Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

sexual assault

on behalf of Sexual Health Advocates

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Jordan Reyes ’19, a Sexual Health Advocate (SHA) who works for the admissions office, was informed by Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 on Monday that he could either stop wearing his “I <3 Female Orgasm” t-shirt while working or lose his job as a general information presenter (GISP). The shirt is among the merchandise that was distributed at I <3 Female Orgasm, a February event featuring sex educators Dorian Solot and Connor Timmons teaching a “message of sexual health and empowerment,” sponsored by Title IX Office, the Women’s Resource Center for Gender Equity (WRC), and the SHAs. Jordan is now unemployed. The reason? According to Dean Bock, “It is potentially triggering.”

You know what is potentially triggering, Swat? PROTECTING RAPISTS.

We are appalled, but not shocked, that a college administrator would misappropriate “concern over triggering” while Swarthmore has and largely refuses to own up to a history of traumatizing victims and survivors of sexual assault, and perpetuates and dismisses genuine concern over the triggering effect of institutionally prioritizing perpetrators of assault. While we understand the College can dictate the dress of its paid representatives, punishing a student for wearing a sex-positive t-shirt given out by the very office that is working against sexual violence at Swarthmore, in the name of eliminating triggers, is tone-deaf, hurtful, and hopelessly hypocritical.

Putting aside the college’s apparent apathy with potential triggers when I <3 Female Orgasm fliers were plastered all over campus in support of this school-sponsored event, Dean Bock’s sudden commitment to the needs of hypothetical survivors while the administration continually fails to acknowledge its troubling history rings hollow. As Jodie Goodman ’16 has recently written in The Phoenix, “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.” In 2013, 13 students filed a Title IX complaint against the college for the college’s mishandling of sexual misconduct reports. Critically, numerous Swarthmore students’ histories of consensual sexual engagement have been used to discredit their allegations of assault. As The Phoenix reported in 2013, survivors appearing before the College Judiciary Committee have been asked questions such as: “How many people have you slept with before?” and “You say you had sex with him [your assailant] before?” With this history in mind, the invocation of sexual trauma to censor pro-healthy sexuality shirts is breathtakingly inappropriate.

Censoring the (sartorial) work of the school’s anti-sexual violence advocates, in the name of sexual violence awareness, makes no sense.

So given Dean Bock’s ultimatum to Jordan, it seems that sex-positive, trauma-aware programming on healthy sexuality like I <3 Female Orgasm, which was sponsored by Title IX this February, is a liability for the college to showcase to potential students. That the college doesn’t allow its student representatives to wear a shirt promoting its own Title IX Office’s programming on healthy sexuality, combined with the college’s history of silencing anti-sexual assault protest, suggests that Swarthmore’s commitment to the amazing work of its Title IX Office extends only so far as the Office’s ability to serve the college’s financial interests.

As Sexual Health Advocates, we advocate to make this campus hospitable for healthy sex and relationships. That’s why we co-sponsored I <3 the Female Orgasm along with Title IX, and the WRC. We suggest that, if Dean Bock really wants to support survivors of sexual violence and those re-traumatized by Swarthmore’s mishandling thereof, he and other administrators listen and respond to the genuine concerns of actual sexual violence survivors. That includes supporting Title IX and SHA programming that addresses said concerns.

Dean Bock should start by reinstating Jordan, who, as a Sexual Health Advocate, a Title IX Liaison, and a NuWave member, is working for a safer and healthier sexual climate in a moment when the same cannot necessarily be said of the institution itself. (See the recently published website Swat Protects Rapists for an overview of the college’s failure to pursue justice for survivors of sexual violence.) Crucially, Jordan should be able to wear and discuss the message of his shirt on the job. Regardless, we hope that Dean Bock’s newly demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of trauma survivors is reflective of a new administrative commitment to the needs of survivors on campus.

In the meantime, Swat can’t protect us from rapists, but at least it can protect us from orgasms!

This op-ed has been co-signed by the following Sexual Health Advocates: Lulu Allen-Waller ’17, Bel Guinle ’19, Helen Hawver ’17, YuQing Lin ’20, Will Marchese ’20, Sabrina Merold ’17, Krista Smith-Henke ’19, Shayla Smith ’20, and Dorcas Tang ’19.


