Swarthmore Still A Safe Zone For Survivors

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In the aftermath of the Dear Colleague Letter regarding Title IX, a wave of confusion about confidentiality has left survivors of sexual assault wary of coming forward and seeking help.

The Dear Colleague Letter distributed in April 2011 clarified that Title IX, which guarantees equal educational opportunities to members of both sexes, extends to instances and allegations of sexual assault. Therefore, educational facilities are mandated by law to guarantee that sexual assault is taken seriously and that appropriate actions are taken to ensure students’ safety. The letter was written as a response to the many complaints reported to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about abuse and misconduct being dismissed by educators and administration members across the country.

The letter’s clarifications of Title IX have led to stricter regulations that require college officials to report violent incidents to a higher official. Though this mandate is intended to make campuses safer, some fear that disclosing information about violent instances will result in humiliating, public witch-hunts. Swarthmore students should be knowledgeable of the various routes available to them when sexual violence occurs.

Students should be aware of which college officials are required to report instances of sexual misconduct or abuse. Most Swarthmore employees are required to report, including professors, deans and resident advisors. However, there are still many resources at Swarthmore that are immune to the effects of the new regulations. College employees with medical, religious, and counselor privilege are not required to report. This includes all health center employees, all employees of Swarthmore’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), various religious advisors, and drug and alcohol counselors. These employees have the ability to advocate on a student’s behalf to other employees who are obligated to report. They will only be obligated to submit a clery report, which is a short, anonymous report to a public database that states that an incident occurred.

In addition to these staff members, there are also many students who are working to provide aid to survivors. Swarthmore’s Sexual Misconduct Advisors & Resource Team (SMART) is a group of students and faculty members who have taken it upon themselves to make Swarthmore a safer place. SMART student members are not held by Title IX regulations and are not required to report. The team is currently undergoing a transition, and in the future it hopes to bring in speakers to train students and staff members about the dangers of violence and sexual assault. SMART has also expressed an interest in creating a student support system for survivors to disclose instances in confidence through the use of a student-run helpline.

Beth Kotarski, Director of Student Health Services at Swarthmore, is one of the faculty members guiding SMART this year. She stresses the invaluable role that students play in lending an ear to survivors. “Students play the most important piece,” she says. “They are peer supporters and responders. They provide a powerful safety net for survivors.”

Student SMART team member Lisa Sendrow ’13 explains, “I really want other students to feel like they have support and that they can talk to me and know that I will direct them to the resources available to them.”

With these resources in mind, it is important to acknowledge that Title IX is not intended to target survivors. Title IX is intended to keep reports of abuse from slipping through the cracks. It is meant to ensure that colleges are taking each and every instance or allegation of violence seriously and doing the best they can to ensure the safety of their students.

“The goal is to respond to instances and allegations of sexual misconduct appropriately,” says Sharmain LaMar, Director of Equal Opportunity at Swarthmore. “As Title IX Coordinator, I am trying to be as sensitive as possible to a survivor’s desire to be anonymous, but I’ve got to do a balancing act of making sure that individuals have the proper resources to cope and ensuring a safe environment for all of our community members.”

LaMar also stresses that employees bound by Title IX requirements are not intended to be first responders in violent situations and that students looking for a fully anonymous outlet to voice concerns are best served by the alternative resources listed above. Title IX deals with the legal and safety-related aspects of campus violence, not necessarily the emotional healing process. LaMar explains that ultimately it is important for students to know where they can go for appropriate resources.

In reference to the Title IX reporting process, LaMar says, “The level of the investigation will depend on the severity of each case and the circumstances of each case — there will be times when I will need to assess if a college policy was broken here and I will work with the Deans Office to find the appropriate resolution to that.”

Essentially, Title IX is not taking resources away from survivors, but it is making those resources’ roles more defined. There are still many outlets on campus for survivors to find help and healing, but those outlets offer help in different ways: some in direct aid and some in legal aid. Title IX should not discourage survivors from reporting or coming forward to seek help. The clarifications to Title IX are meant to complement existing resources to better protect and serve survivors, and their main purpose is to ensure a safer campus community.


  1. Swarthmore still a safe zone?

    Swarthmore has never been a safe zone. The administration is now slightly more likely to take reports of sexual assault seriously, but our administration has never been anything but negligent. I say this as someone who was not allowed to report and was essentially left with the choice of taking small classes with their rapist or switching majors, and I know my story is not unique here. Policies are getting better, but there’s a long way to go.

  2. @a swat survivor,
    I was about to say the same thing. I haven’t experienced anything that would leave this imprinted in my mind, but from what I’ve heard, Swat is anything but safe.

  3. @a swat survivor

    I completely understand where you’re coming from. As someone who is also a survivor and who does a lot of work with survivors on this campus, I know that Swat failed in many instances (in fact, I’m bringing in SAFER campus in November to work on our policies if you’re interested). However, disregarding the title, Swarthmore is really trying to change policies, and with Beth Kotarski in charge, there are many new rules and not as much crap. Her motive is not to protect the school but to protect the survivor. And with Dean Braun, Ms. Lamar, and Ms. Fischette (at CAPS), I can see that there are new faces who are very interested in survivor’s issues. SMARTeam members have been talking to Beth about things that you raised, such as taking classes with the rapist, and living in the same dorm, etc, and we’re not going to let those things happen anymore.

    • Yeah, there’s a lot of good forward movement and I’m super excited about Beth Kotarski being in charge of things. Saying swat is ‘still a safe zone’ erases a lot of problems that need to be (and now are maybe being) addressed, and propagates the myth that nothing bad happens at swat. There is a lot to improve, and a lot of it is being worked on.

  4. A safezone for who?

    These new rules make it even harder to defend from allegations made out of spite or to cover up the guilty actions of a female looking for an excuse.

    And what’s this “survivors of sexual assault”. Words like this show how untrustworthy universities and women’s groups are when it comes to these issues. Sexual assault is not homicide. This is nothing more than incendiary hyperbole.

    In twenty years today’s female graduates will have sons going to college. Wonder how they will feel when some girl he never met fingers him for sexual assault because she didn’t want her boyfriend to know she was cheating on him?

    These rules and the organizations that promote them are not interested in equality. They are interested in making political gains in the cause of hatred and garnering more tax money to fund every manner of pet program whose only purpose is to make up more reasons to get money.

    It’s sickening that “equality” is only what women are entitled too.

  5. Jean Valjean,

    It’s interesting to me that for someone who is so concerned about trustworthiness and people speaking truthfully and not “covering up,” you somehow remained enough of a coward to not sign your own name (and ruined a beautiful literary character as well).

    Your cowardice, your fear, and your violently distrustful nature sadden me deeply. I can’t imagine what horrible thing must have happened to you to make you hate women so much. I can only hope that one day you will come to respect our humanity again.

    If you are someone who has been accused wrongly in the past, I am sorry for your misfortune and your suffering. But please do not add to the suffering of those who have survived this kind of violence. They have already endured enough cruelty to last them a lifetime.

    “Interested in making gains in the cause of hatred?” Can’t you hear yourself, unnamed coward?

  6. Jean Valjean,

    Your logic makes no sense. You just sound like some butthurt chauvanist who’s griping about the fact that it’s now harder for you to prey on others. Let’s hope you’re something better than that.
    In an effort to humanize you, I’m trying to see deeper meaning in your writings. Maybe that’s a fool’s task. I think what might be underlying this trollery is the anxiety that the privileged feel when social justice is actually enacted and policies make things a little fairer for the marginalized. Yeah, ceding empowerment can be really frightening, but get over it. Your security comes at the cost of others. Hopefully if you’re not just a troll, you’ll feel better in the end.
    Anyway, for all the right-minded people out there, here’s a pretty interesting article from the Good Men Project about how a guy figuring out that “yes” can actually mean no. I’m not in love with the title, but the article is heartfelt and I think worthwhile.
    (Trigger Warning: Discussions of Sexual Assault)

    PS: Read the Swat SHCs Tumblr.

    – ZW

    • Heads-up: “butthurt” actually derives from a rape joke/insinuation within gamer communities.

      The More You Know. *star*

      I’ve never seen that site before, so I’ma go check it out.

  7. I’m going to go ahead and ignore the ignorant and hateful language used by 24601 over here, because I think this article could (and was beginning to) open up some interesting dialogue.

    So, harkening back to what “A Swat Survivor” and “a realist” said, I also struggle with the Swat community being called a Safe Zone for Survivors. I’m glad about the addition of Beth Kotarski, but I think one thing that needs to change is the CJC process. What else do people want to see changed?

    Also @Lauren Stern (or anyone else who has answers), could you talk a little about what changes are being made?

    Also: Was Jean Valjean falsely accused? No. He robbed a house, then tried to escape prison, then robbed a priest. I mean, just saying, read your Hugo/Listen to your Boublil and Schonberg before you use literary names to wound.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading