issues and support the students coming before the administration,” Hopkins said. “Not every faculty agrees with the tactics being used but we all understand that this a topic of urgency. Practically speaking, we wouldn’t be talking about this if the students hadn’t done this. I think that it’s many years of frustration that’s lead to this moment. It’s not new and so students have carried it over. These are conversations that we all really need to have to heal a lot of wounds that are out there.”
Faculty this year have seemed to play a more active role in advocating for Title IX reform than in the Spring of 2013. For Hauser, faculty play an important role in supporting student activists.
“There were some really supportive faculty members as well [in 2013],” Hauser said. “I don’t know if they were necessarily involved in activism, but there were faculty members who personally gave me encouragement, who told me that I was doing a good job, who supported the work I was doing. For all my concerns about the faculty who weren’t educating themselves, who weren’t involving themselves, there were also faculty members who were, who were always really supportive … The supportive role is really important.”
O4S declined to comment on the event.