Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

sexual assault

Faculty call on President Smith for Title IX, Dean’s Office reform; O4S ends hiatus

in News by

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.

President Smith responds to O4S demands; is it enough?

in Around Campus/Breaking News/News by

 CW: sexual assault

It’s been less than 10 days since Organizing for Survivors, an activist group led by eight female and non-binary students, made their public debut on the steps of Parrish Hall on March 19. Everywhere from the bulletin boards in Parrish to the Sharples banner wall has become a hotbed of demonstration and discussion among students and faculty. Posters advocating for the resignations of Dean of Students Liz Braun, Dean Nathan Miller and Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts as well as the abolishment of frat housing, among other demands, have been put up and taken down within the same hour. The “Swat Protects Rapists” slogan and WordPress site have made a resurgence. Over 130 students of various gender identities attended a meeting following the rally on the night of March 20, where the O4S core team and other members planned further actions. Over 15 clubs and affiliation groups have released letters of support for the demands, including Resident Assistants, the Student Government Association and a group of student athletes.

“We have been inspired and heartened by the abundance of support we’ve received from students and faculty alike and are excited to continue working with alongside all of those people,” O4s wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix.

A week after the Parrish rally, President Valerie Smith addressed a letter to the college outlining policy changes and other responses to the O4S demands. He response to the demand that respondents (students who have had complaints filed against them) cannot serve as TAs or Residential Peer Leaders came in three parts: one, that due process requires that only students found responsible for a Title IX complaint will suffer consequences; two, that Provost Tom Stephenson will make the decision concerning TAs, as it is an academic position; and three, that “effective immediately,” a student must be in good standing with the college in order for them to apply or serve as an RPL.

O4S demanded that “Swarthmore must ensure that our right for Title IX proceedings to not exceed 60 days is protected.” However, Under Betsy DeVos’s federal guidelines, this is not a guaranteed right: “The department [of Education] says there is “no fixed time frame” under which a school must complete a Title IX investigation. The 2011 guidance stated that a “typical investigation” takes about 60 days after a complaint is made but said more complex cases could take longer,” Inside Higher Ed reported.  President Smith wrote that the administration “will strive to complete” the adjudication process in 60 days.

The preface to President Smith’s letter, which President Smith, Dean Braun, Director of Public Safety Mike Hill, Dean Miller, Pitts, and Interim Title IX Coordinator Michelle D. Ray signed, emphasized both recent changes and the need for improvement.

“During the past five years the College has implemented a robust series of changes including adding staff, enhancing programming and training, and implementing new policies,” President Smith wrote in the letter. “Despite this progress, more remains to be done, and we must continue to evaluate and reevaluate our practices based on our community members’ experiences.”

As the preface mentions, this semester marks the fifth anniversary of “The Spring of Our Discontent,” a period of intense, community-wide reckoning for the college. By May 2013, two central activists, Hope Brinn ’15 and Mia Ferguson ’15, had spearheaded efforts to file two Federal complaints for violations of Title IX and the Clery Act, adding the college to a list of institutions of higher education that received negative, national attention for their handling of sexual assault cases. Other groups actively protesting during this period included those seeking divestment from fossil fuels, marginalized students who felt unsupported in STEM classes, and LGBTQ+ students who protested homophobia and the lack of queer mentors and faculty at the college.  The period resulted in an overhaul of the college’s Title IX procedures and structure, from the establishment of the Title IX house and creation of the Title IX coordinator position to the firing of Tom Elverson. His position as advisor to the fraternities betrayed a conflict of interest in his position as a counselor for alcohol and drug use who also oversaw student misconduct, as the college’s SHARE (Sexual Harassment/ Assault Resources and Education) website states. According to O4S, the group both takes inspiration and caution from this history.

“We are very much informed by previous student activism of all types, including but not limited to the work that happened in the Spring of 2013,” O4S core members wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix. “We continue to look back at both the successes and missteps of previous organizing efforts in order to learn how we should move forward.”

This wave of renewed activism calls into question whether the college has resolved the issues that surfaced in 2013. Many members of the community, including alumni such as Jodie Goodman ’16, who became progressively more involved in Title IX-related activism during her time at the college, believe that the college still does not do a satisfactory job of addressing sexual assault reports and complaints.

