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Voices of Healing

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

“I had that feeling you get —there is no word for this feeling— when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified. Why is there no word for this feeling?

Perhaps because the word is “healing” and we don’t want to believe that. We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday. Like we’re holding it in our hands. Like we’ll be better people than we’ve been before. Like we have to be.”

Cheryl Strayed, “Tiny Beautiful Things”

The 3rd annual Voices of Healing event will take place this Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 pm. Voices takes place at twilight in the Amphitheater (Rain Location: Upper Tarble) and is an opportunity for anyone at Swarthmore who has been harmed by sexual assault, unhealthy or abusive relationships, or non-consensual sexual experiences, whether or not they identify as a “survivor,” as well as significant others, allies, relatives, and friends, to openly share their stories and journeys of healing. These stories come in the form of written reflections, poetry, journal entries, dances or songs, meaningful passages that resonate with one’s personal experience, and more.

Voices of Healing was started three years ago as a collaboration between student activists and volunteers, the violence prevention educator/advocate, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), and the Title IX House in response to wanting to provide a space where people could tell stories to reduce the isolation that often accompanies being impacted by sexual and intimate partner violence. As Gloria Steinem said, “Every social justice movement that I know of has come out of people sitting in…groups, telling their life stories, and discovering that other people have shared similar experiences.”

As this storytelling event has grown, we have received a lot of questions about the word “healing” and what feelings are “allowed” at this event. Like the quote above, we do not believe healing is perfect and pure. Rather, it is complex and multifaceted. It can include (but is not limited to): anger, sadness, trauma, depression, and fear. It can also include (but is not limited to): connection, gratitude, acceptance, and hope.

We have seen these same tensions—what is healing? Is there a “right” way to heal? What is surviving? Is there a “right” way to survive? —all year long in the students that we’ve worked with, many of whom identify as survivors themselves. Several weeks ago, the 10-12 members of our Title IX Student Advisory Team had an emotional conversation about healing and the goals of events like Voices. What happens when we, as members of the same campus community, assign different meanings to the idea of “healing?” What happens when we require different things to survive? What happens when some of us are proud of the progress that has happened at Swarthmore, and others of us are angry and disappointed about change that is yet to come, and many of us feel both?

What we came to realize through our conversations is that Voices of Healing is a space for any and all of these feelings. It is a space to acknowledge that healing looks a little more like this:

[visual representations of how complex and non-linear the healing process can be]

And a LOT less like this:

[steadily rising and consistent line graph]

Most of all, it is a space to practice being a supportive community. To listen and learn from one another. To hear stories and experiences that may be silenced. To acknowledge the complexity of surviving when difficult things happen to us. To be in awe of the depth and courage of those students and community members we share campus with every day.

Please join us this Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 pm in the Amphitheater (Rain Location: Upper Tarble) to give voice to the struggles and triumphs of healing, in all of its complexity, and to help contribute to a more supportive, thoughtful, and loving Swarthmore.

We do not often have opportunities at Swarthmore for people to be their most bare, vulnerable selves and to be “held”—both literally and figuratively— by their community. We hope this will be a moment for all members of our campus community to show up, support, listen, and “hold” those impacted by sexual assault, unhealthy or abusive relationships, and non-consensual sexual experiences at Swarthmore.
Cosigned by Nina Harris, Violence Prevention Educator/Advocate & WRC Advisor

Does Swat Protect Rapists?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Content Warning: sexual assault

Yes. Given that it is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I believe it is appropriate to shed light on the ways that Swarthmore College has and continues to protect sexual predators at the expense, especially of survivors on campus, but also of all students who call Swarthmore home and expect the administration to enforce its stated guidelines on proactively protecting its community from sexual violence. This article is primarily intended for Swatties who have not interacted with the Title IX reporting process and are not aware of the specifics of the problem on campus.

Many students are familiar with complaints made during the spring of 2013, most notably the fact that Tom Elverson, Swarthmore’s alcohol education and intervention specialist as well as Greek liaison, was known to intervene in favor of Delta Upsilon members during Title IX investigations.

As an alum of the fraternity himself, his biases towards protecting the organization’s members resulted in his removal by the college on June 28, 2013, but not until an expansive national campaign was launched by survivors to plead their case. During his tenure at Swarthmore, DU members were actively protected from the consequences of their violent actions by a member of Swarthmore’s administration, creating a hostile environment that permeated the reporting process.

