Recently, students created a wordpress website entitled “Swat Protects Rapists” outlining accusations of the administration’s handling of sexual assault cases. The phrase was also found vandalized on bathroom stalls in many places around campus, among these Kohlberg and Science Center.
The website followed the appearance of fliers in bathrooms and other public spaces around campus earlier this month bearing the phrase, “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS.” April is nationally designated as Sexual Assault Awareness month, and in an email sent to students and faculty earlier in the month, President Valerie Smith affirmed the college’s commitment to preventing and adjudicating sexual assault.
The website contains several tabs of information on topics such as the relationship between fraternity culture and sexual assault, and the concept of triggering. The individuals who created the website chose to remain anonymous and did not want to be interviewed.
Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate Nina Harris was aware that many survivors of sexual assault at Swarthmore have struggled to find their needs met by the college.
“I know that this has been a difficult time for survivors at Swarthmore. I hope that [this] article can shed light onto the varying experiences and needs of survivors on campus. While many find community and healing here, many do not,” Harris wrote.
Until 2015, students participated in a version of the national Clothesline Project every April to bring attention to the impact of sexual violence on survivors. According to a 2015 article in The Daily Gazette, the college first engaged with the project in spring of 2006. The project entailed decorating color-coded t-shirts with phrases and stories for anyone who wanted to participate. According to Harris, the project provided survivors an outlet to express their trauma.
“Its main purpose was to provide a visual representation of the prevalence and impact of sexual violence within the communities that host it. The very act of making the shirts also provided a therapeutic experience for the survivors that created them, as it is a way to give voice to experiences that often feel silenced,” she said.
However, Harris said the project ended because some survivors felt they were triggered by it. She also noted that the organization of the project was driven by students with the support of the Title IX office, and that the administration did not have a role in ending it.
“There is a myth that the Clothesline project was ‘eliminated’ by ‘the administration’ … Many survivors, who were not a central part of organizing the event, raised concerns about how they felt triggered and/or marginalized by the project, both by its display and the process through which the shirts were created,” she said.
The wordpress site voiced a different perspective on the causes for the event’s cancellation. It contended that the administration was responsible for cancelling the project, and that it was not responsive to suggestions by survivors to modify as opposed to cancel the project.
According to the website: “The administration canceled the Clothesline Project which many survivors used to anonymously share their experiences, under the pretense that it was potentially triggering, and denied suggestions by members of the survivor community to modify the project instead of cancelling it. If the administration cared about triggering victims of trauma, they would enforce trigger warnings in courses and other areas on campus.”
Harris noted that students have developed alternative projects to the Clothesline Project to give survivors the same experience. Voices of Healing was one project to emerge, and the third annual event was held on April 23. In addition, students also created a digital version of the Clothesline Project.
Jodie Goodman ’16 believed that the cancellation of the project was a form of backlash against the means of expression of survivors.
“There has been a significant backlash against the means through which survivors express themselves. I wish more of that energy was directed towards the problems they are highlighting, i.e. that Swat protects rapists and mistreats survivors,” Goodman said.
Among the reasons the website provided for its assertion that Swarthmore mishandles sexual violence was the claim that Public Safety does not enforce the disciplinary consequences for perpetrators and is dismissive of survivors and students with concerns.
According to the site: “Public Safety officials are routinely condescending and inappropriate towards survivors and concerned students … Public Safety officials prioritize the safety, well-being, comfort, and joy of perpetrators of sexual and physical violence.”
Director of Public Safety Michael Hill highlighted the role of Public Safety in Title IX investigations.
“Public Safety works closely with the Deans’ Office and Title IX office to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct and enforce contact restrictions. We take this work very seriously and assign a public safety administrator who is specially trained to conduct investigations. We also document reports or incidents of all types of crime on campus,” wrote Hill.
Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, who oversees the college’s response to allegations of sexual violence, responded to the website’s claims that the college mishandles sexual assault cases.
“Sexual assault is a concern for colleges around the country and we are always looking to improve our processes to create a safe and supportive campus. We work throughout the year with our student advisory teams to offer programming on sexual violence awareness, bystander intervention, survivor support, and healthy relationships,” she wrote.
Williamsen emphasized that students with concerns should contact her.
“If folks have questions or concerns, I really hope they reach out to me,” she said.
While many survivors at Swarthmore have expressed their criticisms of the Title IX investigation process, administrators assert that the college is responsive to student concerns and affirm the college’s commitment to adjudicating and preventing sexual assault on campus.