“Fundamentally, the issue remains that Swarthmore still mistreats and silences survivors,” Goodman said. “That is still at the heart of the activism.”

The changes that O4S demands are not only structural, but also involve the specific demand that Dean of Students Liz Braun, who has held her position since 2010, resign.

We demand the resignation of Dean of Students Liz Braun for her historic and ongoing unwillingness to meaningfully respond to student concerns about policy and practice, as well as her past inappropriate conduct as a participant in the adjudication of Title IX cases and other failures to protect students,” O4S wrote in their demands.

Students have criticized Dean Braun for similar issues in the past. In April 2016, the first year on which the college chose not to host a Clothesline Project event, the Daily Gazette reported that a red t-shirt was found taped to the sidewalk in front of Parrish that read, “Dean Braun is responsible for letting my rapist graduate. There is nothing else I can do but try to ignore it. Happy Sexual Assault ‘Awareness’ Month.” The Phoenix reported in October 2013 of another incident in which that was a student found responsible for sexual assault and was convicted by the Swarthmore police for attempted simple assault against a domestic partner would be permitted to return to the college  after a two-year suspension. According to the article, Dean Braun, who at that time handled Title IX appeals, denied the survivor’s request for an appeal of the decision. It is unknown whether these incidents are the same, or related.

“I think [Dean Braun] has lost the trust of Swarthmore students,” Goodman said. “She should apologize to the students she has hurt, and resign.”

Yet these issues coincide with concerns over high turnover of deans and college staff, such as the departure of the Intercultural Center Director, Dean Jason Rivera. President Smith chose to commission an external review of the Dean’s Office, which occurs every 5 to 10 years, this year. In response to O4S’s demands concerning the resignation of Dean Braun and Dean Miller, President Smith stated that she would publish the results of the external review report, but did not specify the date on which she would publish it. One finding from the external review of the college’s compliance with Title IX and Clery Act regulations that then-President Rebecca Chopp commissioned in 2013: out of 11 people then mentioned as Title IX liaisons and resources, only six still work at the college.

Adding to the intensity are concerns among students as well as within O4S about certain methods of activism. In the most recent turn of events, O4S addressed their use of posters with triggering content in a post on their WordPress site.

“We knew that our slogans could be triggering–and that sometimes, the most triggering part of them is the fact that they are true,” they wrote in the statement. “As we take responsibility and accountability, we also ask that you contextualize your critique in proportion to the structural mechanisms at play as we work through these contradictions: who is responsible for our shared frustration, and anxiety, at its core?”

And then, around 6 p.m. on Tues., March 27, O4S announced that they would be temporarily ceasing activity and refocusing their message in a community forum that night.

“We will be specifically addressing the harm caused by our organizing methods last week,” the email said, which was distributed through Swarthmore Voices’ email newsletter to students. “We believe that the best way to move forward is to focus on healing, on building trust within a network of people who have been harmed, and by centering the experiences of the most marginalized voices on campus, who are continuously ignored in the conversation on harm and violence universally. We got caught up in policy change and quick action and did not take the necessary time to reflect as a collective.”

O4S requested that press abstain from reporting on the happenings at the forum. However, they did apologize for their triggering postings multiple times, and dedicated most of the meeting to listening to community feedback. Though they have urged students outside of the group’s core leadership to pause activity temporarily, they are hosting an informational meeting for faculty and instructional staff to learn about their campaign on Friday, March 30, according to biology professor Vince Formica.

“Several faculty (myself included) passed on an invitation from O4S to the faculty and instructional staff to have an open gathering where they would answer questions about their demands and their experiences,” Formica said.

Two factors have likely driven O4S’s decision to concentrate energy on the faculty as well as alumni. Firstly, faculty and instructional staff vote during monthly meetings on potential amendments and changes to the Faculty Procedures that the Committee on Faculty Procedures, the members of which are determined by vote, chooses.

In addition, faculty and administration members have institutional memory that students’ short term on campus prevents them from having. As every class present during the spring of 2013 has graduated by now, many current students do not know what happened that semester, or the divisive environment it created on campus.

“Every week had some escalation, including the Intercultural Center being intentionally targeted by students who wanted to intimidate protesters. It’s hard to argue that literally peeing on the doorstep of your ideological opponents is not heavily symbolic and gross,” Goodman said. “Leaders of the movement to reform fraternities, like Hope Brinn and Mia Ferguson, were subjected to stalking, harassment, and violent threats on campus and online…Their testimony was alarming and upsetting to students on all sides of the issue,” Goodman said. “Campus was divided in three: those passionately for reform, those passionately against reform, and those who thought the entire thing had gotten entirely out of hand and had opinions somewhere in the middle.”

Alumni, as well, have stock in this discussion. Alumni could choose to withhold donations unless the school addresses the concern, as alumni did in the late 80s to push the administration to divest from Apartheid South Africa.

“All of the past Title IX advocates from Swarthmore that I’ve talked to are thrilled that the movement is growing and moving forward,” Goodman said.

According to O4S, they will release a public statement on their goals and mission as well as a statement on President Smith’s response to their demands in the coming days. The Phoenix will cover the faculty information session and other developments.   

Editor’s Note: The article erroneously listed the dates of the Parrish rally and the forum that followed as March 17 and 18. The dates have been amended above.   

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

in News by

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.

Title IX office announces policy updates, search committee for new admin

in News by

On Feb. 7, Dean Elizabeth Braun announced changes to some of the policies and procedures the college utilizes when handling Title IX cases, based on recent student feedback. Braun also shared information about the formation of a search committee for the hirings of a new Title IX coordinator and Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate.

This news comes after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced rollbacks on Title IX protections this past September. According to NBC news, these rollbacks included modifying “the standard of evidence in campus sexual assault cases.” Many advocates of sexual assault survivors believe that this new guidance would work against the accuser. However, in an email sent in September, President Valerie Smith stated that Title IX policy would remain in effect despite rollbacks.

The college’s recent changes to the existing policies regarding sexual assault cases include separate adjudication meetings for complainants and respondents, an expanded pool of external adjudicators, and a revised process for Public Safety officers to respond calls or requests for assistance related to contact restrictions. The Title IX office has regularly updated its policies each semester since its establishment in 2013.

Beyond its role in filing cases, the Title IX office is currently working to expand its role on campus through new programming, according to Lucy Jones ’20, WRC associate and Title IX liaison.

“Besides these official changes, the Title IX office is also working on improving support services and making sure that students who have experienced violence on campus are able to get the support they need, in whatever way is best for them,” Jones wrote to the Phoenix. “This includes, on one level, more campus programming from the Title IX house to increase education and spaces for support (Training Tuesdays, Me Too, You Too Postcard writing, the Healthy Sex and Relationships Initiative, etc).”

Jones believes that the larger role of the Title IX office on campus will create better modes of communication between accusers and the Title IX office, as well as improved services for students.

“There have been official changes to report policy and procedure but the office is always working on how to improve and promote support services and how to reach out to survivors in the most respectful way. This is always an ongoing process but hopefully the increased presence of the Title IX office on campus and the appointment of a new Title IX coordinator and VPE will help solidify these efforts,” she said.

For students on campus, the Title IX office remains an integral part of ensuring that students have an easier way to report sexual assault or abuse cases. The Sexual Assault Harassment Resources and Education website allows students or sexual health advocates to report cases online.

“If I hear a case, I go about reporting it through the SHARE website, either anonymously or not depending on how comfortable they feel,” sexual health advocate Mika Maenaga ’21 said. “My responsibility is to give anyone who comes to me access to the resources they need.”

According to President Smith, the college intends its Title IX policies to benefit the community as a whole in the process of addressing individual students’ needs.

“Our policies are intended to help create a community where everyone can reach their full academic and professional potential in a safe and non-hostile living, working, and learning environment,” Smith wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “When sexual misconduct does occur, we have focused our processes on providing support and options to those involved and taking the steps necessary to stop the misconduct and prevent it from happening again.  Our focus is always on what will work best to support our community members.”

The Title IX office is also in the midst of a search to replace former Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen and former Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris, who left the college during the fall semester. Both the search for the Violence Prevention Educator and the Title IX coordinator are influenced by student feedback.

Based on student feedback and needs we will be searching for someone to fill this role who has expertise counseling within a trauma-informed framework and an understanding of restorative justice in sexual violence prevention education and as a response to individual incidents of misconduct,” Director of Health and Wellness Alice Holland wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “Additional qualifications include a deep understanding of cultural and social causes of sexual and gender-based violence; deep understanding of cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, sexual, and gender diversity and the ability to lead programming sensitive to the needs of all students.”

According to Holland, the search for a new advocate will begin this month and conclude before the end of the spring semester.

WRC and Title IX host vigil in response to #metoo campaign

in News by

On Nov. 3, 2017, the WRC held a silent candlelight vigil followed by a gathering for conversation in order to show solidarity with those who have been affected by sexual assault and sexual harassment. The Women’s Resource Center sought to ensure that the #metoo campaign would extend beyond its influence on social media.

Attendees lit candles in the WRC courtyard before having a moment of silence for victims. Afterwards, they headed inside to the WRC to engage in a conversation about the effects of the campaign.

The campaign began shortly after the “New York Times” published an investigative report on sexual misconduct allegations against prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017. The report ignited the national viral #metoo campaign that would give voice to women who were victims of sexual misconduct. Though the #metoo campaign initially began in response to the numerous allegations against Weinstein, other leading men in Hollywood, such as Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, have found themselves facing similar claims of sexual misconduct.

According to Shá Duncan Smith, dean of diversity inclusion and director of the WRC, the candlelight vigil was organized as a joint project between the WRC and the Title IX office.

“The #metoo vigil came about as an effort by different thought partners such as the WRC associates and the Title IX office. Together, we [the WRC and the Title IX office] talked about the #metoo campaign as a whole and how we think about the skill sets that are needed to proactively do a paradigm shift in the culture,” Smith said.  

Lucy Jones ’20, a WRC associate, believes that the WRC vigil raised awareness about both the #metoo campaign and about the presence of the center on campus.

“I think for most people there was really a sense of community that was built online from the #metoo campaign. The WRC felt the need to bring that to a physical space because one of our main goals is to make a space on campus that is open to not just women but people of all genders,” Jones said.

The WRC has had a role on campus for nearly 40 years and provides a safe space where students can study, bake, speak to associates, and attend college-sponsored events. By addressing the #metoo campaign, the WRC promoted the awareness of sexual misconduct on campus and rallied even those who were not involved in the social media movement.

“I don’t know a lot about the campaign but I wanted to come tonight to show up and show my support for anyone who’s dealt with issues like sexual assault, sexual misconduct, or sexual based violence,” Meghan Kelly ’18, an attendee of the vigil, said. “Specifically, I was thinking about my role as an RA on campus and how it’s important for me to reach out to everyone in the Swarthmore community.”

Keton Kakkar ’19 attended due to the soothing atmosphere that the vigil provided.

“I enjoy candles and vigils and think they are conducive to reflection on serious issues,” Kakkar said. “There is something beautiful and communal about standing in a circle with people and holding a flame.”

Though some students attended because of the environment the vigil provided, Smith expressed sentiments about how the objectives of the WRC on campus relate to the vigil and the recent movement, noting that the movement also has the potential to positively change the current culture surrounding the treatment of sexual misconduct victims.

“I was excited about looking at [the #metoo campaign] as a way to change the culture. We’re sort of socialized to accept certain things in relation to language and action,” said Smith. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It’s not just about us as individuals but about how the ‘me too’ affects everyone collectively.”

Moving forward, the WRC has further plans to create a safe environment and inclusive community on campus. The Title IX Office, in collaboration with the WRC, is introducing a campaign about the value of healthy relationships on campus.

One of the things the Title IX office is doing with the WRC is focusing on healthy relationships and healthy communities. As a college, let’s take a look at these unhealthy relationships and how it affects the building of a healthy community,” Smith said. “We can’t have an inclusive community without healthy relationships.”

While the WRC strives to make campus a more safe and inclusive place, the #metoo campaign shows that progress remains to be made. The vigil held by the WRC highlights how students seek to promote awareness by standing in solidarity with the victims of #metoo.

To whom do we afford grace?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Amongst the many structural and ideological flaws I found in Conti’s op-ed is that, despite what we commonly consider to be the nature of op-ed pieces, the article in fact fails to make a strong claim. In the hopes of not repeating the mistake, I will state my opinion as clearly as I can: although it is true that the sexual offender registry should be part of the equation in our discussion of criminal justice reform, Luke Heimlich’s case is not representative of the problems with the way we treat sexual offenders, nor should we have any sympathy for his situation.

I would like to begin by addressing possible objections to the very nature of an op-ed written in response to another op-ed. It appears to be an opinion held on this campus that if someone responds negatively to a political belief held by one individual, they are perpetuating the silencing of certain voices. This is an unbased claim. There is a necessary distinction between making a moral judgement on the permissibility of an action (in this case writing an op-ed) and making a moral judgement on the action itself. In this particular case, my moral and critical judgement falls into the latter camp.

Conti’s article devoted, by my estimation, about 270 words to Heimlich’s athletic capabilities. It devoted one sentence to describing the crime he committed. I do appreciate the idea that describing the details of sexual assaults, molestations, and harassment can be insensitive to the victim. I also believe that it is nonetheless often necessary to make these details as public as the victim would allow in order for the public to cast a more accurate moral judgement. Yes, all acts of sexual violence are heinous, but some are more heinous than others. In the research I’ve done, it seems that the victim’s family seems willing to have this information disclosed. Heimlich sexually molested a family relative for the first time when she was four and the last time when she was six. The first time this happened, court documents state, “she told him to stop, but he wouldn’t.” She is also quoted as saying, “it hurt.”

Conti’s article also failed to mention what the victim’s family feels about Heimlich’s opportunity to continue playing baseball. All that was necessary was a quick Google search to find out that victim’s mother has stated, “I’m appalled that the college he’s going to would even have him on their team.” I take it to to not be a controversial opinion that we should value the sentiments of the victim’s family on whether someone has been rehabilitated enough to continue participating normally in society over our own.

I hope that the details of the molestation and the opinions expressed by the victim’s family will help dispel any possible assumption that the molestation was an isolated incident whose consequences are no longer relevant to the victim and her family. So long as the victim, now 11 years old, continues to suffer what I can only imagine to be incredible psychological trauma, I am utterly unwilling to devote any time or energy to dwelling on the end of Heimlich’s baseball career. I cannot imagine any point in my wholehearted condemnation of Heimlich at which I would, as Conti puts it, “become no better than he.” Perhaps my imagination is lacking, but I cannot envision a situation in which overzealous and unforgiving punishment of a child molester makes us no better than a child molester.

None of this is to say that I do not fully appreciate the fact that the criminal justice system has large room for reform in all areas, including the sexual offender registry. In Washington law, any minor in possession of consensual sexting with a person of any age is obligated to register as a sex offender. This is a far less serious offense than child molestation and yet results in the designation of the same societal qualifier. These laws also disproportionately affect persons of color and low-income people who are then faced with limited job prospects and ostracization by society. To put the racialized elements of the registry into perspective, Brock Turner, the last white college athlete to make national headlines for sexual assault, now gives talks on college campuses about the dangers of excess drinking. Luke Heimlich is not representative of the registry’s problems or of the room society does or does not allow for rehabilitation. He is a white man who molested a child and went on to play college baseball.

Sexual molestation undoubtedly differs from other acts of violence that we punish by law. It is a loss of autonomy; it is a loss of humanity, it is a profound degradation. Acts of sexual violence are inherently different from other acts of violence and deserve to be evaluated differently. This does not justify the racially and socioeconomically biased implications of the sexual offender registry or the uniquely aggravated ostracization that many sexual offenders face. Rehabilitation has great value, but why is it that we only seem to allow for white athletes to be rehabilitated?

Conti characterizes Heimlich’s case as a “fall from grace.” I take it that Conti intended to use grace’s denotation as the condition of being favoured by someone. Ironically, in the Christian theology which popularized the aforementioned denotation, Grace is the often unmerited favor God bestows upon the human race as a whole, sinners and innocents alike. Within this context, we should evaluate how modern society has cruelly co-opted this notion. White men with athletic ability are indeed bestowed Grace by society as a whole: their perceived heroism perseveres against all odds. Others are not as lucky. They were never afforded grace, so they cannot fall. Luke Heimlich has indeed fallen, dragged down by his own atrocities. We should devote our care and energy to those who do not have the opportunity to rise, not to whether someone like Luke Heimlich deserved to fall.


College Title IX Policy to Remain in Effect

in News by

In an email sent on Sept. 22, President Valerie Smith assured students, faculty and staff that college IX policy would remain in effect despite the rescission of Obama-era guidelines for college investigations of sexual misconduct, which was announced earlier that day by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

New interim guidelines will let colleges and universities set the standard of evidence in student sexual assault investigations, according to U.S. News. Smith emphasized that while the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter and 2014 Q&A will be nullified — policies that require colleges to use the lowest standard of proof when adjudicating sexual assault cases — Title IX itself will remain in full effect. She affirmed that Swarthmore policies will continue to demonstrate the principles of the college and will not be altered to match the shift in national policy.

“Swarthmore College remains wholly committed to upholding equality and freedom from all forms of discrimination and harassment. Our college policies … are based on our own values and reflective of law, guidance, and best practice,” Smith wrote.

Violence Prevention Educator and Survivor Advocate Nina Harris echoed Smith’s statement, asserting that Swarthmore would not change its standard of evidence required to find an accused student guilty of sexual assault and that the college makes policy decisions according to its own values.

“What you may see change is the level of commitment and investment at some institutions [that] were only acting under government pressure. This has never been the impetus nor basis for our work here at Swarthmore,” said Harris.

According to Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, the Title IX office reviews its policies routinely every summer. The Sexual Harassment/Assault Resources and Education (SHARE) website, on which the Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy is outlined, states that over 30 adjustments have been made since 2013.

“Swarthmore is committed to providing a fair investigation and adjudication process and our annual reviews provide an opportunity to assure that we are staying current with any new laws, Department of Education guidance, best practice, and community feedback,” Williamsen said.

One 2013 adjustment Williamsen highlighted was a shift in the college’s model for adjudicating student-student sexual assault cases to one that is overseen by an external adjudicator. According to the SHARE site, one adjudicator is a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice who has experience in cases involving sexual violence.

“The external adjudicators are well trained and experienced, and the college felt that the use of an external adjudicator … provided more privacy for the parties since the case would not be heard by a panel ​comprised ​of campus community members,” Williamsen said.

Janice Luo ’19 suggested that the Title IX office respond to the changes to national guidance by being more transparent and visible.

“I think that a lot of students aren’t actually informed on how Title IX works or how it is utilized at colleges … maybe the first step of the office is to clarify to the students what their role has been and what their values are,” she said.

Luo, who is a member of the recently appointed Ad Hoc Committee on Wellbeing, Belonging, and Social Life, described the committee as one of several spaces on campus that seeks to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students despite potential threats incurred by changes to national policies.

“I think it’s fitting … that we’re creating this extra measure for students and faculty to make our space safe, sort of like a countermeasure to the Trump administration and things like Title IX [changes],” Luo said.

Interim Title IX Fellow Raven Bennett works closely with Harris to organize workshops, events, and training sessions on topics such as bystander intervention and supporting survivors. She said that the Title IX staff will continue to plan and host these events in spite of changes to national policy.

“We are always organizing these events with the aim to prevent sexual violence or support survivors. Regardless of any changes in Title IX, we will continue to provide programming with that aim,” Bennett said.

She urged members of the community to attend a new training series centered on sexual health and violence prevention topics called Training Tuesdays.

“I highly recommend that community members attend these trainings because it is on all of us to strive to make this community a safer, more inclusive place,” Bennett said.

In her email, Smith summarized the college’s commitment to violence prevention, safety, and inclusion.

“The college recognizes that all who live, work, and learn on our campus are responsible for ensuring that the community is free from discrimination based on sex or gender, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct. These behaviors threaten our learning, living, and work environments; we are actively working towards fostering a violence-free community,” she wrote.

The Title IX office will inform community members of any additional changes to national Title IX guidance or policy.

While the future of Title IX on college campuses is uncertain, Swarthmore says it will continue to enact policies that reflect principles such as equality and fairness.

What Happens Afterwards

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

CW: Sexual Violence

I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday. It was my first relationship here at Swarthmore. He was drunk, as was I. He wanted to do sexual things with me, but I was hesitant. We had only been dating a short time, and I had never done anything so intimate with anyone before, yet here we were, both drunk messes. I told him no. He kept badgering me. I felt extremely uncomfortable. It almost felt as if he was entitled to my body because we were in a relationship. I kept resisting, but he wouldn’t respond to it. We were in his bed, and he forced himself on me. He finished. I felt weak. He felt guilty.

Was this what it meant to be intimate with someone?

It wasn’t until that summer that I realized what really happened. I was sexually assaulted by my ex-partner. I was naïve and had no idea what to do. I didn’t feel comfortable reporting it. I didn’t even feel comfortable telling my closest friends here at Swarthmore. I had already broken up with him, so he was a finished chapter in my life. I thought that any allegations of assault after the fact would only make me look bad. I felt compelled to “forgive” him after the events happened, but yet I had not really forgiven him, nor did I forget. How could I?

Flash forward to the beginning of this school year. I ran into him on campus, and I was filled not only with feelings of helplessness but also anger. People had to know. I worked up the courage to tell my closest friends, and I was met with mixed responses. While some were genuinely concerned about my well-being, others said, “Are you sure it was assault? I mean, you were dating each other and under the influence…” Even my-then best friend was hesitant to believe me. “I understand, but you didn’t report it, so is this just you being angry for no reason?” I was left in utter silence.

We’re not friends anymore. At all. He’s now close friends with my assailant.

Then there was the night that took me back to how I felt the first time it happened. This time the assailant was a person who I thought was a close friend of mine. I was taken back to the exact same feelings of helplessness, anguish, and anger. The situation felt exactly the same as the first. We were both drunk. Advances were made. I resisted. He got angry. I was angry, too. Not only at him, but at myself. How could I have let this happened again?

Responses to my second experience were the same. There was more concern, but there were certain responses from an individual that made me feel exactly how my ex-friend made me feel. “Well, I mean, you were both drunk. You both knew what you were doing. I told you to be careful.” No sympathy. I ended up distancing myself greatly from this assailant and the “friend” who defended him, but a run-in with the assailant at a party made me feel very uncomfortable.

It was obvious he was intoxicated. I was getting anxious. I needed to leave to go outside, but my friend stopped to say hi to everyone, and I could not believe that this was happening after what I told them what he did to me. “Well, he’s a really good friend to me. I just can’t say hi to him!” My sexual assault experience was only “valid” when I told them about it and not when they needed to support me by avoiding my assailant. Gotcha.

I did not foresee having to deal with one experience with sexual assault, much less two. It was not just the experiences that fucked with my head, but what happened afterwards from people whom I thought were my friends. They dealt with my experiences in the most insensitive way. My assailants were chosen over me. My experiences were not valid enough. My friendship was not valid enough.

When the “Swat Protects Rapists” posters went up, I could not help but think, “It isn’t only Swat administration.” People who are close to abusers, while knowing damn well what they have done, also protect rapists. They ignore their past because, “Oh, that’s strange, I haven’t seen that side of them.” No shit, but that does not give you the right to protect their bad and disgusting behavior. Acknowledge the wrongs they committed. Hold them accountable. Don’t devalue someone’s experiences. I was neglected in these ways from individuals that I thought were my friends.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why hasn’t this person reported these situations?” I feel like the process would not go in my favor. Being a gay man on this campus is hard enough. There’s already preconceived notions of sexual assault between two men. “Are you sure?” “Men aren’t supposed to do that with other men.” “That’s just sick.” Even if Swarthmore is a “progressive campus,” there are still issues that Swarthmore loves to cover up. I have to live with seeing both individuals regularly on campus, knowing that even if I did try and report it, Swarthmore will not do anything. This needs to change. Everything needs to change about the way that sexual assault is handled on campus. No one should feel like they can’t report. Every victim’s voice needs to be heard, loud and clear.

1 2 3 5
Go to Top