The federal Title IX investigation regarding these events (which was supposed to be completed within 180 days) is still ongoing.

Swarthmore has since made facial changes to its policies and staff involved in responding to complaints of sexual violence, but the skew towards protecting the interests of rapists over survivors remains to this day.

To avoid allegations of hearsay, I will first illustrate issues I personally faced after being raped by an intimate partner and reporting the incident to the nascent Title IX Office, before moving on to more recent examples without personal identifying information. The following paragraphs will include graphic depictions of sexual assault and victim blaming language.

The bias against survivors in my case began as a trickle and ended in an overwhelming deluge that exacerbated my PTSD and still impacts my day-to-day life. All complainants during the hearing process have access to the college’s “victims’ advocate,” a policy which was initally encouraging. However, I received no proactive help or advice in arguing my case, and my assigned advocate was frequently unable to answer my questions because she was unfamiliar with the college’s new procedures. Many other survivors have expressed feeling similarly isolated and forced into a position of self-advocacy in an adversarial system, while already dealing with trauma and a rigorous Swarthmore course load.
While the process of the investigation was exhausting, isolating, and all-consuming, those issues pale in comparison to what I faced during and after the hearing. Because my assailant was also my boyfriend at the time of the assault, I was met with insulting and degrading questions from the external adjudicator, such as “You are so articulate, why could you not verbally say ‘no’ to your boyfriend?” This was in response to my explanation that at the time I realized that I could not stop the assault I began to panic and could not verbalize my distress. Instead, I remained limp as the assault continued, visibly crying and shaking my head. This was considered insufficient to constitute a “withdrawal of consent,” although I argued that I was crying as hard as I could after my body chose to “freeze” rather than fight or flee— something that the adjudicator should have known is common among victims of rape.

The issue of withdrawal of consent would not have even emerged in the hearing had the adjudicator not invented the concept of “initial consent,” which I apparently indicated by getting into bed with my boyfriend to sleep. The fact that the college handbook explicitly states that affirmative consent must be attained for each individual sexual act did not seem to be of concern the adjudicator or the dean that handled my appeal. The adjudicator also did not take into account the undisputed fact in the hearing that between whatever initial consent may have existed and the assault, my assailant hit me and I was obviously distressed.

When I appealed on the grounds that the adjudicator had failed entirely to implement the definitions and requirements in the handbook, I was told that a “difference in interpretation of the handbook” was not grounds for appeal and that I had exhausted my options for seeking justice from the college. My rapist graduated in 2015 with a Swarthmore diploma and no mark on his transcript indicating he was involved in a disciplinary hearing at all.

Moving on to cases besides my own, Swarthmore even protects rapists that are found guilty during the hearing process. An individual found responsible for rape of an ex-partner remained on campus during his suspension. He was invited back to stay on campus by a fraternity brother and attended parties in utter disregard for the terms of his frankly lenient punishment. The administration was not planning on levying any further sanction until a veritable swarm of women confronted Dean Nathan Miller in his office. Furthermore, the accomplice was asked by his fraternity to appear on a panel exposing “toxic masculinity,” rendering the entire event dangerous for survivors and a disingenuous attempt to rehabilitate the organization’s image. Both men have been invited back for their five-year reunion, forcing the survivor in question to skip the event.

Lest anyone believe that these are issues of the past, this semester an individual who was found responsible for his second count of rape was only sentenced to two years of suspension. This means that he will be allowed to return to campus after his victims have graduated, and will continue to pose an active threat to all other students who will not be aware of his violent history.

Swarthmore also protects rapists by silencing survivors. An ongoing lawsuit alleges several cases of Public Safety officers discouraging reporting, in one instance by telling a victim to go to bed and think about things differently in the morning. Survivors are told not to talk about the “experience” in order to “deescalate the situation,” framing safety from retaliation as the survivor’s responsibility rather than the school’s. Recordings of any part of the process are forbidden, and the college frequently outright lies about encounters with survivors, gaslighting them and making them doubt their own sanity. The college has also scaled back awareness events that would reflect poorly on itself, including promising to hold a Take Back the Night rally and then rescinding the offer. Additionally, they shut down anonymous means of protest— many survivors’ last resort —by canceling the Clothesline Project and removing posters and chalkings critiquing the administration. Their excuse for this behavior is that the information is triggering to some survivors, and that is true; however, the administration has repeatedly refused many suggestions of compromise, such as moving the CLP to a less central location and removing the traditional color coding of shirts. Any time a new incident occurs, the college seems to react as if it is the first such infraction on campus, further isolating survivors and providing an excuse for the inconsistent enforcement of the handbook.

