Being "For Survivors" In Light of Swarthmore's Failure
survivors' healing, o4s, and the push for reimagining a new title ix system
The sun shines on campus in the beginning of the Fall semester of 2016. I walk to Bamboo Bistro to have a pertinent conversation with Jessica Lewis ‘19, a fellow woman of color at Swarthmore. As the birds chirp, the grassy hills of Parrish Beach radiate warmth, and I nervously tread down Magill Walk, my stomach sinks lower and lower. I’m in pain. The sunshine feels deceiving, as if the idealistic vision of Swarthmore has faded with my innocence following the night of my first sexual assault. Having a conversation with one of my first friends at Swarthmore should be easy, yet I know this encounter will be different. Months earlier in an emotionally-charged post on Facebook, I had revealed the acquittal of my perpetrator by the District Attorney of Bucks County—the same day Brock Turner was given six months for his crime. I’ll never forget the way my body tensed up when I received, among many others, Jessica’s message: “Thank you for sharing your post about your perpetrator being acquitted...the same thing happened to me on Swarthmore’s campus.”
Talking about the problem of sexual assault on Swarthmore’s campus would be excruciatingly difficult without contextualizing my own experience within it. As a student journalist, survivor, and friend, my experiences have been reflected and illuminated in the light of others’.
“Lydia’s been such a big influence on me. I didn’t tell them at first. It was kind of a defense mechanism to keep more stuff on the inside, and not talk about it. I put up walls in self-defense,” Jessica said. “I didn’t even tell my family until it got really bad and I had to go home. One of my other friends went with me to the hospital after a few days when I decided to get a kit done.”
“A bigger thing I’m thinking with the #MeToo movement and O4S, everyone heals differently. Having that kind of conversation with someone I just met would be harder than with friends I’ve known for years. I was scared that my then mental state would jeopardize my opportunity and impact my ability to continue at Swat and graduate.”
Our cases were different; they involved adjudication processes on surrounding college campuses. Yet we connected on the level of being invested in Title IX reform as survivors nonetheless. Both our perpetrators were acquitted, hers at Drexel and mine at Bucks County Community College. We both had found Nina Harris to be a huge support and the Title IX Office and administration to, generally, be unhelpful. Being able to talk to another black woman about my assault was liberating. How do I heal? How do we heal? These questions striked me the most after our meeting. Yet survivors’ experiences are not nearly the same. In the current movement of Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and all survivors’ journey towards healing and justice, there is substantial variety and diversity. Survivors on campus have responded to their trauma in various ways. Many voices, especially survivors of color, have pushed to be present and valued at the table. Some are able and more comfortable navigating spaces that largely privilege their experiences. Some survivors refer to themselves as such; some call themselves victims, others distance themselves from any term at all. Some are saliently vocal, many are justifiably silent. Regardless of differences in background, widespread student efforts for radical Title IX reform have shaken campus. Yet what may prevent the movement from disintegrating the most isn’t the immense support its received, but rather the pushback, and its subsequent receptiveness to validating all survivors’ sentiments. There exists not simply important dialogue to address administration’s setbacks—there exists dialogue on ways in which we can allow all survivors to heal.
For many students, Swarthmore’s promise of a glistening future would initially shield them from the many horrors of the institution.
At her high school, Alexis Riddick ‘20 learned of Swarthmore’s legacy of sexual assault, her dream school. “My school showed all the seniors the documentary "The Hunting Ground," in which Swarthmore was featured as a campus where sexual cases had occurred and had been mishandled,” Alexis recollected. “So I realized it was an issue for “even” Swarthmore, which I had idolized prior.”
“People make excuses for Swarthmore because it’s supposed to be this ideal, elite institution,” Bria Dinkins ‘21 said. “They don’t really come to terms with what’s behind its display.”
This idealized image didn’t go uncovered, individually or around campus.
Campus would mobilize. Some quietly voiced their own hopes, concerns, and goals for reform. Others would make their actions reverberated across campus. This Spring, the Organizing for Survivors (O4S) movement, comprised of over 130 survivors and allies, would be the most public and predominant voice in the conversation. Most prominently, on March 19th, 2018, nearly 200 students watched as O4S’s core group stated over thirty demands crafted over a two-week period by over 65 students to be delivered to President Valerie Smith.
“We, as a group of survivors and allies, have come together to demand immediate, structural and transformative change to the ways Swarthmore College addresses sexual violence on campus…” an organizer began.
They asserted a deadline for President Smith to respond at the end of the business day on March 26th.
“The institution has a history of saying that these things take time, and everything takes time and everything is delayed, and that’s such an excuse in how they frame it,” Barbara Taylor ‘18, an O4S member said. “I do believe that recreating a whole structure can take a lot of time, but the fact that that’s their answer, but it’s not like 'here are these steps, and let’s implement these steps to fill the time it’s going to take.'"
“I think to speak briefly to demanding things versus asking for them, we did that intentionally, not to make a spectacle or a show of it,” Priya Dieterich ‘18 reflected, “This is a private college; I consider it to be an intentional community, a place where people came to be students because they believed that the school had a certain set of values, and I do believe that we have a right to hold them to that set of values. For me, that’s a big part of why presenting a list of demands is an acceptable route, and why I wanted to take this route that I’m glad we did take.”
Indeed, their demands would contribute to a larger dialogue around students’ entitlement to administrational compliance. On both individual and collective journeys, campus-wide, many students including myself would ask: How did we get to this point?
“I believed that white institution would be more “civilized”. I think that’s what Swarthmore wants you to believe. And that’s what they have tricked themselves into believing,” Julia Wakeford ‘19 said. “‘At least we’re not ‘that bad’.”
“I think they came from years and years of inaction and unresponsiveness from the administration. I hear a lot about the Spring of Discontent in 2013, and as a sophomore, while I was not here physically while those series of protests and calls for action were taking place, the spirit of that Spring is still here on Swarthmore's campus,” Alexis Riddick ‘20 reflected on. “We are now in the Spring of 2018 and most if not all of the concerns students brought up 5 years ago have largely gone unmet and ignored.”
The fast speed of the movement would leave conversations around its tactics to closely and hastily follow.
Conversations around reform that eventually led to O4S’s formation began last semester.
“In my perspective, what helped to bring us together, is that [many of us] were separately working on things that were Title IX related that got us thinking,” Barbara said. “We thought it would be really great to come together, which is how I perceive it.”
While some members of O4S would first discuss actions toward change amongst themselves, some would anonymously voice their concerns.
In an article published in Voices titled “”The System Is Broken”: An Experience With the Title IX Process,” an anonymous student outlined the administration’s mishandling and prolongation of their adjudication process. “Yet I know I am not the person most hurt by this injustice,” the author had written at the end. “While I am angry for myself, I am angry for them as well, and for everyone else this system has dragged through traumatizing and re-traumatizing and re-re-traumatizing circumstances”.
Lydia Koku ‘18 followed up with “Ending the Cycle: Demanding Change in Swarthmore’s Broken Title IX System”. Lydia detailed the cycle of student protest on campus. Poignantly, she wrote “We graduate. Our perpetrators graduate. More often than not, significant changes are tabled for later years or forgotten about. The cycle, inevitably, repeats itself”. Lydia addressed February 7th’s Title IX Policy Updates in reference to the OSE, the RA and residential peer leader selection processes, and implementing procedural change. “Student X’s article did not get the attention it deserved,” Koku wrote. “We can’t move forward without applying student pressure on the College.”
Inspired by Lydia’s call to mobilize, Makayla Portley ‘18 revealed her identity in “I Am Student X: How Many of Us Are?”. In it, she rearticulated the necessity in Title IX reform in the context of her completed adjudication process. She implored the question: “who is this [Title IX policy] protecting?”
This question would lead to a collective question of “who”.
“So after seeing the overwhelming response to [Lydia’s] article, we decided that we should make it not just us talking about things, but open it up to others on what they wanted to see change,” Gabriela Key ‘18 said.
Lydia Koku ‘18, Makayla Portley ‘18, Priya Dieterich ’18, Barbara Taylor ’18, Morgin Goldberg ’19, Gretchen Trupp ’18, Gabriela Key ’18, and later AynNichelle Slappy ‘20 formed O4S’s core organizers. On March 4th, 2018, O4S organized a community forum with over sixty-five people met to conceptualize their demands before delivering them last week.
“It’s been extremely challenging and important to hear other people’s perspectives that come from different places, different identities, different sets of experiences both within and outside the school,” Morgin said. “Even in the brief time we’ve been doing this, I feel like every day I’ve been learning so much more about what the problems are really, and how deep they go, and how far they reach.”
Since then, there have been countless O4S Core meetings, two subsequent community forums, anonymous surveys, alumni communication, and faculty engagement with survivors and allies. What the movement has done for campus, most saliently, is provided victims of sexual assault who may have not previously had a chance to speak, an opportunity to confront their own investment in it.
“Beginning to understand how my qualms with Title IX were rooted in systemic inequality, I dedicated my Swarthmore experience to trying my hardest to facilitate healing for the most vulnerable people on this campus,” Lydia told me after O4S’ community forum this week. “I founded O4S with these core values, and a deep commitment to starting a conversation about revolutionizing the values of our administration so that we as an institution might move towards a more transformative foundation.”
Reflecting on the movement’s progress, Lydia went on to voice challenges she’s faced in its actualization. “Over the course of the past few weeks, I felt that my original mission had not only gotten lost, but also drowned out. I recognized that my positionality in the core group was unique, as I was initially the only survivor of color. I recently found success bringing up this conversation with the core, and advocated for an organizational return to the values I hold.”
For Barbara, an O4S core member who identifies as a woman of color, her experience would be restorative. “Working within the core, I think—in the past, as a woman of color in general, not things specifically related to this topic, I think I’ve felt continuously invalidated by my white peers because I’ve felt unheard, and when I would say something, like I had inherently less value. But in this experience, I think that working with people in the core and in the movement, when I say something, I think that it means as much as I think it means.”
Engaging in difficult conversations would be compulsory. “It's especially important for WOC organizing within a core group where our experiences may not be the most common, to remember that it's okay to take up some space,” Lydia asserted.