Works Referenced

“Does Swat Protect Rapists?” by Jodie Goodman


“Go for the O” by Lauren Savo


“DoE releases Title IX complaint against Swarthmore” by Daniel Block and Izzy Kornblatt


“Brought to Light: Accused Walks, College Demands Silence” by Max Nesterak


“Swat Protects Rapists” Website



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.*

Flyers around campus provoke discussion on sexual violence

in Around Campus/Breaking News/News by

Content warning: sexual violence

A series of two different flyers posted in various public and private spaces on campus has sparked conversations about activism and Title IX policies at the college.

The flyers were discovered across campus midday Monday by various members of the college community in locations including Mertz residence hall, Parrish hall, and Sharples dining hall. They were printed in black and white on computer paper and included one of two messages in large, bold lettering: “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS” or “HAPPY SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH.” The posters were posted in places containing other student-created flyers, such as the bulletin boards of Parrish, but in other spaces such as Mertz, they were taped prominently to mirrors of a gender-neutral bathroom.

Some of the posters were promptly removed upon discovery, as was the case in Willets residence hall. In Sharples dining hall, “HAPPY SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH” flyers were left unchanged, but the flyers containing the message “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS” were removed by the end of the day on Monday. It is unclear why one flyer was removed from Sharples but the other was left hanging.

When asked about the effects of the flyers on the campus community, Dean of Students Liz Braun noted that the college has worked incredibly hard over the last several years to respond and prevent sexual violence, but recognized that the college was not a perfect institution in these endeavors.

“… There is still much more to be done, and I am committed to working with the Title IX office and our community to continuously build on and evolve our efforts,” Braun said.

She highlighted the team of faculty and staff who work collaboratively with the Title IX office on the support of survivors and the prevention of and response to sexual assault, the original establishment of the Title IX office, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and trainings for students, faculty, and staff as ways that the college is involved in preventing sexual violence around campus. She also noted that nearly 30 ​students participate in the Title IX Office’s student teams each year.

“We are committed to doing more — wisely and effectively — to create a safe and healthy community,” Braun continued.

Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen expressed concern over the appearance of the flyers.

“[I] want to make sure folks [know] my door is open if they ever want to talk,” Williamsen said.

President Valerie Smith sent out an email to the student body on April 5 stating that April was designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month on campus and around the country. In the email, Smith highlighted the “Sex & Power: Dinner & Discussion” and “Voices of Healing: A Community Gathering” events and detailed several other resources for students, but did not directly address the presence of the flyers on campus.

Anna Weber ’19, a member of NuWave and a member of the Peer Support Group lead by Violence Prevention Educator/Advocate Nina Harris, made it clear that neither NuWave nor members of the Peer Support Group were involved in the production or distribution of the flyers. Speaking as an individual and not as a representative of either of the groups, Weber felt that the flyers were a way for students to feel connected.

“The flyers tell you that you’re not alone, and the main thing that I would be worried about is showing the people that felt the need to put these flyers up that they also have support systems available to them,” Weber said.

Other students felt that the college adequately supported their needs, to the best of its ability, in these situations.

Title IX Fellow Rebecca Bernstein said the posters made her feel sad and aware that there is work left to be done at the college with regards to sexual violence.

“The flyers show that at least some students at Swarthmore are not feeling heard or like they have any other outlet for their pain,” she noted.

Bernstein explained that the Title IX office is a relatively new office, having been established sometime before the end of 2014, and felt proud of the way the office has broadened its reach and felt grateful for the students who she had been connected to in her two years at the college.

“This issue is far too complex and far too embedded in our culture to change overnight. What I hope for is that all of our students, no matter what their needs are or how much pain they are in, find meaningful resources, support, and healing during the rest of their time at Swarthmore and beyond,” Bernstein continued.

While some of the flyers have been removed, many still remain posted at various campus locations. It is unclear how long they will stay posted.

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.

Shirt Sparks Debate in Survivor Community

in Around Campus/News by
Photo by The Phoenix
Photo by The Phoenix

Early last Thursday morning, a red t-shirt was found taped to the ground outside of Parrish Hall with the words “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” written on the front. Hours later, at 8:00 a.m., however, the t-shirt was removed by Public Safety Officers at the behest of administrators concerned about the potentially triggering nature of the shirt’s message. In past years, t-shirts have been hung at the college during the month of April as a part of the Clothesline Project, a national campaign to spread awareness and support for survivors of sexual violence. This year, however, the project was notably omitted from Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. Since last Thursday, the t-shirt, as well as its removal, have been the subject of speculation and debate, inciting conversation around the freedom survivors have to vocalize their experiences, the contested impact of the Clothesline Project on awareness-raising efforts, and the challenges of healing in a community that has drastically altered its sexual misconduct policies in recent years.

“The Clothesline Project has been a longstanding national project that’s happened for over 30 years at different college campuses,” explained Nina Harris, Violence Prevention Educator and Survivor Advocate at the college. “When I first came to Swarthmore, it was already happening and they gave opportunities for survivors and allies to make t-shirts that communicated messages around their experiences with violence. It was color coded. There were a series of different colored t-shirts that represented different types of violence, so there was violence around sexual orientation, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and incest. There were a variety of shirts and mediums, and people had the opportunity to create their own, and then they were hung in front of Parrish.”

Last spring, however, at the request of survivors who found the process of publically displaying experiences of sexual violence to be highly triggering, organizers of Sexual Assault Awareness Month decided to alter the Clothesline Project significantly, transforming it into a digitized archive instead of a physical installation. While survivors and allies were still given the opportunity to create t-shirts, these shirts — as well as all of the shirts retained in the Title IX Office from previous years — were displayed in a slideshow of photos broadcast during specific hours on the TV in Shane Lounge.

According to AnnaLivia Chen ‘18, who has been a member of the college’s Sexual Assault Awareness Team for the past two years, the digitization of the project represented a clear deviation from the way in which Clothesline Projects are traditionally presented, this more discrete iteration of the event was better suited to current survivor needs.

“There are many people whose voices are not as loud as shirts on Parrish Beach who struggle with the event for a variety of legitimate reasons,” Chen said. “Many survivors do not want to participate … and find the display to be extremely triggering and unavoidable for the week that the clothesline is up. Some feel that it’s an okay way to express emotions but that there is then no way to follow up and no way to support others, for example if there is another survivor whose shirt they identified with and want to try to make connection there.”

Harris expressed similar concerns.

“What was difficult about the Clothesline Project in the past was that it was this very singular event that happened in isolation, and the message there is triggering, and then I’m just going to go about my day and go to class,” Harris explained. “The reason that the Clothesline Project shifted last year was because voices were included that didn’t feel okay to go publicly to push that or say that.

As Harris explained, through consultations with individual students, as well as anonymous letters from survivors, staff in the Title IX Office received a significant amount of feedback, expressing concerns about the project’s upsetting nature and requesting that the shirts be taken down.

This year, in light of these complaints, the Title IX Advisory Team came to the controversial decision to remove all iterations of the Clothesline Project — digital or otherwise — from the college’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. Instead, organizers chose to replace the project with a number of less public, more intimate opportunities for sharing experiences and building connections within the survivor community, many of which were open only to survivors. These events include “Voices of Healing,” a gathering in the Scott Amphitheater for survivors and allies to share stories; “Speak Out,” a chance for survivors to share their experiences with the wider community; a storytelling workshop led by a facilitator from StoryCenter; and an allyship workshop, as well as the survivor meals, which are regularly scheduled throughout the year. According to Chen, these smaller events, which are focused more on creating spaces in which survivors can voice their experiences, describe their processes of healing, and build a network of support within the survivor community, have a number of advantages.

“With Nina and other professional staff present for all three of these events, people were able to follow up if they needed support from trained professionals,” Chen explained. “This also created a space for survivors to identify with each other and make meaningful connections – three of my closest friends were made that night.”