I have demonstrated that Swarthmore protects rapists throughout every step of the investigation process: creating an environment hostile to reporting, failing to follow stated procedures during the hearing, refusing to adequately punish even students they know to be a danger to campus, and silencing survivors. One can only speculate as to why the system works in this way, but many Swarthmore survivors have remarked that while they lacked the resources or capacity to threaten legal action following their mistreatment, respondents have a much higher rate of expensive legal retaliation against the school. I believe that Swarthmore protects rapists in order to protect its financial interests and its national reputation.

The administration isolates survivors from each other, making each individual feel as if they are alone in their struggle against these repeated injustices. They make survivors feel powerless to change their situation in much the same way that rapists attack their victim’s agency. The importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month to me, therefore, is to publicly disclose the wrongdoings of the college such that it begins to balance the harms Swarthmore might incur when rapists threaten expensive lawsuits. Common decency and the law are both on our side. The entire student body must continue to hold the administration accountable and to demand better for the sake of all current and future Swarthmore students.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Letters and opinion pieces represent the views of their writers and not those of the Phoenix staff or Editorial Board. The Phoenix reserves the right to edit all pieces submitted for print publication for length and clarity. The Phoenix does not edit op-ed or letter submissions for content or factual accuracy.*

With New Clery Act Data, some Updates to Legislation Present

in Around Campus/News by

Content warning: sexual assault

On June 23, 2016, the Department of Education released an updated version of the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, which provides guidelines for the implementation of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, better known as simply the Clery Act. The Act, which was signed into law in 1990, requires colleges to publicly and regularly report crimes that fall into specific categories that are considered to be a threat to the campus community.

The additions to the handbook include several detail-oriented measures and concept-defining improvements. For instance, the handbook updates included examples to help institutions better understand and carry out the requirements of the law, and it specified what qualified as distances contiguous to campus, now set at up to one mile. The updates also involve integration of the 2014 Campus Sexual Violence Act, which added Violence Against Women  amendments to the Clery Act. This change added the categories of domestic violence and dating violence to the list of Clery-defined crimes.

According to Director of Public Safety Michael J. Hill, the college has taken measures to incorporate the changes on campus.

“Since the VAWA act was passed, we have worked hard to comply with the spirit and letter of the law.  We, along with many other community partners, such as the Dean’s Office, OSE, Health and Wellness, and Title IX, work very hard to ensure that the safety of community is our number one priority, and those resources and options are provided … to anyone who may be a victim of domestic or dating violence,” Hill said.

As part of the Clery Act, colleges and universities are required to release an annual report of Clery Crime Statistics.

Based on Swarthmore’s 2015 Clery Act Crime Statistics report, the college had 20 VAWA and Sex Offense reports filed in 2012, 103 in 2013, and 27 in 2014. For comparison, Amherst’s 2015 report discloses 10 reports in 2013 and 18 in 2014 (VAWA statistics were not required by law until 2013), Williams’ 2014 report had 0 in 2012 and 1 in 2013, and Middlebury’s 2015 report had 9 in 2012, 38 in 2013, and 24 in 2014.** In both 2013 and 2014, Swarthmore reported more instances of rape and forced fondling than both Amherst and Middlebury. (Williams did not break down the distinct categories of sex offenses.)

Currently, there does not seem to be a known cause for the notable differences in numbers.

“Each institution is unique and different based on a variety of factors,” Hill said.

Hill also explained the proceedings for handling cases. After an issue is reported, public safety must determine if it is an ‘ongoing threat’ to the campus.

“An ongoing threat to the community is evaluated on a case by case basis. This assessment, depending on the nature and severity of the incident, can include other key members of the community, such as the Title IX Coordinator, Dean of Students, or others if appropriate.  Typically, if we are able to identify the individuals involved and implement measures to prevent any future similar behaviors, then the threat for safety has been mitigated,” Hill said.

However, if the threat is evaluated to be ongoing, a “Timely Warning Notice” is issued. Since fall of 2015, there have been four Timely Warning notices issued: two for fondling, one for burglary, and one for sexual assault.

This reporting of crimes comes from Campus Security Authorities, who are responsible for student safety to varying degrees. CSAs includes Public Safety Officers, members of the Dean’s Office, Athletics Coaches, RAs, DPAs, SAMs, and SWAT team.

