Organizing for Survivors (O4S) Open Letter to President Smith

Organizing for Survivors writes an open letter to President Smith addressing our concerns surrounding administrative inaction and the current stage of demand implementation. O4S invites all interested students to join us in mobilizing and organizing to put pressure on the administration to take action and commit to Transformative Justice beyond rhetoric at our open meeting Monday, 11/5, 9 PM in the new IC’s Sproul Hall.

Dear President Smith,

We are writing this open letter in the name of transparency to share with you our concerns surrounding recent administrative action and inaction, and to request a timely response.

In summary, we assert the following: we must continue our policy meetings with you and other key administrators to institute and implement our demands. The College must provide information on new Title IX related practices and policies, and an explanation for confusion surrounding the office. The external review of Public Safety is deceptive, ineffective and insulting in its current form. The College must genuinely commit to ending the racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism within the institution. We need a genuine investment in a behavioral change option and requirement, in the interest of community safety. We need a real explanation of continued inaction surrounding the fraternities. We need to transform the Dean’s office and restate what we as students find unacceptable in our administrators. We call on you, as the College president, to show your commitment to addressing sexual harm goes beyond rhetoric.

On the state of policy meetings and process-related demands:

As of right now, the promises you and other administrators made to us last May have not been met. Despite the timelines we agreed upon, key agreements such as sharing a detailed list of survivors’ rights or publicizing staff training requirements have not been realized. Similarly, we have no indication whether the College is looking into lengthy case timelines or whether any real changes have happened to empower administrators to intervene in problematic adjudications, as promised in these meetings. Why have we still not received this information? Where do we stand on these crucial demands, which arose from student experiences and harm?

You pushed a number of concerns to the newly-established Title IX Transition Team to be addressed as quickly as possible, ideally over the summer or very early in the semester. Members of the Transition Team, which included members of O4S, had one phone meeting this summer and were never contacted again. While the Title IX Coordinator is charged with overseeing this team, and she is currently on parental leave, we believe that the College was aware of the set of circumstances while making this promise to us and failed to ensure that progress could continue at a reasonable timeline. To clarify, we are not frustrated with the Coordinator’s absence but with the College’s lack of further fortification of the Title IX Office to appropriately accommodate for such circumstances.  We see this not as a fault of the Title IX Coordinator but as a continuation of College negligence and the pattern of deprioritizing these issues.

Last year, when we began these policy meetings, we were told they would be ongoing and would continue into this semester: you have not contacted us since then. Vague meetings with deans about the issues are not a viable replacement for this process, but rather push us to the side under the guise of dialogue and discussion. Dialogue is not a helpful tool when there is little transparency and no visible path between meetings of this sort and actual material changes to policy, many of which were promised last semester. Additionally, we remind you and the College community that in fact many of us have been in meetings “about policy” for years.

President Smith, will we resume these meetings? When? What is the reason for these delays?

The College’s lack of proactivity and action is concerning to us. The College cannot only be committed to issues of sexual violence in all-campus emails and press statements.

On Title IX Office dysfunction and confusion:

Related, we do not believe the temporary leave of the Title IX Coordinator was handled responsibly nor do we accept this circumstance as the sole explanation for the College’s negligence, which is a pattern that extends far beyond this one instance.

The Coordinator’s replacement should have been hired and introduced to students at an earlier date and her contact information made explicitly available. Particularly considering the national conversation around sexual violence and its permissibility, the confusion and inaccessibility surrounding Title IX at this time was unacceptable. Even still, we do not know what exactly the interim Coordinator is responsible for and how, if at all, the process of reporting has changed either from this shift or new policies.

Recently, we were invited to meet with Dean Terhune to find out more information about the status of different demands and to receive updates on the promises made in May. While the Title IX Coordinator was obviously unable to make it, Dean Terhune was unacceptably unable to address our concerns. He could not point to substantial action the Office has taken, regarding Title IX-related improvements, nor could he address the health and function of Title IX more generally.

Particularly, Dean Terhune informed us of a new procedure around hiring external investigators for Title IX processes. Beth Pitts formerly served in this role and, as we discussed in our last statement, has since been relocated to the College’s legal team. Who are these investigators? Who is hiring, training, and vetting them? What is the nature of their training? What are the accountability mechanisms to ensure these individuals do not repeat the patterns and behaviors of Beth Pitts?

Considering the lack of clarity surrounding policy the confusion surrounding the office and the Coordinator, and the total absence of information regarding investigations, we ask: is the Title IX complaint process accessible at this time? Is it organized and functional? If so, why is that not obvious to students?

In the absence of a clear and viable process, the College is not meeting its responsibilities.

The College must make this important and consequential information accessible, immediately. Why has the College not used its resources to proactively ensure the community is educated on current Title IX policy and practice?

On Public Safety:

Public Safety remains a crucial but largely ignored area of our concerns and labor. To restate our private email to you, upon being notified of the upcoming external review:

“When we met to discuss implementing the demands last May, you agreed to an external review surrounding student experiences around Public Safety, to specifically focus on questions of unequal treatment, specifically of students of color, survivors of sexual violence, trans* and queer students, and women. Additionally, the review was discussed as separate from the accreditation happening under IACLEA (we discussed how we did not believe that would adequately address these concerns). This promise was sent to the College community in an email shortly after.