As time went on, O4S would be forced to confront its own biases and amplitude within the movement and outside of it.
In the movement’s shadow is the reminisces of a movement by students five years prior that eventually led to many changes in the Title IX system. In April 2013, then President Chopp would give the movement its infamous name:
“This is the spring of our discontent. Acrimony, hurtful accusations, and distrust have been expressed all around the campus. We are all tired. The community we love, at least most of the time, is fraying at its edges.”
During 2013’s “The Spring of Discontent,” amongst other disturbing events, students and faculty would launch a federal investigation into “mishandlings of rape cases”. The Dear Campus Colleague letter of 2011 sent to college campuses had called into question Title IX policy nationwide.
In response, the College instated major institutional changes to Title IX, including a centralized office, staff and a task force comprised of faculty. The August 2014 ‘Report of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct’ would cite many findings around sexual misconduct and Title IX processes on campus.
“A lot happened in that short time in terms of change,” Nina Harris, the former Violence Prevention and Education Advocate of 2013-2016 said in an interview this week. “Students being very vocal helped propel that change.”
While movements over decades partially succeeded in the past, they also ran into obstacles. On the surface, there would be a dichotomy between reform and concession. Underneath would lie multiple viewpoints predicated on a diverse set of experiences.
“Every week had some escalation, including the Intercultural Center being intentionally targeted by students who wanted to intimidate protesters. It’s hard to argue that literally peeing on the doorstep of your ideological opponents is not heavily symbolic and gross,” Jodie Goodman ‘16 said recently of the Spring of Discontent to the Phoenix. “Leaders of the movement to reform fraternities, like Hope Brinn and Mia Ferguson, were subjected to stalking, harassment, and violent threats on campus and online…Their testimony was alarming and upsetting to students on all sides of the issue,” Goodman continued. “Campus was divided in three: those passionately for reform, those passionately against reform, and those who thought the entire thing had gotten entirely out of hand and had opinions somewhere in the middle.”
“My involvement in the ‘Spring of Our Discontent’ was inevitable. I'm still somewhat reluctant to use the name "Spring of Our Discontent" because the discontent was and is prolonged—Swarthmore has and continues to mistreat and hurt its students, especially black, brown, and working class students,” Mia Ferguson ‘16 wrote in an email.
“The campus felt polarized. A lot of the initial activity that highlighted racism, sexism, sexual violence, and exclusivity was focused on having a "referendum on greek life" so that the campus could be free of fraternities and sororities that dominated the social scene and through which members seemed to gain near invincibility from the school when they committed crimes,” Mia wrote. “By the time students gathered in the Intercultural Center to generate demands, I had participated in and helped coordinate the filing of a Clery complaint with the Department of Education indicating that Swarthmore was failing to adhere to not only the Clery Act, but Title IX, Title II, Title VI, and Title VII through discriminatory behavior and misresponse to sexual violence.”
Five years later, campus is again divided in many different directions. For many people on campus, the Title IX Policy Updates posted on February 7th were not enough, and neither were the calculated statements of “remaining deeply committed to creating a violence-free campus” that accompanied them. The unpopular opinion that Title IX reform isn’t necessary isn’t today’s issue. Today’s issue is confronting the notion that being “for O4S” or “not for O4S” has somehow come to mean being for or against all survivors.
Is asking for a more inclusive movement inextricably linked to somehow silencing it? How about survivors unable to ask for it? When current demonstrations trigger students and they do not feel safe or centered, is disengagement inadequate? Even after dozens of conversations, I still don’t know what being for or against O4S means. I still don’t understand the essentialization of nonsupporters and survivors as they express a diverse set of opinions in reflecting on O4S.
Interviewing over eight survivors excluding O4S’ core group would bring to light several more questions. Students deeply impacted by campus’s recent events, both publicly and privately, would have invaluable insights and reflections. I understand that I have privilege in this experience; in being a survivor whose healing process has protected her from feeling unsafe when talking about assault, I was able to listen to hours of survivors’ testimony that brought back painful memories. It took me a long time to get here, and it isn’t an easy journey for any victim of sexual assault. To my fellow survivors, victims, experiencers on campus—know that skipping to the third section of this article is not indicative of a lack of strength, but rather your radical, tenacious self-love. I speak to student survivors, but I speak to faculty, administration, and staff, too, who might also feel impacted by possibly dredging up their own experiences. I understand not all individuals will be able to read this particular section due to its graphic and potentially triggering nature. Still, I do believe that their stories deserve to be heard by those able to hear them. Women. Men. Non-binary. POC. Non-POC. Queer. The stories that follow are diverse, but all are valid.
A COLLECTION OF SURVIVORS' STORIES
Content warning: sexual assault, domestic abuse
Bria Dinkins '21 doesn’t describe herself as a survivor on a personal level, and she doesn’t have a term to replace its usage.
“I think a lot of people have trouble labeling themselves and it can make them comfortable, but for me, I felt really uncomfortable calling myself a survivor or a victim because I was in denial about the things happening to me. It’s more like, “I’m Bria, and, yeah, I was assaulted I guess? Even still, I’m comfortable talking about the experience but I’m uncomfortable saying how it affected me,” Bria said.
Her favorite place on campus is McCabe. Bria spends much of her time writing poetry. She is undecided on her major but leaning towards a Special Major in Bioethics. Though she grew up in West Chester, PA, her family now lives in New Jersey.
She is also a tour guide. “We get a lot of questions about [Title IX] and we get trained on how to answer those questions. We actually had meetings with Michelle Ray about how to answer questions and got booklets helping guide us.” One of her trainings with Public Safety and the Title IX Office would deeply affect her emotionally.
“I think I just imagined Swarthmore to be everything I wanted it to be.” She did not see her past experiences with sexual assault being a factor at her first-choice college. “I thought this was definitely not going to happen to me and definitely not going to happen to me in the first half of my first semester.”
In October of her freshman Fall, Bria got into a casual relationship with a senior. Though she felt decently safe in their initial interactions, she would tell her friends about his emotionally abusive behavior.
“My friends saw the signs before I did,” she recalled.
She would eventually come to report her physical assault in the company of a friend, but Worth Health Center’s process would cause her further pain; she would instead ask for options outside of an investigation and, ultimately, look for guidance in ending her relationship.
“I blamed myself,” she said. “I felt like I could have stopped it. I didn’t feel like I had the ability to say he hurt me.”
Ultimately, after feeling pressured, she would move forward with an investigation on December 5th, 2017. Halfway through the process, she considered and vocalized ending her involvement. Though unenthusiastic about undergoing the process, Michelle Ray and others in the Title IX office said they would most likely investigate her perpetrator with or without her input. She felt it necessary to move forward in fear of losing agency.
Before the O4S moment, Bria felt like people were encouraged more widely into silence. Though she talked to her friends about her own experience, she felt isolated nevertheless. She now feels a change of course with the O4S movement. While Bria fully supports all of O4S’ demands, she also feels conflicted with her personal healing’s place within the larger community.
“I don’t know if I’m honestly ready to talk about it as a movement yet, to look at the actual amendments and rules. I’m not sure if I’m ready to think about my personal experience and be like, ‘hey, this shouldn’t be allowed and hey, this is my experience',” Bria said.
“I also don't think Beth Pitts is right for her position,” Bria said regarding O4S’ demands. She described how “invasive” she felt her lines of questioning were. Among these questions: Do you like to wear lingerie? Have you done drugs before? How many times have you given him oral sex? Did you swallow? On what days? He told me you take medication for bipolar disorder; is that true? Bria does not have bipolar disorder. Each question had a preface: “I know this is an uncomfortable question.”
“She read me a paragraph he had written about how he would make me orgasm,” Bria said. “He gave her a list of our text messages, many of them sexual, and I had to ‘clarify annotations’ for her.” Bria said she had never felt more exposed or emotional before. She would leave Beth Pitts’ office that day lightheaded.
While her bruises and marks were recorded during her initial health visit at Worth, Beth Pitts would still continually question why Bria “hadn’t shown them.” When Bria would outline the experiences she had with issues in her relationships, Beth Pitts would say “[you’re] volunteering too much personal information.” Beth Pitts would consistently tell Bria, as well as the friends who acted as witnesses, “her story wasn’t adding up”.
She would begin to doubt herself. "I was told so much by Beth that I wasn't adding up that I convinced myself I wasn't hurt. That nothing happened. That I made it up," Bria said.
“He describes himself as a dom, so [the investigation] became about BDSM, which it’s not,” Bria said, having voiced to him her disinterest in role-playing. “It wasn’t BDSM. It was him hurting me.”
Beth Pitts would also refuse to hear the concerns in her case related to race. “He always made conversation around my being black and him being white that made me feel uncomfortable,” Bria said. He also talked about his strong preferences for certain women of color.
“Everyone has a preference,” Beth Pitts had dismissively said. Beth Pitts would only take this detail into consideration when another administrator involved in the case would mention it again.
"I think Pitts' response was irritating because I had brought up power dynamics and the proclivity of sex with black woman as a fetishization of POC women. I also brought it up in a general sense that wasn't even directly about my specific case and also a general problem. Her response indicated she didn't have an understanding of this. I knew from this interaction and her almost abrasive reaction that I wish I had a Black woman to talk to," Bria said. "He had a 'preference' for being called 'master' that made me feel uncomfortable."
When Bria’s mother, a Swarthmore alum, would confront Beth Pitts in a phone call, her mistreatment would continue. When contacted on Tuesday for an interview, Beth Pitts declined to answer any questions.
“I just remembered staring at the magnets on her fridge that said ‘Survivor Support’ and hearts and ‘All people welcome’ and I just felt so terrible. I felt like, here I am, this queer black woman whose made mistakes and had different experiences—very sex-positive, or 'promiscuous' as Beth Pitts called it. I had so much other stuff going on in my life too. Just seeing him in Sharples made me run into the bathroom and throw up.”
Swarthmore boasts a 60-day adjudication process. Though Bria was even asked to return to campus from Winter Break four days early, her Title IX case has now lasted over 120 days.
“At this point, I’m just tired of everything,” Bria said. “Tired of being this strong person that, like, is very supportive of everyone else and doesn’t need support. And at the same time I know my friends were there for me, or anyone in this community who I know is there for me. But I don’t even know how to ask for help.”
Because he’s a senior, Bria sees the end in sight for her perpetrator to at least be off campus, regardless of the adjudication process. “At least he isn’t a freshman,” Bria said. Bria claimed that Michelle Ray and Beth Pitts insinuated that his being a senior would mean a slightly different probation process—despite his being in a leadership position at the College.
“They basically told me because he was a senior, things would be different.”
She continues to get a lot of questions from friends and peers around attending O4S’ forums. “I remember people asking if I had signed solidarity letters or gone to meetings, or put up posters. These people didn't know my experience. I felt like they thought I was not for O4S. I wanted to tell them quietly and loudly all at once, Here I am! I am listening, I am watching every move. I just can't right now and I don't know why. Here I am.”
“Lydia was always really supportive when I told her I couldn’t go,” Bria said. “I was and still am grappling with can I really make demands when my case is still open? Will saying anything affect what happens to me? Do I feel comfortable talking about something, advocating for something this aggressively? Will this be triggering for me?”
“My case should be closing really soon,” Bria said. “He hasn’t been acquitted or anything yet, but I’m really preparing myself for it. I don’t really think anything’s going to happen.” She reiterated she’s felt this way for a long time.
Student Y, a queer man of color on campus, was assaulted twice. Once by a former partner, the other by someone he thought was his friend. He didn't report these incidents, as a queer man of color, for fear of being ridiculed and not taken seriously.
“I feel as if my experiences would not be considered valid as a gay Latino on Swarthmore's campus,” Student Y said.
Healing has meant different things for him. “The first time? I took care of myself by taking back my sexuality and having sex and feeling comfortable with myself and my body. Owning my sexuality. Owning my experiences. Not letting him get to me emotionally or mentally.”
“Second? I cried. I felt stupid that it happened to me again. I expressed myself in anger and just did things that made me feel better but I still have pent up anger to this day. Not because of them. I do not care what they're doing with their lives right now. I take pride in the fact I'm doing what I'm doing and advancing my own life to better myself and not feel sorry. But what I am angry about is that this type of thing happens on Swat's campus with no repercussions whatsoever. For fear of being ridiculed, judged, not taken seriously. For fear that justice might not be served. For fear that everyone will blame the victim.”
Native American, Female, Mvskoke, Woman of Color. Julia Wakeford ‘19 wouldn’t think to add “survivor” on the long list of her descriptors. “The term 'survivor' puts a lot of pressure onto the word. Then I’d also be a survivor of genocide, a survivor of domestic abuse, a survivor of so many other things.”
“When I walk into a space, I like to be in control of my own narrative. It affects my psyche but I wouldn’t argue it’s an identifier of my experience. It’s less of a moniker—more something that has happened.”
She is a Special major in Indigenous Social and Political Studies. She loves being on Parrish Beach when it’s sunny. “That’s the space I’m most excited to enter when I can,” she said. She is the President of the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a part of the Mvskoke tribe.
Her freshman fall, Julia was sexually assaulted in a public place on campus. When she escaped, she ran into a girl she knew who would see her bruises and subsequently take her to Public Safety. She was “all over the place”. She was one of the rare instances of immediate reporting.
“I reported it within five minutes; he was still in the building when it was reported. And I knew exactly who he was; I knew his name, Public Safety did nothing to find him that night,” Julia said. “Beth Pitts actually said I was ‘too worked up’ and needed to report the next day, so she sent me home and sent me to bed.”
Despite the fact that she had visible bite marks and bruises on her body, there was no mention of the possibility of going to the Swarthmore police. Very easily, in retrospect, a police case could have been made. Instead, Julia would be advised to come back the next morning. While Julia believes Beth Pitts had more belief in her assault because of the physical evidence, she doesn’t feel that Pitts understood the magnitude of the situation.
“My experience proved it isn’t true that reporting on college campuses is always easier,” Julia said. “I would have trusted the police more than Public Safety which says a lot considering Native women’s experiences with law enforcement when reporting on reservations.”
Nina Harris would offer Julia support and education around accessing cultural competence and finding something off-campus, even beyond the Philadelphia area, that would center indigenous healing. When Julia inquired about opting out of harmful spaces within the investigation, like being in the same room as her perpetrator, the Title IX Office would offer no solutions. If she were not directly a part of the investigation, “due to lack of evidence,” it would likely be closed. She had run away after being assaulted from a student who had tried to help her, and she would now try to find him—an action Public Safety could have supported. There was a witness among the community, and yet Julia would be carrying all the weight of her investigation. The next semester, Julia would leave campus.
“I was convinced that I would not stay on this campus.” So she left, and Julia’s perpetrator would stay. He would be on probation, unable to go to a party with more than forty people for one semester. This meant he was not allowed to pledge into a fraternity that same year. He would become a TA. He was sent to two sessions with a sexual violence therapist, who would go on to tell Julia that “he was remorseful.” When Julia returned, he was visibly upset that she was on campus due to the no contact agreement that would restrict his movement and hers. He would soon break the agreement and purposefully intimidate her despite being told to stop.
“I know there are DU brothers that have a history of sexual assault from other people, and I don’t want to diminish that. But there were a few DU brothers that were told by my friend at the time I had been assaulted by this guy, and they would continually kick him out the house but they couldn’t completely ban him from the house because Swarthmore creates open parties.”
Always on edge, she would run into bathrooms or small spaces when seeing him on campus. “It just seemed like he was entitled as an affluent white male on Swarthmore’s campus to its space, to women’s bodies, to everything. It seems obvious to me that their protection of assailants is them protecting themselves from lawsuits.” To Julia, money seemed to matter more to Swarthmore than the safety of their students.
Spring of her junior year, Julia learned that her perpetrator had assaulted another girl. Julia had never undergone the full adjudication process, but this survivor did. Though the survivor largely underwent the adjudication process because of the Title IX office’s insisting due to his prior charge, her case would be treated as an “isolated incident” from Julia’s. Their perpetrator was only suspended from campus for two years, having been found responsible independent from Julia’s assault. Julia said that the then Title IX Coordinator told her that both survivors’ cases “weren’t similar,” and so he would not receive expulsion for having had a second misconduct. He would be able to return in Fall 2019, only when Survivor B had graduated.
“That’s when I realized it’s less about punishment and more about just waiting it out,” Julia said.
“[O4S] seemed like an attempt to pick up the torch of [the Spring of Discontent],” Julia said about her first impressions of O4S. She would have an overall positive perception the movement. “I was scared for a second that no one was going to pick up that torch. I think it’s a good start, but with many of the loudest movements on this campus I don’t think it goes deep enough and that it’s self-reflective enough.”
“There’s a big difference between critiquing methodologies for the support of people who have been assaulted, and critiquing methodologies of protest just because you don’t support the protests and want campus to save face. And I think those two conversations necessarily need to be separated,” Julia said.
In the Winter of 2016, Julia would receive a letter from a law firm stating that a former black Public Safety officer was suing the school for wrongful termination, a case that has since been thrown out. It would include a copy of Julia’s Title IX report; he said that while he was terminated, there were instances at Swarthmore in which white public safety officers had only been verbally reprimanded.
“That was the first time that anybody had almost officially witnessed that there had been a mishandling of my case, and no one had told me about it.”
In the letter, FERPA would allow Julia to include or exclude her report. She chose to be included. She wanted any wrongdoing on the College’s part to be addressed. That would be the last she would hear of her case.
“I don’t have to meet with the Title IX Office anymore since he’s not on campus,” she said. An experience that had moved with her since the middle of her freshman fall, it would be the beginning of her journey towards healing.
Jasmine Rashid ‘18 is the founder of VISIBILITY magazine, the Editor of the Phoenix’s Campus Journal, and a leader in Women of Color Kick Ass, a student organization focused primarily on mentoring, connecting, and supporting women of color in their Swarthmore endeavors. She serves as the Arts, Media & Culture Associate for the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, as well as head intern at the Intercultural Center. She is a Special Major in Peace and Conflict Studies.
“I’ve actually never identified with the term ‘survivor.’ I think it was something really hard to confront, especially as being a really young woman when my first experiences of sexual assault happened,” Jasmine said. “I think I contextualize ‘survivor’ as a really life or death situation, but I think for me, what it’s come down to is the framing of experience and identity.” While it is an experience that has happened to her, she has separated it from her identity.
“I can totally also understand why other people will have that as a part of their identity, or as a term that they feel comfortable using. There are so many different terms and I don’t think it matters if we share the same vocabulary, but it does matter that we share a common understanding of the complexities of this all.”
Jasmine would not become knowledgeable about Swarthmore’s relationship with sexual assault until her sophomore year, when she served as the Intercultural Center’s Title IX liaison.
“Being a part of the Title IX student team was a really interesting experience because it involved all of these different students, many whom I never met as small as a campus. Some from the sororities and fraternities, some from the IC, some from affinity groups. It made me really hopeful that there are so many people on campus who are invested in this from all different walks of life who want to see change and who wanted to bring awareness to these issues.”
“It was hard when all the people I had worked with, Becca Bernstein, Kaaren Williamsen, Nina Harris, all left and I saw a lot of the reform we had talked about change. I think more could have been done to support them,” Jasmine said. “That was really disappointing to me. I think that’s a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, maybe things aren’t getting better’.”
“I’m really happy that this is coming,” Jasmine said about the O4S movement. “It’s hard to say that you’re glad when the context is one of violence, but it is reality. So I’m happy that reality is coming to the forefront and I think that was long overdue.”
“I guess my biggest fear is that it becomes more divisive than anything, right?” Jasmine said. “My biggest fear is that it becomes like, oh, your tactics or your strategies or your ideals don't align with mine, therefore we can't be on the same team because ultimately we're all working towards the same thing.”
Student Z, who prefers to remain anonymous, does not see herself as a survivor. “I see myself as someone who was sexually assaulted,” she said.
Student Z is a Biology major and Philosophy minor from a little town in Maine. Sci Commons is her favorite place on campus. She describes her thesis: “Characterizing the gut microbiomes of migratory and nonmigratory nectarivores.” In layman’s terms, she is studying the differences between laboratory and nonlaboratory hummingbirds in gaining fat for migration.
Student Z notices now that people are talking a lot more willingly about Title IX policies.
“Definitely when I was a freshman, people talked a lot more about the Spring of Discontent than they do now. But it’s interesting because it seemed like the upperclassmen were trying not to talk about it,” Student Z said. “It seemed like it was contentious and had broken a lot of people’s friendships and they didn’t want to revisit it, in a sort of way. But all the freshmen who hadn’t been there were really interested in asking what happened. We had all seen that it had affected campus in such a deep way, even while we were applying to Swarthmore.”
Her freshman year, she was assaulted by a Swarthmore student. Afterwards, she reported the incident online at the Title IX website. She also told her RA. Neither the Title IX Office nor the RA acknowledged her report. When she told them of her assault this year again, an investigation into the student wouldn’t happen. Students also did not show the support she hoped to receive.
“I was really pissed at the way people at Swat responded to my sexual assault,” Student Z said. She received a lot of victim-blaming, people saying there were “gray areas” in her situation. “I thought it was surprising. People think of Swat as being super aware and understanding around these issues.”
She was sexually assaulted again in Summer 2016 by her boss during a summer job off-campus several times. She had just recently come out as queer. She still remembers his haunting words after assaulting her: I knew you would like it when you said you were bi because bi women are kinky.
People invalidated her experiences as a bisexual woman facing sexual abuse. She has felt like there is gatekeeping in the queer community at Swarthmore. “I’ve had people tell me that queer women in relationships with men shouldn’t call themselves queer because they don’t face the same kinds of material oppression.”
While their experiences are often erased in queer communities, bisexual women are among the most vulnerable in the LGBT community. According to the CDC’s most recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by Sexual Orientation, 44 percent of lesbian women, 35 percent of heterosexual women, and 61 percent of bisexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Nearly half of bisexual women have been raped in their lifetime. On college campuses, bisexual women have the highest percentages of reported sexual assault.
Another RA, once again, did not take extra steps after she told them of her second assault. Eventually, she would tell the Title IX Office about her experience over the summer and would be directed to Beth Pitts for resources around sexual assault advocacy in Maine. Student Z would meet with Beth Pitts twice; neither time did she receive these resources.
“She took me through this whole interview process about the times I’d been assaulted,” Student Z said. “She went through it in detail and would really focus in on the times when I hadn’t said no, or something like that, and would just repeatedly ask me about it.”
“She’d ask, ‘Did you say no when [your boss] did X’ and I would say, ‘No, but I said “no” earlier, and he ignored me, and also, he threatened me.’ And she’d say, ‘But you didn’t say no.’”
Student Z claimed that Beth Pitts told her that because of her training, she could “tease out the parts that probably weren’t consensual” but that others “wouldn’t be able to.” After having finally having the strength to take action against her perpetrator, Student Z would be encouraged back into silence.
“Before O4S started acting publicly, I felt really alone. Some of my negative experiences with administration, I thought, ‘Oh, that was just me being unlucky...maybe that was just a weird thing that happened to me,’” Student Z said. “Now that O4S has been doing organizing, it feels really affirming to what happened to me, that like, ‘No, it really was wrong, like that’s a problem. It’s something that happens, and that we can change.’ It sucks to know that it’s happens to other people, but it feels like there’s also solidarity around it.”
When asked if she feels her queerness is being affirmed, she brought up O4S’ demands around homophobia, sexism, and racism that are taking place within the adjudication processes on campus. “I feel like they’re bringing in these problems, too,” Student Z said. She has helped O4S organize by spreading flyers and information.
Student Z has found that a mixture of therapy and concrete community engagement has been important to her in healing.
“The thing that has helped me the most is seeing that I’m a part of a community that sees what happened to me and other people as wrong and unacceptable,” Student Z said. “And seeing that they will take a stand against that, and not just pay lip service to the idea.” The O4S movement has been extremely important to her.
In my conversations, I would find that healing meant different things to all of them. Healing, for Student Y, meant crying, reclaiming his sexuality, and processing his anger and sadness. For Bria, it meant allowing herself to feel everything.
“Going through a process where people are telling you that your story is not true or like trying to make you feel you did something wrong, it really psychologically messed me up,” Bria said. “So I do identify with healing. I really do need to heal from this, from a lot of things I had identified with being vulnerable and confused and embarrassed.”
Bria then showed me this picture of a children’s book with words crossed out. In the picture, it would say “I wanted to cry but I didn’t. I was brave instead.” The words would be changed to read “I wanted to cry so I did. I was brave and sad.” “Letting myself feel what was happening to me really helped me start feeling better.”
“My healing is going back to my community and connecting with it,” Julia said. “And I create healing here by creating a semblance of my community on Swarthmore’s campus. I’ve talked to several women of color about creating community healing. Reverting back to their past. And not institutional community—real, emotional and connected community.”
“For me, healing is being able to speak your mind and not fear that someone's going to be like, oh, you're problematic or you're not healing the right way,” Jasmine said. “I think we need to be deeply, deeply compassionate, that there are so many different ways of healing and it has to look different for everyone, and be willing to accommodate that.”
All over campus, allied students use the term “we” to describe the community’s quest for a stronger Title IX Policy. Yet who is “we”? Is “we” survivors? Is we visible survivors? And what can and cannot be collectively claimed as the “survivors’ goals”?
CALLS FOR RESIGNATIONS, SANCTIONS AND SOLIDARITY
In an instant, campus mobilization this Spring occurred quickly, widely, and aggressively. Yet unforeseen by many were the concurrent conversations around survivors’ visibility in campus activism. In reality, while the stories of survivors are ample, they are often unheard. 1 and 5 women on college campuses will be assaulted, yet only eleven percent of those assaults will be reported. These statistics break down further among different demographics, women of color and LGBT the most vulnerable. Swarthmore students are so frequently uninformed of these stories, and to the shared experiences many have as survivors. Suddenly, victims of sexual assault on campus were forced to confront their experiences whether they wanted to or not. Many on their journey to healing are not yet at the point of community action, yet feel connected to the stake they have in being protected by Swarthmore’s Title IX Policy.
Swarthmore students would all wait a week for President Smith to respond. Meanwhile, they would show support, or express dissent, for campus’s dominant mobilization in their student organizations, in their classes, and among friends. People from several campus organizations organized to articulate their support of the O4S movement. For many students, officially declaring their support in campus organizations would act as a way to personally revive faith in the institution’s potential for change. For others, it would act as a material way to reiterate the intersections of their own group’s values with the movement’s. In ten statements published in Voices, the letters ranged from declarations of support to statements of solidarity.
In the days leading up to President Smith’s response to the demands, student employees including Diversity Peer Advisors, RAs, and the Student Philanthropy Council would express support of O4S’ movement. “Our duty to people will always outweigh our duty to the institutions that consolidate power. We are committed only to protecting survivors, and never the institution that has wronged them,” the DPAs’ statement read.
Other groups, like SISA and SJP, would bring forth the intersections with their own group’s core values. SISA would bring light to statistics around Native women’s sexual assaults, which are the highest number in the country. Julia, SISA’s President, said in our interview “If the movement isn’t intersectional, then we’ll add it ourselves. O4S stood up for women regardless of color, and we stood up for women including women of color, trans people and men of color”. SJP would bring to light statistics around Palestinian women’s sexual assaults.
The Daily Gazette expressed their editorial board’s support as well, chronicling the publication’s coverage of past movements for Title IX reform. In an uncharacteristic move, the Student Government Organization would pen a statement “Official Statement Supporting Organizing for Survivors (O4S)”. “SGO expresses its full support of Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and their demands for changes in Title IX policy. SGO stands with survivors and allies on Swarthmore’s campus and on campuses all over the country.”
“Two SGO members drafted the statement and the vote was unanimous,” said Co-President Nancy Yuan ‘19 in an interview. “We had put it as the number one objective on our agenda. I hope it’s a new model of SGO. I think Josie had a lot to do with starting to take a stand for marginalized groups on campus.”
“Whatever demands the administration does not follow through with, I hope that SGO will take initiative to incorporate in their future programming to ensure that these demands for change are not forgotten–that there will not need to be a “next time”,” said Josie Hung ‘19, former SGO Co-President. “And I hope this is not the last time SGO speaks out on behalf of the student body and the institutional changes people are pushing for.”
Of course, divides of all kinds existed on campus. Many student groups chose to write the statements and then give individual members the option of signing it or not. Many names of RAs, for example, were absent from their statement. In a statement of solidarity from Swarthmore Athletes, signatures from the Men’s lacrosse, basketball, and baseball teams were most notably absent; while some expressed dissent in signing, others said they were never given the option.
“We acknowledge that there is sure to be controversy within the athletic community concerning the fraternities, but we cannot remain silent regarding the injustices that arise as a result of these organizations on campus,” members of Swarthmore’s athletic teams wrote.
Nevertheless, over one hundred athletes signed. Missing? Statements of support from either Phi Psi or Delta Upsilon. In O4S’ demands, fraternities were regarded as “dangerous institutions” whose leases must be terminated and space allocated by the beginning of the 2018-19 year.
In a statement sent to Voices, Phi Psi stated “We take this issue very seriously and plan to continue to outline specific steps towards cultural change. At the moment we are having internal conversations about the role we should play in the campus community.”
“We will not stay silent on this issue, but need time to ensure our statement is reflective of the values of individual members and of our group as a whole."
The latest statement published in Voices is that of the WRC Associates. Its title, “WRC Associates Statement in Support of Survivors,” expressed support for “radical Title IX reform”. Most notably, it possessed a subtle yet striking contrast to previous statements. While other statements primarily centered O4S and its demands, the WRC Associates would forthrightly address “all survivors across the board,” including those outside of the O4S movement.“Whether you scream your story from the mountain top or whisper it to the depths of the ocean, you are valid,” it said. The WRC Associates “wholly and passionately [denounced]” placing one narrative or voice over another.
In an interview, Niyah Dantzler ‘18 recalled how they had spent a long time deciding whether or not to put out a statement, and what to write. It wasn’t a statement that only one or two people drafted and then others had signed; most of the WRC Associates had spent five and a half hours discussing it.
For Niyah, her experience would be rooted in many students’ needs for comfort.
