Assailants who returned to campus have yet to be punished

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Only a few days after his appeal was denied, a student found responsible for rape by the the College Judiciary Committee (CJC) was seen on campus, effectively ignoring his two-year suspension from the college. The victim, Meg*, whose story was featured in a Phoenix article in the October 31 issue, said she was told that he would be arrested for trespassing if he were ever found on campus. Meg had friends call Public Safety about his presence. Several days later, Public Safety found him guilty of the offense. Since then Meg has not received word from Judicial Affairs Coordinator Nathan Miller about further sanctions.

According to the Student Handbook, suspension “includes the probability of more severe sanctions, including expulsion, if [the student is] found responsible for violations of the Student Code of Conduct.” The Student Code of Conduct, in turn, lists the failure to comply with imposed sanctions as a punishable offense, “subject to further disciplinary action.”

Emma* saw Meg’s assailant on November 2 at a dorm party in Worth Hall. She was not aware that he had been suspended. A few days later, she spoke to a friend about the party, mentioning his name in passing. That’s when she learned that the college had held him responsible for rape. After she reported seeing him to Public Safety, she was questioned by Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts about the timeline of events.

When Meg herself found out that her assailant had been on campus, she sent an e-mail with the subject line “urgent” informing Miller, Dean of Students Liz Braun and Interim Title IX Coordinator Patricia Flaherty Fischette of his presence. Only Braun replied that day, saying they would look into it, and five days after, Miller responded suggesting that they could address evidence of sanction violations through another CJC case. It was his last e-mail to Meg. Only a few days ago, after weeks of unanswered e-mails, did Meg find out (through Nina Harris, the violence prevention educator and advocate) that Miller had actually already made a decision about the student’s punishment. Harris also told Meg that Miller would be waiting five days after the notification e-mail to the assailant to inform her of the decision. This was not explained, nor was there previous evidence of such a policy.

Meg said that a few weeks earlier Braun had told her that her assailant would automatically be arrested for trespassing were he found on campus following the suspension. Braun could not be reached for comment, but according to Miller, “the college does not have a Student Code of Conduct standard for trespassing.”

“I feel like no one really knows what they’re supposed to be doing,” Meg said. “The people that are supposed to be enforcing policy do not know how to do it, or don’t even know the policy itself.”

John* had a similar experience last semester. His perpetrator, later expelled, was found on campus after being suspended. There were pictures to prove his presence. According to John, Public Safety said they could not do anything about it but promised that this piece of evidence would be introduced with the other information from the investigative process. It never was. John said he was not allowed to bring up the evidence himself because, he was told, the information did not relate to his case directly and should therefore not have an effect on the case’s outcome.

John’s case took place right when the college began a series of responses to student demands regarding sexual assault policies. Although the current policies are not in their final stage, the college has made significant changes since last spring’s protests. They fired and hired administrators, specialists and investigators, began and then halted efforts to create sexual assault and harassment hearing panels for the College Judiciary Committee (CJC), held public discussions about best practices and policies, trained resident assistants (RAs), party associates (PA) and student academic mentors (SAMs) as mandatory reporters and updated resource charts. After hiring the law firm Margolis Healy to review their policies, the college revised the student handbook and created interim sexual assault policies to fill immediate gaps. But according to Meg, the only person who has been responsive to her concerns has been Nina Harris, the latest addition to Swarthmore’s staff. She said that almost every other interaction with the administration since she found out the outcome of her CJC case has highlighted contradictions, inefficiencies and a general lack of established channels for communication within the system.

Under current college policy, for instance, the names of students involved in CJC cases — the complainants, witnesses and the accused — are not released to anyone, no matter the verdict of the case. But the college did not even inform the perpetrator’s Resident Assistant (RA) that one of his residents had been suspended and should not be allowed on campus. The assailant, in fact, had been living in his own dorm following his suspension, albeit in a different room. Meg expressed concern that if a sanction like a suspension or expulsion is not public knowledge, it is left to the victim to protect him- or herself.

*These students wished to remain anonymous. The names used are pseudonyms.

The Phoenix