Public Safety’s Associate Director for Investigations Elizabeth “Beth” Pitts helps oversee training of student CSAs in order to uphold the requirements of the law.

“The CSA training we do for RAs focuses on the Clery/CSA requirements and information that can be found in our CSA video, which is available for view on our webpage. That is the same video we show RAs and other CSAs. We provide reference materials including Clery handbooks and resource materials for on and off-campus assistance.

During the training, we also provide an overview of Public Safety, our staff, and our services,” Pitts said.

Ensuring that all groups involved stay compliant to the updated handbook is an ongoing process.

“I’m certain that my team, as well as the Swarthmore Clery Act Compliance Committee, which I co-chair, will continue to look at the handbook and work hard to ensure that we are fully compliant.  We are doing our very best to make sure we take care of our community,” Hill said.

Information about the Clery Act, including a comprehensive list of Clery-defined crimes, can be found on Public Safety’s website.

**These numbers were calculated by combining the reported numbers for Domestic Violence and Dating Violence, which are the added VAWA crimes, and the general sex offenses originally in the 1990 Clery Act. Middlebury’s numbers are not complete, as the college’s report did not include Rape, Incest, or Statutory Rape in 2012 or 2013, and did not report Forcible Sex Offenses or Non Forcible Sex Offenses in 2014.

Conversation around sexual assault continues

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month at Swarthmore and around the country, during which students and staff alike try to promote better understanding of the problem for all and support for survivors. Yet, even as programming around the topic has ramped up this month, questions remain about the current climate surrounding the issue of sexual assault on campus.

 

Two weeks ago, a t-shirt was found outside of Parrish on which was written, “Dean Braun is responsible for letting my rapist graduate. There is nothing else I can do but ignore it. Happy Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”

 

Together, this incident and the month in general have sparked new conversation about what understanding sexual assault looks like and whether we at Swarthmore have achieved meaningful awareness of the issue.

 

Most students that I spoke with agree that the student body has a general sense of what consent and sexual assault are but could better understand its causes and impacts.

 

“I think there are a lot of people that get the gist but don’t necessarily understand the intricacies of the experience,” an anonymous junior tells the Phoenix. “Healing, for example, is a really underrated part of the process.

 

Along those lines, this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming has increased emphasis on healing, community-building, and support. Last Sunday, over 100 people attended Voices of Healing, a storytelling event in the amphitheater, where survivors and allies were invited to share their narratives.

 

This was meant to fill the absence of The Clothesline Project, a previously popular event that allowed survivors to write an often-political message on a t-shirt, about their experiences, to be strung publicly in Parrish.

 

“I really liked that project. I really miss it,” Allison Hrabar ’16 explains. “I’m happy we have that public talk but a ‘Voices of Healing’ event isn’t really reaching a new audience.”

 

Despite the ability for the Clothesline Project to reach a wide audience, not everyone within the survivor community on campus felt positively about it. The anonymous junior says that many other survivors found the upfront display to be triggering and unavoidable. She emphasizes the power of stories as another form of productive activism.

 

“Personally, a lot of what I’ve done is try to share my story with people who may not know a survivor. Personal stories are really important and so is making myself human and vulnerable,” she says.

 

“It’s such a charged discussion. People don’t necessarily understand the perspectives of a survivor. It’s an inability to empathize if you don’t have ties,” Clare Pérez ’18, who also works with Title IX, describes this gap as a key barrier in bettering campus culture.

 

Many believe that personal connections are crucial to humanizing the issue and seeing it as relevant and very important. However, students also wish the month directly addressed the underlying problems, like lack of education and social attitudes, that allow it to occur in the first place.

 

Cayla Barry ’18, wishes the month also re-addressed prevention. She describes how the consent education provided at first year orientation is not enough to adequately address sexual assault. Currently, orientation programming doesn’t note many kinds of violence, including those between same-sex people or within relationships, and the programming itself only happens once.

 

“I don’t see the same energy around actually practicing consent and enforcing it,” Barry said. “In my orientation, it seemed like they were saying sexual assault doesn’t happen here.”

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the programs it offers are crucial, largely because sexual assault at Swarthmore is still a common occurrence.

 

One freshman survivor described her experience looking back at orientation after experiencing assault this past year.

 

“I wish the school named the problem. It’s not always miscommunication. It’s attitudes, too,” she describes. “I wasn’t assaulted because someone misread the situation, you know? I was assaulted because they didn’t care.”