“Obviously it was very clear that we were the one group who didn't write a letter titled Support for O4S and so it was very clear that that was intentional and we just wanted, or I'll speak for myself, I just wanted to make sure that it came across that this wasn't me trying to downplay their action. I think that fighting for Title IX reform is important. I think we just wanted to uplift those voices and say just honestly, to acknowledge that just because your experience is not centered by this action and just because your needs aren't necessarily being centered by this action, doesn't mean that your position and your experience as a survivor doesn't matter.”
These conversations have been taking place for weeks.
The WRC Associates’ statement embodied thoughtful discourse that had been brewing in the past month. Giving way to this affirming of all survivors’ stories would give way to envisioning a larger vision of campus.
While many students have undergone the adjudication process, many victims of sexual assault have not. Only eleven percent of sexual assaults are reported on college campuses, and even fewer undergo the Title IX process. Of these reports, eighty percent of them are made by white women. Native women in particular, as well as black women, Latinx women, and mixed race women, are more likely to be sexually assaulted. In this campus dialogue would largely be missing an intersection of both race and gender.
People have come out in solidarity for O4S in ways that people haven’t for affinity groups. SISA’s demands, for example, were largely ignored by administration and students alike. “It proves something to me when this campus feels more comfortable speaking around issues of gender and sexual assault than it does talking about race,” Julia said.
The conversations have been forcibly separate. Diversity trainings during Orientation Week are separate from those of Sexual Assault, while Alcohol and Drugs would typically be associated with its prevention. Campus doesn’t confront issues of how toxic masculinity and race are linked to sexual assault and domestic abuse. People’s implicit biases wouldn’t be challenged in order to bring light to larger conversation.
Nevertheless, O4S did, in fact, include within their demands intersectional critiques. O4S’ letters to administrators would repeatedly articulate the cultural incompetency students experienced in regards to intersections of their identities. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that the same administrators terrible in regards to Title IX are also terrible in regards to race,” Julia said.
Freshman would hear stories about the Spring of Discontent from current students who, for the most part, weren’t on campus back then. Seniors who had talked with upperclassmen in the years prior would reflect on the movement’s downfalls.
“The loudest voices in the Spring of Discontent were white women,” Julia said. “I was distrusting of their versions of radicalism. They didn’t seem intersectional at all.”
“I would have a lot of conversations with people about how the survivors’ spaces on campus were just not inclusive of women of color and how to change that. Especially working in WOCKA and knowing that there are victims of sexual violence in our group and trying to navigate how to support them when they're not getting support in the spaces that white women have created on campus,” Niyah said. “And when you're taking ownership over these spaces, validating white women’s experiences and their trauma, but also realizing the privileged position that they're in to be able to deal with their trauma in a space where they're supported by women of color who don't necessarily feel welcome.”
“I remember going to my first Survivor’s support group and feeling completely out of sync, even though the facilitator was also a black queer woman. White women dominated the space, were most actively listened to, and always received the platform to speak about their experiences in the group and at Orientation and Voices of Healing,” Lydia said. “I felt that I had no room to talk about how being assaulted by another black queer woman affected me, how my familial history of incarceration and the codes of silence around harm affected me, how I didn’t know if I was harming racial solidarity by choosing to report. By the end of my sophomore year, I was so frustrated and demanded that we create a support group for survivors of color.” Due to the Title IX Office being overworked, this support group would never materialize.
Barbara mentioned that Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon being banned from campus would open up that space as possibility for more POC spaces. There is a history of previous fraternity spaces being used more widely by students. Olde Club, Kitao, the WRC. These spaces, once frats, are now more inclusive. For others, the frats are not places that women of color frequent and so that demand didn’t really feel important to them.
The conversations I had with women of color were illuminating. On one hand, a number of them had been assaulted by white men. Others had been assaulted by men of color.
“I’ve felt supported by men of color, especially black men who know I still go through a lot dealing with this. Then I’ve felt entirely betrayed too. Some black men have felt entitled to my time, my space and my body,” Jessica said.
“I think being a woman of color is particularly a strange experience because I think women of color feel like they have a particular commitment to protect men of color,” Jasmine said.
Lydia would write about having similar feelings. “I’ve had multiple experiences where the person who has harmed me has been a black man or woman—and neither feels good to talk about. Because I remember one of my first experiences, pre-college, I didn’t report because I felt like I would be causing more damage—especially since I would have been filing a criminal report. And later, when I was assaulted in college by another black peer, I chose intimate partners for peace as opposed to adjudication because I didn’t want to criminalize him,” Lydia said. “In my last experience with intimate partner violence, I chose adjudication. One of my witnesses, another black man, said to me that he felt uncomfortable speaking out because he didn’t want to affect my ex’s chances of getting into law school. I was so hurt and confused by his comment but simultaneously understood it and that made adjudicating all the more difficult.”
On March 22nd and 23rd, days before President Smith’s response, Swarthmore students in support of O4S covered walls of Parrish, Kohlberg, Sci, Sharples, and other buildings with posters. “SWAT PROTECTS FRATS. FRATS PROTECT RAPISTS,” some would read. Others were direct calls to the resignation demands: “DEAN MILLER, LISTEN TO SURVIVORS. RESIGN IMMEDIATELY.” There would be countless others. Eventually, some would read “PUBLIC SAFETY SPENDS MORE TIME TAKING DOWN THESE POSTERS THAN PROTECTING STUDENTS”. Public Safety would make it a priority to remove posters referring to the fraternities. In a resilient effort, survivors and allies of the O4S movement would keep re-flyering.
For some, it would be empowering. “They didn’t bother me,” Student Z said, who had helped distribute the posters. “When I saw them, I felt more determined.”
For others, it would be triggering.
Julia would reflect on her first experience with similar posters in Swarthmore in Spring of 2017. They read “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS.”
“My want to be comfortable, which I’m not on this campus for a multitude of reasons, I didn’t know how to balance that need with how the administration and students need to be confronted,” Julia said. Her initial reaction was a painful one. “Now with O4S, I was used to it. I wasn’t as shocked the second time. I’m more comfortable, back in therapy. But I couldn’t imagine if I had just been assaulted a few days earlier and walked inside Parrish and saw those posters.”
“The posters did make me feel uncomfortable,” Bria said. “Particularly the Beth Pitts one, because I know. Because it was personal for me. I had talked to her. I had hated the way she made me feel and hated the fact she had power over me in a situation where she was supposed to be helping me. It did make me feel some sort of way, because for people who were allies, or people who weren’t really involved with it until it came up, it wasn’t really personal for them.”
“They can look her up on Google. For me, I have a meeting with her next week,” she chuckled.
“It’s different then getting an email. ‘This is a survivors’ meeting, you are invited to it’. That makes you think, oh, maybe I’m a survivor, maybe I can go to that, maybe not—it’s on your own terms,” Julia said. “But my perpetrator had just been removed on campus. I thought for a second I would be free. I thought I would be able to move about campus without being forced to think about it all the time.” People try so hard to control their own thoughts and own narratives. “I understand they’re trying to make the administration confront what’s happened on this campus, but while doing so they’re also making victims confront what’s happened on this campus.”
Niyah said that at first, no one seemed to be talking about it. “There was one specific day where I saw like all of them outside of Kohlberg, like ripped off,” Niyah said. “It's who the posters were triggering. It was both friends and just classmates and acquaintances and also like hearing secondhand about how people were triggered. I think that there was this moment everyone thought that they were the only one feeling like these posters were harmful. And then it was like this switch, where everybody started talking about it.”
“I’m not saying they should come down because they’re not accurate, I’m not saying they should come down because Swat should put forward a certain type of lens but, I think sometimes, survivors think their version of coping is the only way to cope. I think this extends outside of sexual assault; in any instance of pain or trauma people often think what is most helpful to them will be most helpful to everyone else.”
Jasmine said the posters were triggering for her. “I think there are probably more survivors on this campus than perpetrators,” Jasmine said. “I'm also thinking about who has to take the posters down. And why do we assume that only students are the ones who have faced sexual assault when there are people in Public Safety or EVS or who work at the college? This isn't a reality that's just for students. EVS has had to take [the posters] down. There have been words written on bathroom stalls, which EVS has to scrub, right? And I think that labor is something that, if it hurts one person and it triggers one person, I think that it’s worthwhile to reconsider those actions.”
Conversations around being inclusive would be brewing as students both a part and outside of O4S would wait for President Smith’s response.
A TIMED RESPONSE
Shortly after noon on Monday, March 19th, 2018, there would be campus-wide reaction to President Smith’s Title IX Update. Many students would have varying elaborations on its adequacy.
O4S’ demands resonated with all the survivors I spoke to. When speaking with O4S in their interview with Voices, I was surprised to learn that all of the demands proposed were, in fact, condensed in the final document. They have since even talked about expanding on them. Indeed, O4S’s demands were extensive and detailed. More generally, O4S called for Title IX policy change, outlining specific alterations to current policy needed to “protect survivors and facilitate justice”. They demanded viable interim measures that would limit perpetrators privileges, like being in RA, DPA, GA, SHA, or TA positions, to continue during an adjudication process. They demanded education and supportive services for survivors and all students, and that “good standing with the college” be a formal condition of interactions as alumni and in positions of power or leadership.
Most notably, the organization called for the resignations of Dean Braun, Dean Miller, and Beth Pitts. Furthermore, they called for the removal of Michelle Ray from her position as Interim Title IX Coordinator due to her having previously been the Case Manager for the accused. In letters emailed to each respective administrator and distributed to students in a “Coffee Talk” amusingly similar to Dean Braun’s “Coffee Talks With the Dean” , O4S provided detailed explanations compiled from the accounts of dozens of survivors with these administrators. O4S compiled these letters for the student body to understand exactly why each administrator was being asked to resign. They also wanted each administrator to confront the details of student concerns.
These letters would address sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, victim-blaming, inappropriate lines of questioning, inadequate sanctions, mishandled transfers of power, and inadequate formal responses. Campus conversations once relegated to whispers amongst survivors were thrusted to the forefront.