 The email introducing the review, most recently, described it as a step under IACLEA accreditation and also had no mention of the concerns we brought surrounding Public Safety and unequal treatment of students.

 Additionally, when an O4S member brought up the review and how it would be meeting its goals in an SGO meeting, Dean Terhune admitted it was not a long or comprehensive review.”

 That all said, this review is clearly not what we were promised. As it stands, this review cannot and will not address the troubling patterns of harm and mistreatment from Public Safety that we have identified and discussed at length. What happened here? Could you please explain how and why this occurred? Additionally, could you share what the College has done to address these urgent concerns related to Public Safety in the time since we spoke? Or what it intends to, instead of the review we had agreed upon?

At this time, we are in the process of working with other student groups to address the broader issue of Public Safety to center students most affected by the dynamics of campus policing, most specifically students of color, queer and trans* students, survivors of sexual violence, and students at these intersections. Students of many communities have been mistreated and harmed by Public Safety, historically and in ongoing ways, and the College continues to ignore that reality.

However, these deceptive shifts warp the intention of our demand and undermine any ability it has to affect change in Public Safety.  We do not accept the external review in its current form and we find the apathy surrounding Public Safety dangerous.

On behavioral change:

The administration has met our demand for a behavioral change requirement with shockingly low levels of urgency. Effective intervention measures are a prerequisite for a process that actually serves to reduce levels of violence; without behavioral change, Transformative Justice is impossible. As we’ve made clear, the current “Intimate Partners for Peace” option is not structured to be effective: it is not ongoing, holistic, community-involved, nor is it ever mandatory. We need an option, available with or without making a formal complaint, that facilitates genuine behavioral change and that is anti-racist, queer and trans* sensitive, and trauma-informed.

In May, you agreed that this demand would be realized and the process of research would be started after legal checks were met. We never heard more from you about whether this occurred and what the status of this demand is at this time. If this was to be addressed by the Title IX Transition Team, as we discuss above, we have heard nothing and can consider this crucial demand stalled. This clearly a pressing issue, with implications not just for survivor justice but for community safety as a whole.

The vast majority of students who commit sexual violence return to or remain on campus: the College has a responsibility to facilitate and mandate changes in abusive and violent behaviors for the sake of the community and the greater society it graduates students into. At this point, it is untenable that the College does not even have a viable option for behavioral intervention for students who commit sexual violence, let alone a required process.

On fraternity violence and leases:

We remain urgently concerned with the questions of fraternity violence and institutional support. As you know, we demanded the termination of the leases between fraternity organizations and the College. This demand was articulated after years of documented patterns of fraternity violence and harm of many kinds (including sexual violence, rampant homophobia, and blatant racism, as well as structural exclusion).

We find your decision to reject interim measures, including a moratorium on parties for a semester, irresponsible. If the issue of fraternities is serious enough as to require two years of committee work, it must be serious enough for action to be taken in the meanwhile. This decision was communicated to us as a way to prevent bias in any committee or review of the fraternities; however, following that reasoning, we do not accept that allowing fraternities to operate as usual is in any way maintaining a neutral atmosphere.

Though we are committed to the end of sexual violence on campus on all fronts, and we acknowledge that fraternities are not the only spaces in which harm occurs, the fraternities are in a uniquely powerful and dangerous position due to their institutional power, history, and lease. The College’s refusal to take even measures based in harm-reduction goals leads us to again ask: what will it take for the College to take action around the fraternities? Is the administration being transparent about the financial dynamics surrounding the fraternities?

Will this new committee’s recommendation be accepted? Why are we to trust this committee is viable and legitimate? Will this committee hear of the stories of racist, homophobic, transphobic, and sexist harassment students have shared with you and other administrators?

And, again, what steps is the College taking to prevent further fraternity violence and harm in the meanwhile, if not the interim measures both O4S and the committee recommended?

On institutional accountability and staffing:

Despite an external review, there is no evidence of meaningful change in the structure, policies, or practices of the Dean’s Office. The questions we posed last year—what is our precedent for acceptability in our administration? How do we ensure our administrators are effective and fair? How can we hold them accountable when they are not?— have not yet been answered.

Instead of the necessary structural changes, we have seen harmful administrators promoted or their positions renamed. Most egregiously, we have yet to see a public apology or public commitment to change by Dean Miller, who remains in the role of overseeing adjudications. Beth Pitts has been moved to the College’s legal department with no public acknowledgement or transparency. These actions communicate the permissibility of their harmful behavior and depict an ongoing refusal to value accountability and restoration.

Dean Braun’s resignation was an important symbolic and substantive step for realizing administrative accountability— however, we need to ensure we do not simply change the face of administrative neglect.

President Smith, how will you and the College administration ensure students will not have to spend their time at Swarthmore organizing around incompetence and harm in the Dean’s Office?

We encourage you to begin to model genuine accountability through issuing a formal apology to those harmed by the College, as we demanded last Spring.

We request a comprehensive response to our concerns as soon as possible.

Thank you,

Organizing for Survivors