Summary of the Report of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct

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.

The Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, charged by former president Rebecca Chopp to augment an external review by Margolis, Healy and Associates, recently produced a report that calls students, faculty, and staff  to form a community that protects the health and safety of its members.

“[This report is] not like Margolis and Healy, which was ‘we think you should do this’  – this report is ‘we need to do this’. Which I think is a very different perspective to frame it from. I think this has a lot more weight for some people than Margolis Healy,” said Nina Harris, Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate.

In its introduction, the Report acknowledges that there is a great deal of positive energy at Swarthmore, but that in the wake of the events that happened in Spring of 2013, the trust between students and the College has been fractured. Students view the College’s “rhetoric of inclusion and social justice” as contrasting sharply with its desire to maintain public relations and a squeaky clean image.

Kaaren Williamsen, the new Title IX Coordinator, argues that the authenticity of the College’s values and its public image may not be at odds.

“This isn’t in the end about how we look, or what’s written about us. It’s about how we take care of each other, how we take care of ourselves, and how we create the kind of community we want to live in. Because that does speak loudly to people outside,” said Williamsen.

The Report suggests that the reinstatement of a regular Collection, the institution of an Honor Code, and the use of Queries might help to reopen healthy lines of communication between students and the College.

The Report gives its strongest suggestions in a list of concise bullet points. The first several bullet points call for clarity and consistency: there should be no confusion about what constitutes sexual misconduct or about the procedure to follow in the event of sexual misconduct.

To put this rhetoric of clarity and consistency into action, the Report recommends creating a pamphlet that explains “what to do, whom to call, and what to expect if one makes a complaint of sexual misconduct.” It notes that there is inconsistency among students in how Public Safety officers are viewed, but does not explain how consistency might be achieved, though it does note that “when officers had more information, they acted in more humane ways.”

Significantly, the Report urges that “every person who makes a complaint will be treated respectfully [and] taken seriously.”  This focus on treating complainants with compassion is present throughout the Report.

The Report recognizes that the Swarthmore community contains many subcultures, some of which, explicitly or not, encourage a culture where sexual misconduct is acceptable and even expected. Based on anecdotal evidence, the Report singles out fraternities and stress culture, in conjunction with alcohol use and abuse, as huge factors that contribute to the incidence of sexual misconduct on campus.

“This can be a really stressful place for people. And that’s not news, but I think it’s important that they wrote it down. To say all of this stuff – alcohol culture, sexual assault, sexual harassment – is all happening in that context. […] Just being a student here is exhausting. And rigorous, and people are overextended. So when you add on a trauma, it is necessarily going to be extraordinarily stressful and have ripple effects in the community,” said Williamsen.

The Report recommends the expansion of alcohol-free activities on campus so that students are not limited to parties focused on the consumption of alcohol. It also encourages the creation and expansion of sex education on campus, including free discussion of healthy relationships, consent, and how to react to situations as a bystander.

Throughout the Report, the Task Force speaks explicitly to men, imploring them “to lead in the examination of, and challenge to, privilege, violence and intimidation in romantic and sexual relationships.”  Despite this desire for men to play a more active role in the examination of sexual misconduct at Swarthmore, the Report notes that no men currently serve as Title IX deputies.

The Report strikes a delicate balance between expressing the regret that sexual misconduct has plagued and continues to plague Swarthmore and the hope that the community can take responsibility and ownership for the culture it perpetuates and work to remedy the problem. It searches for ways we can transform the abstract ideals and values of the College into practical, actionable realities together.

Featured image courtesy of http://nerdfighters.ning.com

Sona Kumar

Sona is a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina. She majors in Psychology, which according to her brother she talks about too much and for too long. In her free time, she enjoys playing ultimate frisbee and reading longform pieces on almost any subject. When she’s at home, she likes to catch up on reality TV and play with her cat, Max (you will definitely not regret asking her to see pictures of him!).

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