Nevertheless, Chen’s positive experiences with the revisions to this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming are not representative of the full dimensionality of survivor experiences on campus. Many current survivors and alumni have since expressed discontent with the discontinuation of the Clothesline Project, particularly on social media, citing the ways in which the project’s removal may serve to diminish the effectiveness of Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. As made clear by the language of the t-shirt taped outside of Parrish last Thursday, on which quotation marks are placed around the word awareness, some survivors believe that specifically the awareness-raising aims of the Clothesline Project have been left void in the Title IX Office’s new programming, despite the several replacement events scheduled.

According to the National Clothesline Project website’s description of the project’s goals, “It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who makes a shirt — by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.”

For many, these consciousness-raising and solidarity-building features of the project are achievable only because of the project’s public nature. On Facebook and YikYak, several survivors at the college explained that by physically symbolizing the multitude of diverse experiences that fellow students have had with issues of sexual violence, the campaign reminded survivors that there were others who had suffered in ways similar to them. Several individuals also explained that the “in your face” nature of the Clothesline Project forced the community at large to become aware of the sheer magnitude of survivors associated with the college, something which is lost in more intimate, secluded events, which can be perceived as dictating the way in which victims are allowed to express themselves.

According to Chen, however, these criticisms are not representative of the realities of the new programming.

“While this may sound like it is still trying to silence hardship and anger that is not true in theory or in practice,” Chen explained. “During our first year of Voices of Healing, people shared stories with every range of emotion: despair, depression, hope, anger, resentment, bitterness, support, thoughtfulness, panic, and more. Before Voices, we had a dinner for survivors who had already signed up to speak and we also had a gathering afterwards in the Women’s Resource Center for anyone who attended to decompress, debrief, and do anything else they needed to take care of themselves.”

Ultimately, according to Harris, the divergences in planning from year to year reflect simply the changing needs expressly articulated by survivors on campus. As these individuals change over the years, so too will the programming and policies supported by the college to facilitate healing and raise awareness.

“At the end of the day, it’s not for me to tell survivors how they want to experience their pain,” Harris said. “While I don’t think the people who have organized in the past have reflected the voice of all survivors on campus, I’m lucky to have a position in which i can talk to people confidentially this is how this policy works out it didn’t feel right. We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to make this better?’”

Title IX changes to affect campus procedures

in News by

Every summer, the Office of the Title IX Coordinator revises the college’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy. This Tuesday, a meeting hosted by Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen detailed the changes to the policy as well as personnel changes within the Title IX office. The revisions reflect changes in federal and state laws and feedback from the campus community.

The still-open Title IX complaint filed with the Department of Education in 2013 has fueled rising campus interest about sexual assault and was part of the impetus for the college creating the Title IX office. Concern was also raised due to an increase in the number of forcible sexual offenses reported on campus, as shown in Clery Act crime statistics, which grew from 9 in 2011 and 12 in 2012 to 89 in 2013, when the most recent statistics are available. This year policy changes included clarification of some of the language used in the policy as well as personnel and legal changes.

At the meeting, Kaaren Williamsen, who was hired in July 2014 after increased concern about sexual violence on campus, stated that her goal was to make the policy as accurate and accessible as possible. “My goal is [to make a policy which] complies with all the federal guidance, that is understandable and not in legalese, and which reflects the values and language of Swarthmore,” she said.

The policy, which can be found on the webpage of the Office of the Title IX Coordinator, specifies what resources are available to victims of sexual assault, including those within the Office of the Title IX coordinator and other on-campus resources such as CAPS. It also details off-campus resources, such as the Delaware County Women Against Rape group, and what options victims of sexual assault have in reporting their assault to the college and making a formal complaint with the college.

Changes and clarifications in language, terms, and definitions made up a significant portion of the changes in the policy. The policy defines many of the terms used in defining and describing sexual assault and terms used during the adjudication process through the college, including terms like “complainant” and “respondent.” The terms “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment,” while already defined in the policy, were added to facilitate greater campus understanding of these particular acts. The definition of sexual assault itself was also changed, with the definition of “sexual contact” being expanded to include sexual intercourse, which was previously a separate category of assault, and the word “intentional” added before “unwanted sexual contact.”

The definitions of consent and incapacitation, though not themselves changed, were emphasized during the meeting. Consent is said to be demonstrated “through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage freely in sexual activity.” The effect of alcohol and drugs on a person’s ability to give consent is addressed, with the policy defining incapacitation to be “a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication“ which affects a person’s “decision-making ability” and “capacity to appreciate the nature and the quality of the act.” Despite not saying that the use of any drugs and alcohol incapacitates a person, the policy does state, “the college considers sexual contact 
while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs to be risky behavior.”

The changes also clarified the differences between a “private” and a “confidential” person to contact in case of possible sexual assault. While a confidential resource such as a CAPS counselor is not legally allowed to share information with anyone, a private resource can share information on a need to know basis.

Legal changes, need for more personnel, and a demand for greater accessibility were reflected in the changes as well. Changes in the federal Violence Against Women Act mean that after a decision had been made following an internal college adjudication process, both the complainant and respondent must be informed of the decision simultaneously. Williamsen said this change would mean that, for logistical reasons, complainants and respondents would no longer be told in person the result of the adjudication.

Over the summer, the college created a new Case Manager position and hired a Michelle Ray in this role. Ray will serve as a new resource to help complainants of sexual assault learn about their resources and options throughout the college adjudication process. She will also be a new option for advisor during the process, in addition to the advisors already in the Title IX office.

A new form was created on the Title IX webpage to allow members of the college community to directly report sexual assault to the Title IX coordinator, and Williamsen welcomed people to personally contact her via phone or email or in person with questions, concerns, and reports of sexual assault.

New Clery statistics regarding sexual assault on campus in the last calendar year, to be published October 1, will help to show if the recent efforts of the college have had an effect on sexual harassment and assault at Swarthmore — and perhaps lead to more changes in the future.

College continues to revamp sexual assault prevention, education

in Campus Journal by

As we near the close of the third week of this school year, we are in the midst of what has come to be known as the “Red Zone,” a period of time at the beginning of the school year during which the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses is highest. While the risk of sexual violence is serious and present at all times, the beginning of the year, when one quarter of the students are new to campus, is a time to be particularly aware. Though the most visible of the college’s efforts to prevent sexual violence are mostly enacted in a single night during first year orientation, there are a number of administrators, staff, and students whose work towards preventing sexual assault extends beyond that first week.

Two years ago, the federal government launched an investigation of Swarthmore’s handling of sexual assault cases due to a Title IX complaint filed by students. The case, opened by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, is not yet resolved. In the time since the complaint was filed, the college has hired a number of new staff members and changed or created much of their efforts around sexual violence prevention and survivor support.

One of the college’s relatively recent hires was Nina Harris, the violence prevention educator and advocate and newly appointed advisor to the Women’s Resource Center. In terms of appropriate ways of teaching students about sexual assault, Harris acknowledges the importance of awareness during the beginning of the year, but cautions against focusing too intensely on the so-called Red Zone.

“In any messaging or awareness campaign you must also be balanced in creating an accurate picture that will not disproportionately emphasize one element, like the ‘red zone,’ and imply that danger only exists in that period, or that sexual assault only happens because of alcohol and party culture,“ she said. She noted that the statistical existence of a Red Zone is pointed out in Campus Clarity’s “Think About It,” the online sexual assault prevention program that first years are required to take.

The online education module, which aims to educate students to “reduce risky student behavior and prevent sexual assault on your campus,” leads students through lessons on alcohol consumption and sexual assault and hook up culture.  Its use has been met with criticism on a number of other campuses.  Students writing for other campus newspapers, including Temple University, have raised concerns with the program such as its heteronormative focus, probing questions about students’ own drug and alcohol use and sex life, and a risk for trivializing the issues as problems with the program.  Still, most do acknowledge that it is a potentially useful tool for leveling the playing field of knowledge around consent.

At Swarthmore, though many students have been on campus for almost a month, party permits were not issued until the weekend of September 5th. Harris said that she supports the decision to delay the start of alcohol-fueled parties, though she wishes that there had been clearer communication about why dry week is important.

