Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

sexual assault

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.

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

http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2017/04/13/does-swat-protect-rapists/

“Go for the O” by Lauren Savo

http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2017/02/23/go-for-the-o/

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

http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/04/24/doe-releases-title-ix-complaint-against-swarthmore/

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

http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2013/04/17/brought-to-light-part-two/

“Swat Protects Rapists” Website

https://swatprotectsrapists.wordpress.com/

 

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?’”

1 2 3 4
Go to Top