“You have had the authority to correct the many obvious, glaring impediments to a just and fair outcome for survivors, and you have failed to do so. Instead, you have consistently chosen to support the college’s reputation and communicate to survivors that their wellbeing and safety is not a priority for you,” O4S’ letter to Dean Braun would read. Aside from the one addressed to Michelle Ray, these letters all shared the same conclusion: We do not believe meaningful change can occur without accountability for administrators who fail to protect students. We believe the harm you have already caused compromises your ability to effectively serve in this position at Swarthmore College.
Seemingly, upon investigation, these accusations are justified. From my one-on-one interviews and conversations with dozens of survivors now, it is almost unbelievable how their stories match up—word for word, exact actions of what these administrators have both said and done. And this isn’t the first time they’ve been asked to leave, either. Student protests have previously also called for the resignations of some of these same administrators. These conversations keep coming up. And still, there is a lack of accountability.
I reached out to each individual administrator addressed by O4S, in separate emails, for an interview. At first, they all said they were too busy to meet, but that they would respond to any questions I had via email. And so, I compiled a long list: Was the letter you sent out on Monday an apology, or rather simply an acknowledgement? Why did this opening letter not directly address the disproportionate rates at which womxn of color, queer, and trans students face mistreatment? What role does accountability play in your involvement with current campus conversations around Title IX? Do you think accountability is necessary? If so, who should take accountability for what? Much of the student body is distrusting of the current administration. How do you plan to raise this community’s trust in the institution of Swarthmore?
Beth Pitts and Dean Miller would then send me the same response: “Thank you so much for the questions. I think President Smith and Dean Braun will be responding later tonight with answers to most of your questions.” This was disappointing to me; I had sent each administrator specific questions I had hoped they themselves would account for. Each question was meant to assess their own perspective. Michelle Ray, whom I had specifically asked particular questions to, wouldn’t answer at all. Instead, President Smith and Dean Braun would send a response with some of my questions answered.
To both the questions, (To Dean Braun) Do you have any reactions or outlooks as it pertains to O4S’s call for your resignation? and (To Dean Braun and President Smith) Why did the letter not directly confront these calls for resignations/removal? President Smith would send Voices this response:
“As I stated in my letter to the community, personnel matters are confidential both by law and by practice. I understand that many students may be frustrated by this comment. What I can say is that I am committed to providing our students with the most qualified and dedicated staff possible.”-President Valerie Smith.
I find it uncomfortable that thoughtful questions asked like How do you see yourself personally working on improving your support when students outlined specific experiences with what they saw as inappropriate in the adjudication process?, remain unanswered. Some of these administrators are being paid over $400,000 per year to tend to student needs. We deserve, at the very least, thoughtful reflections on how these unacceptable behaviors will change.
Dean Braun would answer my question about accountability:
“I believe accountability should guide everything—we all have a shared responsibility to one another to do everything we can to confront, combat, and eradicate sexual assault and sexual violence of any type. That’s especially true for me as the dean of students, where I partner with the president, the Title IX coordinator, and a range of other offices to ensure that we have clear, consistent, fair, and transparent policies and protocols that guide our work; that we are doing preventative education related to healthy relationships; and that we provide a range of support services for survivors and others who are negatively impacted by sexual assault and harassment. I take my responsibility to this community on these issues deeply to heart, and I know that we can and must do better,” Dean Braun wrote to Voices.
The obvious continues to be stated. I take my responsibility to this community on these issues deeply to heart, and I know that we can and must do better. We, survivors, are waiting for the how. After almost eight years in this position at Swarthmore, and after multiple instances of negligence, how will everything possible be done to “confront, combat, and eradicate sexual assault and sexual violence of any type”? How will we prevent students from feeling like this? For years, we wait for answers. For years, they never materialize.
When asked further questions, answers are very much centered around the search for a new Title IX Coordinator. To my question of why the opening letter did not address marginalized groups who had been most impacted by their negligence, President Smith would respond, “This issue was actually raised as a topic of discussion during the Title IX Search Committee community conversation last night. During that conversation, we received a number of important suggestions including—but not limited to—ensuring that the next Title IX coordinator has experience in serving the needs of all of our students, and, in particular, the needs of our womxn of color, queer, and trans students.”
To my question asking to clarify exactly how Title IX Policy would change, President Smith answered, in part, “The new Title IX coordinator will conduct a full review of our existing policies and can implement broader policy changes.”
In my interviews, a glaring commonality among students has been broken trust from administration. When I asked how they expect to build trust again after being distrusted widely by the campus community, President Smith said “Trust is built—and earned—through experiences and relationships. For example, I think we build trust by engaging in ongoing dialogue like we did on Wednesday night with the community conversation about the next Title IX coordinator. We had a productive and lively session regarding the qualities and experiences the next Title IX coordinator should possess, and through that conversation we received a number of important suggestions.”
They are so focused on “the next Title IX Coordinator”. But the truth is, the entire administration has to be held completely accountable, from the top down. For years, we continually see turnover in staff who work under the Dean’s Division. The turnover rate in multiple factions on campus is astonishing.
“Administration needs to be equally invested in Title IX reform. A problem I saw was that students would go to administrators for support and they would say ‘Go through Nina, go through Kaaren, go through Title IX’,” Nina Harris said in an interview this week. “Everyone has a role.”
“Bureaucracy costs so much. Whenever something goes wrong, the administration always looks at those who are lower paid. It looks bad to lose people at the very, very top,” Jasmine said. “The people who are in the Dean's Division and work most closely with students are always the ones who are overworked and then they leave within a year or two. So I think that just points to a bigger structural issue.”
Swarthmore has had a lot of amazing administrators leave both in Title IX and in other divisions. If these administrators don’t feel supported by the Dean’s Division and Public Safety, feel overworked, or as though their values are not being respected in making Title IX better, then why does it matter if Swarthmore finds another Title IX Coordinator, even if the person is qualified in their role? If the next qualified Title IX Coordinator doesn’t feel respected or valued or able to make positive change, they, too, will leave and the same problems will arise anew. These people need incentives to stay. Meanwhile, some at the top stay here for years, and despite critiques, seem not to address harmful behaviors. Real change may not happen until these top administrators start taking their actions seriously and holding themselves accountable.
“President Smith’s response letter to the Title IX demands just further solidifies the idea I got from first hearing about fossil fuel divestment: the president will actively seek the absolute bare minimums for student causes,” says Ian Palmer ‘20. “I’m not surprised that out of the list of demands for systemic change, the only concrete solution the president gave was a feedback form. It goes to show how much effort Swarthmore College puts in to protecting its students when it takes several essays, community meetings, a rally of more than a hundred students, faculty letters of support, and a literal list of demands to reach the conclusion that students found guilty of sexual assault should not maintain leadership positions.”
“I think it was a tactical and administratively strategic approach to a set of demands that came from a personal place of harm and violence,” said Daria Mateescu ‘20. “I was not happy with the letter by any means, but also do not think it is any signal for us to give up. I appreciate that at the very least she instated written policies that in my understanding are a small improvement.”
“I was confused. I felt like it wasn’t really addressing anything at all,” Julia said. She said she wasn’t very invested in the response due to the role administration has played in silencing student concerns. “I feel like she basically reiterated that our policies are insufficient and we regularly work to fix our policies where they are. “Thank you students for being vocal and intelligent,” and that always feels belittling. This is the same platform that is told to the students all the time. “Thank you for, you know, rising up and speaking. Thank you for putting yourself on the line here.” And there, but we're probably not gonna do anything to change it because you guys are still students and we are the adults, we're the administrators, we know what we're talking about.”
There were a multitude of different reactions to President Smith’s letter. Many people considered the letter to be vague. President Smith wrote to Voices: “The letter outlines concrete action steps that are taking effect immediately, steps that may be taken but require some time and research, and explanations for why certain requests could not be met. I did this to be respectful of O4S’s requests and to present the realities associated with significant policy changes and due process. I did not intend to be vague.”
Many feel the letter was vague because it did not address the specific systemic issues targeted by the demands. In President Smith’s second letter, the Title IX process, education and training, and requirements for Resident Peer Leaders would all involve current steps being taken towards policy reform. The College would outright deny providing an attorney to complainants or respondents. It also wouldn’t impose certain restrictions on alumni or respondents before their complaints have been resolved, nor would they deny invitations to alumni who had ever had complaints against them. “We must continue to preserve our commitment to due process and constitutional norms,” the letter read.
Title IX staffing, organizations, TA-related status would all be aspects in O4S’ letter to, according to President Smith, “require additional consultation and/or research by the College”.
People would be waiting for O4S’ response to these letters. O4S told Voices in their interview:
“We don’t consider the response from President Smith to be the end of the conversation and we look forward to continuing our work. We will release a full statement about how we’re responding soon.”
O4S had called for an examination of the alignment of Swarthmore’s values with fraternities and demanded the removal of students from Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon fraternities “immediately” by the 2018-19 school year. On fraternities, President Smith wrote: “I agree that the College must undertake a more in-depth, focused discussion of the role of the fraternity houses and of Greek Life culture on campus. The Ad Hoc Committee on Well-being, Belonging, and Social Life considered this issue, among others, this year, but I am asking them to focus on it primarily and specifically during the 2018-19 academic year.”
For some, fraternities are a place of community and central to their fulfillment on campus. For others, fraternities perpetuate sexual violence, domestic abuse, and patriarchy. Sexual violence being perpetrated by members of fraternities is found to be three times more likely than that instigated by non-greek students.
“I'm aware that there is more work to do. This is an opportunity to look at our values, to understand them, to reflect on them, and ultimately to strengthen them. That’s the process we’re going through right now. What I can promise you is that I am fully committed to ensuring that this community lives up to its ideals,” President Smith wrote to Voices.
Many I interviewed did not feel completely at odds with President Smith; many were sympathetic to her position.
“I think there’s this pressure we put on Valerie Smith as if she is the only person responsible for her words when really her position as a college president is to please so many sides, and there's nothing really as an individual she can do about that,” Jasmine said. “And not just because her job is at risk, but maybe even because of other factors around being a woman of color.”
“Due to the position she has both administratively and also due to her own identity I do not see her as someone I am willing to challenge in the way I am many of the other deans,” Bria said. “I also have had more, and worse, interactions with some of the other administrators.”
Others found that President Smith’s response was disingenuous—particularly around her response to O4S’ demands related to Counseling and Psychological Services. O4S had written in their demands, “Swarthmore must hire a specific CAPS staff member to provide support for survivors who choose or do not choose to pursue further options. All CAPS therapists must be trained in trauma-informed survivor support as well as trained in Title IX policies.” They also said the CAPS website needed to specify this training and be up-to-date. The Self-Study Action Committee Report in Spring 2016 would report that “Mental health and/or psychological conditions were by far the most commonly reported disability experienced by members of the campus community.” It would also note “Students who identify as racial and ethnic minorities, gender nonconforming, LGBTQ, first-generation, and/or low-income report higher levels of stress and mental health problems than other students.”
“All CAPS therapists are currently trained in trauma-informed survivor support as well as Title IX policies, processes, and identification of key resources. The CAPS website is undergoing revision and will include information on the counselors’ clinical training by the beginning of Fall semester.” Many survivors, particularly women of color, felt that this was an inadequate response to the harm they felt therapy at Swarthmore had caused them.
In an interview, I asked Dr. David Ramirez, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, how CAPS supports survivors. “CAPS is meant to provide a place to think, reflect, and then address the impact of a traumatic experience,” Dr. Ramirez said. “I think our role is to demonstrate that we've got a certain kind of competence that has been very useful to many people who experienced trauma and continues to be useful.”
Dr. Ramirez was satisfied with President Smith’s response regarding CAPS’ involvement in O4S’ demands. “I feel the written demands and responses isn’t the ideal form of communication like sitting down and talking with you right now. I would much rather have a sit-down meeting and talk about these things so that I can provide a lot of background information and nuance, like what I'm trying to do with you today.”
“There's no way one person could see all the survivors. People who've had trauma in their lives either as part of their life here as a college student or as I'm sure you know, there are plenty of people who were survivors,” Dr. Ramirez said. “They came to college. They're already worse. They were already survivors before they got here and survivors of, in some cases, childhood sexual abuse, you know what I'm saying? So think if one person was like, OK, you were sexually abused or assaulted, you're going to go see X. It's just not realistic.”
Every CAPS counselor starts with a baseline amount of training. For new hires, there's always an orientation in August that includes training in trauma. Those who choose staff also take into consideration previous trauma-related experience. They also have a weekly meeting dedicated to discussing issues related to trauma amongst other topics. CAPS doesn’t have a particular role in the Title IX process. Dr. Ramirez found it “very reasonable” for students to want reassurance that their staff is trained. “We’re clinicians who are well-trained,” Dr. Ramirez said.
“In my interviews and in student press and in conversations around campus, some survivors have described CAPS in practice as harmful,” I said. “They often described it as victim-blaming. I don't know if you have an opinion on why they think that is or if that’s something that you acknowledge, or is that something that you would like to push back against?” I would recount to Dr. Ramirez survivors’ experiences.
Bria is on her third CAPS counselor and still does not feel comfortable with her current support due to low availability, extreme discomfort, and her perpetrator having shared one of her therapists. I asked about how other women of color, as Lydia put, often felt there were “no therapists at CAPS who looked like me or identified similarly”. I read from Shelby Dolch ‘21’s article in Voices: “I expected support from [my therapist] who I had been meeting with for several months. Instead, I was asked about how it “fucked me up”. I felt like my assault was my fault. When I would go back several weeks later I would be asked about why I would choose to have sex not that long after my assault, as though I didn’t have the right to reclaim my own body. I felt humiliated by both my attacker and my therapist. I felt dehumanized. I felt unsafe. Until recently, I felt strangled by the silence.”
“That is very unsettling,” Dr. Ramirez said. Dr. Ramirez expressed that having a solid person in the Violence Prevention and Education Advocate role is important. He would also suggest that making sure counselors were checking in with their patients was important. CAPS has also been dealing with an onslaught of patients and so they are looking to hire a new staff member; they would like them to be a qualified person of color. He described a “cultural liaison” who could potentially be placed outside of CAPS, as well. There is also a woman of color working part-time both here and at a nearby college who Dr. Ramirez would like to see have more hours. As a Mexican-American, Dr. Ramirez hopes to make all students regardless of background feel comfortable. Dr. Ramirez says the entire place has changed since his arrival in 1994; the College has been “very generous” in their allocation of resources.
“I’m a big believer in dialogue because I think that’s where really good things get accomplished,” Dr. Ramirez said. “There has to be understanding; that has to be one of the goals. Why are things the way they are? Is there a reason things are the way they are? Is there a reason they can't be this other way that we think it would be better? What would it take to get to this other place to make these things? I would be more than happy to sit down with O4S or any student and discuss their needs.”
Dr. Ramirez also gave me data around the demographics of CAPS appointments in the 2016-17 academic year; of 476 students seen for counseling, 64% were female, representing 38% of enrolled women students; 36% were male, representing 22% of all men students. 22% of International Students were seen for counseling. 35% of POC at the College were seen for counseling.
My questions to the OSE’s staff were similarly around OSE’s role in regards to Title IX. “As for Title IX, I think we can always improve the way we communicate with students. Some feedback shared with us recently relates to how we communicate with one another; we need to make sure students are aware of resources, how we communicate our values, and hold others accountable,” Rachel Head, the Director of Student Engagement, wrote in regards to O4S’ demands. “Another theme we are hearing from the feedback is there is a need for great support with event management. Our AD for Student Activities is partnering with the SwatTeam to increase and adapt team training to address those issues, and we plan to seek student feedback about the event registration process this summer with a goal of making registering a safe event as easy as possible.”
One last part of O4S’ demands that would stick out to students was their last. We demand a formal apology by Swarthmore College to the many students it has harmed and retraumatized through its negligence, misconduct, and wrongdoings.
“We deeply regret any burdens that students have borne unnecessarily during any phase of the Title IX reporting and adjudication process,” President Smith’s first letter read. “I regret this happened,” however, is much different than “I’m sorry this happened.” To me, semantics matter. “Regret” is not remorse. Rather, the word is used often by lawyers and other legal figures to avoid responsibility. Clearly, this was a very calculated statement.
And so, I asked for clarification. Is this an apology, or simply an acknowledgment?
“The first letter, signed by Dean Liz Braun, Mike Hill, Nathan Miller, Beth Pitts, Michelle D. Ray and me, speaks directly to the students in O4S. It commends their bravery in sharing their experiences, and it agrees that our Title IX policies and practices must continue to improve and evolve. We could not acknowledge the issues raised by O4S without apologizing for the burdens that students have borne unnecessarily during any phase of the Title IX reporting and adjudication process,” President Smith wrote to Voices.
Why wasn’t the word “apologize” used, then? And why didn’t it include an apology to survivors as a whole and not just those involved in O4S?
Furthermore, when is an apology effective? In Bria’s case, for example, Beth Pitts apologized multiple times if anything in her investigation “made her uncomfortable”. Even after being confronted, no changes were made in her behavior. One thing would remain unanimous throughout the movement—President Smith, Dean Braun, Dean Miller, Beth Pitts, Michelle Ray, and any other administrator involved in the Title IX process would need to address their concerns genuinely and transparently moving forward.
“I wanted so much more. But then I realized I couldn’t get that because of [President Smith’s] position. But it’s like, is it a could or a should? It just sucks. Because her position makes her unable to address the atrocity of what the Title IX system has done, especially as it applies to, like queer POC and non-binary persons,” Bria said. “It just hurts not to get that recognition. And it’s just this blanket statement that’s really vague. It also sucks because O4S made this beautifully-detailed letter about their demands. Even if they were going to shut down every one of [O4S’] demands, they couldn’t have the decency to write a letter half as long.”
WHAT WE NEED TO HEAL
On March 27th, 2018, people were exhausted, people were overworked, people were hurt. But people were ready for change and collaboration.
“I’ve seen a lot of change in people so quickly in the last two weeks, people who I never thought would give a fuck are showing up to meetings—being completely silent, and leaving early, but showing up and they’re coming back. Those are really important things not to take for granted,” AynNichelle said during O4S’ Interview with Voices.
The Community Forum was closed to press. Over a hundred people attended. O4S addressed their own concerns, then opened the floor for others to speak. Many expressed gratitude not only for O4S’s ongoing, concerted effort towards change, but also for their engagement with new perspectives. Reflecting later on the forum, O4S’ core members would describe their personal apologies or thoughts on how the movement so far had impacted some of their peers.
In all, people reached towards a vision of transformative justice. This vision, though varied in realization, would be a recurring topic in my conversations with fellow survivors who didn’t organize with O4S as well.
“Something we mentioned last night at the meeting was what our vision of the future was, and it might include some of those demands, but it’s focusing more on how those demands fit in the new system of Title IX that we’re reenvisioning where transformative justice is the core,” Gabriela said.
Niyah sees transformative justice as a way of healing. “In my personal experience, it’s looking outside of the punitive and the punishment, and working towards that space of restorative justice and also just taking time to figure out how, what is it that actually allows me to heal, like what things do I need to be doing, and taking time out of my day to make me feel better.”
“In my understanding, it’s the highest level of humanizing” Lydia would say to me in a subsequent conversation. “I explain in forums a lot that people are afraid of being criminalized. I believe that that’s one of the reasons why people enter into defense mode, which sometimes includes manipulative behaviors like gaslighting, when they have been “accused of committing the crime of assault” by another individual or by the College. When I think about and dream about what our campus culture could look like, I see transformative justice as the ultimate response to the inequities we face when attempting to address harm. I read that transformative justice differs from restorative justice in that it calls into question whether healing and justice can truly occur in contexts where structural inequality is upheld. The main goal of transformative justice is to address harm on the micro level while simultaneously addressing and shifting the power structures that create and sustain the perpetuation of violence.”
Transformative justice can engage the whole community. Like the term ‘survivors,’ a universal resonation of justice’s true effects cannot be made. For many survivors, punitive justice will make them, in their struggle, feel moved. Many of them, however, won’t ever know what that feeling is like—very few actually end up in jail. A required distinction is that transformative justice does not in any way mean not holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. It, for example, takes steps like calling ‘perpetrators’ ‘people who have caused harm’ instead.
“Something I’m thinking about is that a lot of my vision for transformative justice is rooted in the fact that I know that violence can affect anyone,” Lydia said. And just because a person is labeled a ‘perpetrator’ doesn’t mean that they can’t also be a ‘survivor.’ The rigidity of our discourse around sexual violence on campus, and its underpinnings in our inherent belief in criminalization, contributes to rape culture. If we were all prison abolitionists we wouldn’t continue to use the language of crime and punishment in everyday discussions.”
In this conversation, campus community members have heavily vocalized the importance in taking care of student visions of a safer campus while also taking care of each other.
“I think the process of transformative justice can be really healing for folx. Currently, there is a lot of talk about restorative justice in the field of higher education. Some folks use the terms restorative justice and transformative justice interchangeably, but I think in practice they are not necessarily being applied or practiced in the same ways, if that makes sense,” Hillary Grumbine, the current Violence Prevention and Education Advocate wrote in an email to Voices. “For me transformative justice examines the systemic societal problems that have caused harm to an individual in addition to the questions one might ask a community to examine when practicing restorative justice. So, when working within a restorative justice model questions might look like “Who has been hurt and what do they need? How do we address the needs and what processes can we go through to make this right and ensure that this harm does not continue?” So transformative justice asks those questions and then asks “What is the root cause of this problem? It is not just an individual that is harming but a societal problem that must be addressed in order to prevent further harm; both the retraumatization of those who have already been harmed and those who, without intervention, might be harmed in the future.”
The community forum got into small groups discussing how to better materialize their individual visions into a collective reality. Soon, several community forum members would offer resources around transformative and restorative justice.
“I think that transformative justice, how we’ve been talking about it takes two forms: how it’s the instituting transformative justice responses to sexual violence on this campus and then it’s also a transformative justice to the harm the institution has done. So that’s changing the conditions that have led to the sexual violence in the first place, and then it’s holding the administrators accountable, that’s holding pub safe accountable, that’s everything so that violence can be meaningfully prevented in every way that we can get it,” Morgin said in O4S’ interview with Voices.
People are being calculated in their future actions in the movement, but it is far from slowing down. Further solidarity has been articulated by campus organizations, such as SAO and W+iMS, and students are refusing to back down. In other realms, O4S ponders new ways to make sure all survivors feel included.
“The questions on campus have been like, are you for or against [O4S]. I feel like that’s not a question,” Jasmine said. “I feel like the question is not are you for or against the survivors, right? Or are you for or against Organizing for Survivors. Because I think that fundamentally we all are. I mean, I can't say all, right? But I think that all of us want a better reality.”
If Swarthmore’s history has proved anything, it is the effectiveness of inclusivity in conversations. For change to be created many voices must not only be present at the table, but must be valued at the table. We must talk about the Spring of Discontent in 2013, but must also talk about the efforts in the year thereafter to create spaces for black women to voice their own concerns. We must talk about Organizing for Survivors (O4S), but we must also talk about the agency of all survivors’ paths towards justice, reclamation and healing. Despite so many stories that don’t get told or heard, all of these are valid. And more importantly, rather than compromising one another, they contribute to a larger mission of making survivors feel protected on campus, off campus, and all over the world.
RUMINATING DREAMS FOR A BRIGHTER COLLEGE COMMUNITY
When the sun shines on campus, I usually think back to my assaults and think, I’ve been deceived. On Wednesday, the weather finally warmed up. Instead, I associated the warmth with the hope and fervor of campus and not the artificial brightness of Swarthmore’s idealized self-image. Even with a dampened reality on campus, a transcending vision can and will be realized.
“It’s not even like I disagree with O4S and their ideas, it's that I just want the movement to be more inclusive. I'm not trying to downplay what they're doing because I have so much respect for the energy that they're putting in,” Niyah said. “It’s just especially after seeing a lot of the survivors’ spaces that haven't been inclusive on campus specifically in conjunction with the WRC over my time working here, I just want this movement to be stronger and more cohesive and have the ability to make that impact.”
Aru Shiney-Ajay ‘20 would disclose her own fears and visions she shared at O4S’ third community forum. “When I saw that O4S decided to slow down, I was scared. I was scared that this movement, which has meant so much to me, which has been so inspiring, would come to a halt. We've seen this over and over again on this campus: movements bubble up, they gain momentum, they get campus behind them, and then, for whatever reason they stop. They stop because we live in a racist, homophobic, classist sexist society, and that means we're all bound to make mistakes—but there's a way to reflect on mistakes that doesn't mean giving up direct action, a way to move forward that doesn't allow the administration to divide us along these lines.
She would go on to talk about healing. “I absolutely believe in the importance of community in allowing healing, but I also believe that it is essential that healing doesn't become a replacement for direct action. And honestly, this has been a trend over the last 30, 40, years—as our society shifts towards an increasingly neoliberal and individualistic mindset, we are told that the solution to systemic problems is individual. Don't hold rallies, don't hold sit-ins, don't demand resignations—just focus on ourselves. So while we can definitely create spaces for healing, I really urge O4S and everyone in this room not to give up on the essential role of campaigns and direct action in this process."
“O4S is going to need as many people supporting it as possible, and if you need that type of support, you have to have a branch of the movement that is about healing,” Julia said in our interview. “Just because you’re ready to make a statement doesn’t mean your justice is any more important than the woman's standing next to you. Any sort of movement happens on multiple fronts. Any sort of effective movement happens on multiple fronts. And it happens when you are both working to affirm the feelings, the experiences of the people you are aiming to protect while at the same time you are attempting to make real, radical change. The best, most effective change is creative change.”
“I see campus improvements as tangible outcomes,” Morgin said with a smile after O4S’ third community forum. I admired a campus that had conceptualized pain into institutional pressure, and in hearing feedback, began to reflect on what being a victim, survivor, or experiencer of sexual assault really means.
“Ultimately, even though it's been uncomfortable, healing for me means being able to talk to others, especially women, especially women of color,” Jasmine said. “Speaking to those who have gone through similar experiences has helped me realize what I need to talk through and what I need to listen through.”
I’ve learned many ways of healing: I’ve learned to forgive my perpetrators. I’ve learned how to forgive myself. I’ve used my passion for journalism to found Voices, for unheard voices like those of survivors to ring loud throughout campus. I’ve cried, prayed, screamed, deeply reflected. But what I’ve done as of recently—what current campus events have challenged me to do—is listen to other survivors. Listen to their stories, their testimonies, their truths. Listen to the ones not able to speak up publicly. Listen to the ones not yet ready to speak up publicly. Listen to the ones who choose not to speak up publicly. From listening, I’ve learned that not all ways of healing are well-suited for everyone. I’ve learned that victims of sexual assault do not owe their friends, family, or the movement their stories. In admiration of the leaders of the O4S movement and survivors in all regards, I’ve learned to embrace campus dialogue around our individual and shared experiences. I’ve learned that we’ll never reach an uncontested consensus on Title IX reform, but we’ll get closer to it the more voices we include at the table; I’ve learned that pushback is just as integral to community activism as indisputed support. I’ve learned that Swarthmore College’s artificial brightness cannot outshine the real light of sexual assault victims’ and allies’ calls for action.
“I was taught at a very young age that there are no right and wrongs, that there are mostly only opinions. But I think here, and a lot of people don’t agree with me, there is right and wrong sometimes,” Bria said regarding institutional accountability. “Sure you can have an opinion on it, but if your opinion and the ways you’re enacting your opinion is and your agency are making me unsafe, or not supporting me, when that is your job, or [your opinions] are actively hurting me...at that point, it’s a wrong. And it’s not even me personally, it’s a system, too.”
Through all of our community dialogue, justice for survivors mustn’t be forgotten. We will embrace the lessons confronting the difficult questions has taught us and collectively mobilize with even more conviction. Swarthmore’s current reality is indefensible. We as survivors demand this current reality to change. Coffee Talks with the Dean are not enough. Incomprehensive letters are not enough. Unrefined policy is not enough. Spending more time evading responsibility than confronting wrongdoings is impermissible. We will hold this institution accountable.
"I think something important that we're missing is re-imagination. We need to expand our notions of what is possible in the most radical way,” Lali Pizarro ‘20, Managing Editor of Voices, disclosed from O4S’ third community forum. “What is your most radical, transformative, ideal, dream Title IX system? How can we make that happen? We need to increase our capacity to dream and to hope."
No matter how lengthy I make this article, I can’t speak for everyone. I can only attempt to convey to you how painful, eye-opening, and yet hopeful my experience has been interviewing these survivors. How commendable it is for our student community to rally together to have these difficult conversations. How all survivors’ personal experiences have contributed to a larger conversation.
“Those challenges were anticipated, but they’re not discouraging,” AynNichelle, current SASS president said in O4S’ interview. “They’re learning experiences, so every time we hit a wall, it just shows us what is it about our community that people just aren’t understanding, and how can we move forward from there.”
“I eventually chose to speak up because I believed that the critique would make our group better, stronger, more conscious, more careful, more intentional. I'm learning to forgive myself for not speaking up earlier,” Lydia said. “Because I truly, truly, felt that I had let down my whole community—the people I had initially set out to protect.”
“I think as we said last night, and I know myself particularly, I feel really bad that people have felt that way,” said Gabriela about the movement. “Because that is certainly not how I want this to be. I want this to be something where everyone feels included. And I want to do everything in my power to make everyone feel welcome.”
“Often times, individual black women bear the responsibility of ensuring inclusivity because we do see that our liberation is tied up with so many other struggles. But these things are hard and now I know what to do for the future,” Lydia continued. “I will make sure my actions align with my values and politics. I will no longer draw back just because intentionality is good.”
O4S is not slowing down. Instead, it’s rethinking its vision towards being even more inclusive.
I do agree with Maya Angelou that “a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities”. Yet I don’t believe this is meant to be “luck”. Not for dreamers, not for fighters, and not for survivors. With real attention from the administration, real community engagement, and the real experiences put forth by survivors, our individual visions for a brighter Swarthmore College can and will materialize into a collective reality.
While Lindsey Norward is the Editor-In-Chief of Voices, her opinions do not necessarily essentialize those of the Editorial Board.
Resources for Further Reading: