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.
Op-Ed submitted by Mia Ferguson
Andrea Pino notes in her article, “it’s hard to say what could be worse than my rape.”
I was sexually assaulted my first year at Swarthmore. With the support of friends, teammates, classmates, RAs, CAs, peer counselors, and staff members, I’ve come to a secure emotional place regarding the experience that allows me to identify as a “survivor”.
The past few days, however, have thrown me into trauma. My assault was not violent. My assailant hasn’t physically retaliated against me (then again, I am strong and so are my friends…). I haven’t been frequently triggered. So, what has horrified me this week? The administrators’ mishandling of my case.
Members of the administration have attempted to push me into darkness. They summon those who are closest to me, those whom I first told about my assault, into “emergency” meetings. When I am summoned to no such meetings, I feel powerless. When they try to get access to my emails, which I understand they are already reading, I feel powerless. When they summon my assailant to a meeting, without informing me, I am powerless. I am unsafe.
When I, however, have the support of members of the student body, members of the faculty, a national network of people fighting these issues, and, primarily, the law, I am not powerless. When I can speak out about my experiences, I am not powerless.
As many of you know, on April 18, Hope Brinn and I submitted a Clery Complaint to the Department of Education regarding Swarthmore’s violations of the Clery Act. From under-reporting and intimidating to under-publicizing crimes on campus, Swarthmore has failed to fulfill this act on many counts. We will soon be submitting our Title IX Complaint to the Office of Civil Rights. The complaint identifies specific cases in which members of the college’s administration have discriminated against, retaliated against, and furthered the trauma of students. If you are interested in gaining an understanding of what exact parts of the Clery Act and Title IX the college has violated, feel free to contact me.
I want this college to show me it doesn’t want to violate my rights; instead, those whom I thought would support me in making Swarthmore more safe, secure, and actively intolerant of sexual assault and rights violations seem to be attempting to damage me.
I can’t tell in whom I should place my trust. There are members of this administration who are in support of what I’m doing. They are inhibited from coming forward because of the system that mandates they stay quiet, or risk their employment. I wonder, however, would you risk your employment to be certain that your friend weren’t shoved against a wall, suffocated, and raped?
Some victims of sexual assault start to feel guilty when their assailant faces consequences for the assault. If you murder someone on a city street, you likely know that you’ll face jail-time. If you rape someone on a college campus, you likely have no idea what consequence you’ll face. We need to clarify these things so that perpetrators are deterred, because of consequences, from assaulting, and so that victims don’t feel they’re doing wrong by addressing their assailants’ crime.
Some might assert I have hurt the college, or at least its administration and reputation. This, to me, feels a lot like I am the sexual assault victim and the college is the perpetrator. They don’t know their consequences, they won’t own up to their wrongdoing, and I become the bad guy for noting their crime.
I do not want to damage this college’s reputation. I want to graduate from Swarthmore and look back not only fondly, but proudly on the way the students, faculty, staff, administration, and entire community behaves. I have viewed this as an opportunity for the college to prove how outstanding it is.
Students have been supportive. Many have expressed that their legal rights have been violated. They have asked questions like: how can we help? How does this affect financial aid? Why did we go to this extent?
Faculty members have been supportive. Many have expressed that they have seen their students’ legal rights have been violated. They have asked questions like: how do we support our students? How can we help communicate with the administration? How can we speak out?
The administration has said nothing but that action must happen. My rights, however, continue to be violated. Students’ rights have continued to be violated; yet, the administration has not expressed that they have violated students’ rights, that they have violated federal law.
Why is the administration the one group that doesn’t vocally want justice for survivors when they are the group responsible for the rights of survivors?
Swarthmore claims that its strategic direction will pursue “academic rigor and imagination, an intentional community dedicated to the common good, and the future of liberal arts in the nation and the world.”
There are certainly big questions to be asked. Nationally, college and universities will continue to struggle with complex laws. Do we want elaborate legal proceedings on our campus that means we have legal professionals around? Or, will that change our culture too much? These are difficult questions, but necessary to ask, and to ask publicly as this issue is on the national forefront. *
A faculty member said to me that he envisioned this movement would become a historical one; by the end of Swarthmore’s semester, a minimum of 8 schools will be submitting complaints that receive national media attention. Swarthmore will not be a black sheep for violating these laws, though they will stand out as a supposedly progressive and social justice driven institution. Swarthmore, however, has the opportunity to go down in the history books as being the national leader. Instead of shying away from students’ complaints, instead of avoiding complainants, instead of pushing students into lawsuits, instead of permitting retaliation and intimidation of students, Swarthmore could recognize its violations publicly, and produce effective solutions so that the rest of the country can follow suit. Swarthmore can be not just a city on a hill, but also a pack leader. *
Hope and I applied to be on the Sexual Assault Management Task Force, neither of us was selected but we were nominated by Student Council. Neither of us has been approached by any administrator for our thoughts and intentions in this process, though we have made ourselves readily available via email communications.
After being left in the dark for almost two weeks, I submitted A Preservation of Evidence Letter to the college, asking that the administration not destroy any evidence related to the college’s violations of federal law.
The college responded, as was expected, with an email directing me to their lawyer Michael Baughman at Pepper Hamilton.
What we have submitted is not a lawsuit. We are addressing two main laws, both of which overlap in many ways, the Clery Act and Title IX. These two acts entitle not only victims of sexual assault, but all students, to various rights. These rights apply not only to alleged victims, but to alleged perpetrators.
As anger, horror, and trauma have become visible all over campus, I’ve been asked many times: how big of an issue is this? Is oppression and discrimination that bad here? Since Title IX was instituted, thirty-three years ago, in the United States, 20-25% of college aged women will be survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault before earning their diplomas (U.S. Department of Justice, 2002). Despite under-reporting and intimidation, over 25 sexual assaults have occurred on campus this year, that’s two percent of our present student body.
As demonstrated by the Coalition and the sit-in occurring today, sexual assault is not the only kind of oppression, discrimination, violence, and trauma to which Swarthmore students are victim.
On Swarthmore’s campus, students have experienced tokenizing in their classrooms. Students have further been violently harassed and assaulted due to their sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, and other identity traits.
I am not flailing my arms. I am not screaming in protest. If we turn to the law, there’s no question that we, the students, including alleged perpetrators, have been violated. We don’t need to scream and shout for the public to realize that, and they are. For me, this violation, this betrayal by those whom I wanted to trust most, is worse than my rape.
If you have any questions about the law, or any of this process, please contact me by phone at 617-921-5692, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @miaferg.
*The noted segments appeared in an email I sent to the Board of Managers on Sunday.