Harris now officially splits her time between her office in Worth Health Center and the WRC.  She explained that while her Worth office is the appropriate location for her work with the survivor community, and for her to act in her capacity as a confidential resource, it was not a logical space for some of the broader initiatives she has in mind. Harris hopes to expand her scope and the ways she interacts with students by moving into the WRC.

“Women’s centers on college campuses have traditionally been the community space that deals with issues of gender and sexuality and so when we’re talking about culture and climate and community, the Health Center doesn’t fully allow us to address that on that level,” Harris pointed out.  She hopes that the WRC will become a space that operates similarly to the way the BCC and IC do, providing a home base for community work, which it has struggled to do in the past partially because of a lack of support staff. Title IX Fellow Becca Bernstein and Residential Communities Coordinator Heather Lorin Albright will join Harris in working in the WRC this year, in an effort to address that lack.  She explained that there are plans for the WRC, IC, and BCC staff to coordinate throughout the year, and that they are collectively seeking to answer the question “How can we model a working and lived experience of intersectionality?”

The WRC previously served as a dry alternative available during parties, and was only almost exclusively open on weekend nights. The space will now be open during daytime hours, and Harris hopes it will become a comfortable space for all and a hub for students whose interests include gender-related issues.

Harris’s work will also extend to advising Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention, a student group that led peer-facilitated workshops during orientation (before the days of Making Friends, Making Out) in the past, but seeks to reevaluate and redefine its role on campus this year. According to Ashley Hong ’16, an ASAP coordinator, this reshaping is due in large part to the hiring of Kaaren Williamsen as the college’s first Title IX Coordinator and the creation of an official Title IX space.

“[The members of the group] realized we were allowed to step back thanks to the institution’s stepping up,” she said. Since these changes, ASAP coordinators have spent time figuring out how to be most effective in meeting their goals and in actively supporting Williamsen’s work.  Victoria Stitt ’15, another of ASAP’s coordinators, hopes that the group will have a larger presence this year, though they will be smaller in numbers since they no longer lead orientation workshops.

The official mission statement of ASAP includes the following: “We seek to educate our peers about the multifaceted ways that abuse and sexual assault can manifest themselves … We encourage our peers to recognize and know how to support a friend or friends dealing with the impacts of sexual assault.” For her part, Hong joined the group with hopes of being able to influence campus culture.

“My freshman year, I realized that there was a big lack of resources, awareness, and education about healthy relationships, consent, prevention, etc. I joined ASAP to make sexual assault issues more visible and to make consent the norm,” she said. She believes that there has been a shift towards greater awareness and understanding over the course of her time here.  “ASAP doesn’t have an official, longitudinal study to quantitatively assess the changes that we believe have occurred, but there are areas on campus and in social media that have shown an increase in support.” She explained that she was heartened to see students using the anonymous app Yik Yak to spread information about campus resources, to identify Harris and Williamsen as useful figures, and to reinforce the importance of consent. “Every effort counts,” she added.

Williamsen voiced gratitude towards the students, like those involved in ASAP, who dedicate their time and energy to supporting her office’s work.

“Preventing sexual violence is a community effort and I am so appreciative that so many students are interesting in working together on this issue,” she said. She also pointed out that one of the difficulties in keeping a consistent culture of consent and awareness of issues and policies at Swarthmore, or any college, is the sizable turnover in the student community, which necessitates a continued educational effort by the administration.

Williamsen’s official role, as described in the Student Handbook, is to oversee all sexual misconduct reports, to advise students in matters involving sexual misconduct, and to ensure that the college is compliant with all regulations under Title IX law. Williamsen herself also highlighted her work on the side of sexual violence prevention, and her commitment to working with other staff and students to create educational events, workshops, and trainings.

Harris, Williamsen, and ASAP coordinators all pointed to the upcoming “Can I Kiss You?” workshop as one of the events they are looking forward to this year. The workshop, which also took place last year, is led by author and public speaker Mike Domitrz and seeks to help students manage the realities of giving and getting consent. Other sexual violence-related programming is also in the works for the coming year, including private events for the survivor community and public ones for all interested students.

1 2 3 4
Go to Top