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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To whom do we afford grace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


College Title IX Policy to Remain in Effect

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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

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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

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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

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“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?

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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.*

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