 

Hrabar especially echoed the importance of shifting focus of our conversations towards personal accountability.

 

“It’s much harder to hold people accountable. It’s one thing to go [to a consent workshop] and think, wow, I would never do that, good thing all these other people are here learning. It’s another to go and think, wow, I have messed up before,” she says.

 

The anonymous junior also notes the importance of accountability, highlighting the need for everyone to not see themselves as potential “bad guys” but rather capable of doing harm. Along those lines, Pérez emphasizes the focus of the Title IX office this year in doing just that.

 

“It’s moving the conversation away from blame and towards community,” she says.

 

In identifying ways in which institutional change can occur, the relationship between survivors and the College administration is a crucial point of conversation.

 

As the t-shirt found outside of Parrish displays, many feel a sustained ineffectiveness of the administration in adequately addressing instances of sexual misconduct. Some of these sentiments seemed to be reinforced last week when Dean Braun did not offer a response to the incident.

 

“If not malicious, then students perceive administration as incompetent. I don’t think there’s a lot of trust,” Hrabar, a senior, says. Especially with those who lived through “The Spring of our Discontent” in 2013, the relationship is perceived as precarious.

 

“I think there are a lot of people doing things to prevent sexual assault and to accommodate survivors and there’s a lack of recognition for those people. I have never had a negative experience with someone who knew I was a survivor. I’ve only gotten support,” the junior source adds. She clarifies that not everyone has been so fortunate.

 

Yet, even prior to contact with the administration, many students simply do not know what procedures and resources exist nor do they feel confident in helping others navigate them.

 

“What does it mean to be a required reporter? What do you have to report? What does the judiciary process look like? Who’s going to be asking me questions and what will they be?” the same anonymous freshman asks.

 

The administration could also be more proactive in initiating and supporting cultural change.

Concerning policy, both Hrabar and Pérez consider the current structures, norms and rules surrounding party spaces to be overly restrictive and inequitable.

 

“When I was a freshman, there was a party in Paces, Olde Club, and the frats. I went out and avoided the spaces where I felt uncomfortable,” Hrabar says.

 

Now, many feel that the dominant party scene is limited to the two on-campus fraternities. While some weekends a party is hosted at Olde Club or Paces, and Pub Nite (despite decreased funding) still happens once a week, most interviewees identify the fraternities as the almost-exclusive party spaces open to campus on a Saturday night.

 

Despite sustained efforts, these spaces still feel uncomfortable to many. Many described the frats and other party spaces as being “hunting-grounds” for hook-ups, where the expectation of going home with someone is so strong that it has the potential to be dangerous.

 

Barry tells me about the persistence of people looking to hook up, despite verbal and nonverbal cues she’s given of disinterest. She also describes, as a queer woman, feeling watched and sexualized.

 

Pérez reiterates these party spaces, and party policy, as crucial points of activism.

 

“I disagree with just putting it on the frats but it is about creating a whole new culture and that involves creating new party spaces,” Pérez adds.  “It’s the transition to something new that doesn’t already have all these things attached to it.”

 

She describes the discussion around new spaces focused around women and non-binary people as an important step in diversifying the party scene and encouraging new norms.

 

However, many feel that the current policy is not conducive to this project. Because the fraternities have physical spaces and institutional recognition, they are able to more easily fund and organize parties on a regular basis.

 

“It’s the difference between encouragement and prevention. There’s no rule we can’t throw it a party but they are not helping us. It’s the difference between equality and equity,” Hrabar says.

 

Other important areas of activism cited through the interviews included more effective SWAT team training, better orientation education efforts, empowering RA’s to be facilitators of discussions, and even space-based tweaks, like locking doors or hanging up posters, to minimize risk and encourage in-the-moment accountability.

 

The anonymous junior discusses the new “It’s On Us” video to be shown at orientation and used as a tool of education and advocacy. She also discusses the renewed energy on the part of fraternity leadership in tackling these issues.

 

Summing up future hopes, Hrabar says, “We need to keep caring about this. It’s very, very easy to get tired. That’s where administration can come in.”

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important in reminding the general campus what so many already know: sexual violence happens on this campus and, even as so much work has been done to address it, there is still much more to do.

 

Edited April 29, 2016: This article previously misidentified the amount of students who attended Voices of Healing. The author is deeply apologetic for the misrepresentation of the event’s impact.

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