In Place of A Title IX Appeal: A Survivor's Reflection

  Swarthmore's Title IX House. PC: swarthmore.edu

Swarthmore's Title IX House. PC: swarthmore.edu

Editor’s Note: On May 8th, 2018, Bria Dinkins ‘21 received notice that her 150-day adjudication process ended with her accused perpetrator “found not responsible due to insufficient evidence”. As indicated by Swarthmore’s Title IX Office, both parties have a three-day window from the day of the outcome to appeal if exists:  “new evidence that could affect the finding of the adjudication and that was unavailable at the time of investigation; procedural error(s) that had a material impact on the fairness of the adjudication; the sanctions imposed were grossly disproportionate to the violation committed.” Upon receiving further notification four hours before an appeal was due of her aforementioned rights to one, Dinkins chose instead to write a 14-page statement reflecting on her adjudication process and subsequent refusal to further partake in Title IX proceedings. Below is an abridgement of the same statement Dinkins wrote to Swarthmore’s Title IX office.

Introduction

I refuse to change Swarthmore’s Title IX system in the way it wants me to. I refuse to provide feedback in a way that is digestible or convenient for them.  I refuse to make myself feel smaller for the sake of someone else’s growth.  I refuse to be scared anymore. I refuse to rely on and find solace in the mere fact that I am still existing to make myself feel better. I am not going to work within the system in the way that they think is appropriate. I knew going into this that this process wasn’t healing. It wasn’t therapy, it wasn’t relaxing, it was work and it was pain.  And that was part of it.  But I want to stress that this process, in the state it is now, is the complete opposite of healing—it is very much harmful.  I will continue, in my time at Swarthmore,to work to dismantle systems of injustice and to speak for change. I won’t be silent.

Why I am choosing to write this statement, and to not tolerate what happened to me in the adjudication process

I was thinking about how I process personal experience and the harms that have been done to me as inescapable within the historical context that we live in.  I’m a person who pays attention to the news and I think, as a black person, I especially do; lately, I have been seeing a lot of racial profiling against black people who are minding their own business— innocent and being presumed guilty of crime or seen as suspicious. I often view things through a larger picture: this is what’s wrong with the world, and it’s just the way that things are. I often do this to find comfort in a mode of normality; this gives me the ability to find relief outside of an overwhelming series of personal emotions and anxieties.
I was recently talking to one of my white, straight, cisgender male friends about the differences between committing crime while white and committing crime while black. I remember him saying that if you’re a white male, you can assume that if you are wrongly accused you’ll be found innocent and justice will be served, but also that there’s a good chance you’ll be found innocent even if you are guilty and you’ll get away with it anyway. Conversely, I wondered: what would it be like to be able to assume that my perpetrator would be found responsible for his actions? That I would be treated decently during the adjudication process? To assume that I would be protected in the way that Swarthmore promises?

 I want to hold myself accountable.  I want to say that I’m not okay with experiencing and seeing harm done by various systems just because I know the historical and social context that contributed to it. I wouldn’t accept mistreatment if I heard it being done to a friend. I wouldn’t say: “You were mistreated, and the system/society didn’t take care of you, and that’s just the way it is”.  And so I refuse to do that for myself, either, to accept what happened to me as a mode of normality.

Reflections on strength, identity, and self-definition

Further, I wish to redefine myself in space.  There’s a set of racialized and gendered stereotypes that hold me captive as a black woman. I don’t make it easy on myself also by being a black woman who is very expressive, sex-positive, loud, and exciting. I refuse all of those problematic stereotypes: the mammy, the sapphire, the jezebel.  But I also refuse the reworked “positive” version of these stereotypes that make me the “strong black woman”. This is the woman who carries other people’s emotions; who doesn’t cry; who doesn’t complain; who gives up their own space for other people’s comfort. This is the woman who works hard, is independent, and never falters. For a little while, I felt good about giving so much of myself —my time, my body, my labor, my mind—to others. In the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about the variation between the different people who tell me I’m strong. It’s different when my mom or a best friend or another black woman who’s going through something like I am is saying this to me. It is different when  a drunk classmate tells me I’m strong, or a man does, or an ally does. It is different when another survivor says it.  Sometimes, it’s really nice to hear that I’m strong from someone who knows exactly what they mean. But there are other people who don’t know what saying that means to them or me and they don’t know why they’re saying it, either. It doesn’t feel the same way as giving agency to other survivors’ experiences.

Going through the adjudication process for over 150 days

My experience in the adjudication process made me fear myself, and fear for myself. I felt unsafe on campus and in various campus spaces. I felt this way not just because I thought I would see my perpetrator again, but because I was afraid of leaving my bed and seeing anyone. The first time I saw my perpetrator on campus, I fainted and vomited. My friendships with other white men became strained; I reluctantly saw him in them.  I had problems eating, sleeping, and began having nightmares in my Wharton dorm. It is because of these reasons that I chose to relocate to with one of my friends in Mary Lyons. I didn’t feel like I could email the *Assistant Director of Residential Communities and ask for a real room change; I needed it to be immediate and I didn’t want to have to explain anything.

I fault the system in so many ways: disorganization, lack of knowledge, ignorance, which were fueled and accompanied by inappropriate and demeaning questions, as well as an overall lack of support and understanding.

The process lasted much longer than I was initially led to believe. The Title IX system did not uphold its policy of a sixty-day adjudication process. The initial start of the investigation was on December 9th as reported by the Title IX office  (even though I reported it on November 27th, they did not contact my perpetrator until December 9th). That 150+ day journey came to a close May 8th. 

I reported my assault before Winter Break; I was contacted during it and told that the *Associate Director of Investigations was going to make a trip to New Jersey, where I live, to speak with me, so that I wouldn’t feel pressured, so that I would feel comfortable.  I remember feeling “Okay, I don’t love that idea, I am trying to have a nice time with my family, I’m sick...”. Soon after, I was sent another email that said that this person was instead going to videochat with me or call me. Then, before that phone call happened, I received yet another email saying that I was requested to come back to campus four days early to talk to the personnel. I had to convince my mom that I should go back early in order to get the investigation over with as quickly as possible. Little did I know that the process would be as grossly inappropriate as it turned out to be.

At that time, while I knew the *Associate Director of Investigations wasn’t my advocate, I didn’t think this personnel was out to get me.  But now, that has changed. There was a point where I was scared of them. There was a point where I was not only scared of the questions this person had for me, but I began to have and still have a physical reaction to seeing this person so much so that I avoid the Public Safety office.  I have a reaction to seeing the Associate Director of Investigations that is too similar to my reaction to seeing my perpetrator given the two different roles they have in my life this year.

On Inappropriate Lines of Questioning:

The lines of questioning by Associate Director for Investigations I went through were grossly inappropriate. They showed a lack of knowledge, professionalism, and care.  It was interesting in my case because a lot of the materials that were presented to me by the Associate Director for Investigations were those that were provided by my perpetrator, i.e. text messages. It is my understanding that the college didn’t ask for them, but that rather he offered the materials voluntarily.  Amongst these text messages also was a binder my perpetrator had compiled filled with summaries of every interaction that we’d ever had (including what I was wearing, what acts we engaged in, what we talked about, if I slept over, etc). My perpetrator had written in graphic detail descriptions of our sexual interactions. The Associate Director of Investigations read my perpetrator’s descriptions to me aloud. Prefacing her questions with “I know this is going to be uncomfortable but…”, she asked “What were you wearing? Do you like wearing lingerie? Did you do that [insert sexual act]?” among other inappropriate questions.

I was asked the same questions over and over again, at different times, to “make sure my story was straight.” The Associate Director of Investigations would then twist my words and not let me finish my answers. It was disarming because it made me question my memory and my sanity in a lot of ways. 

My perpetrator also, in very specific ways, used my mental health against me. He told the Associate Director of Investigations that I was bipolar, which I am not. He told her that I was “off my medication” and that I was a very big partier, very promiscuous, drank a lot of alcohol, and did drugs. I took pride in being honest with this personnel, particularly because I knew that these things, regardless of my history with mental illness and my activities, were not, and shouldn’t be considered, relevant.

I didn’t ask much of this process—I didn’t feel as though or know that I could.  The one thing that I did voluntarily add that wasn’t directly asked of me was that I had a history of dissociating during sex, even during consensual acts.  I remember the Associate Director of Investigations replying that I was sharing too much. I was left at that point to think that my history of dissociation, which I was voluntarily offering, was somehow less relevant than lingerie, less relevant than oral sex, less relevant than my sexual choices, less relevant than my choice to go to a lot of parties.  At the time, I couldn’t really think, like I can now, of what to say to her dismissal. I didn’t know if I was allowed to be asked these questions—as mentioned previously, I didn’t know my rights in this process. I didn’t know that a trauma-informed staff member should understand that dissociation is a natural and common trauma response. And the person sitting next to me, who was supposed to be my advocate, was silent and wasn’t asking questions. When the Associate Director of Investigation would leave the room, and she would say “I wonder why she asked those questions, you can take a water break if you want,” the personnel would come back in the room and continue without any interruption. I wondered: Is it my complete personal responsibility to intervene on my own behalf?  I thought, I guess I am completely alone in here. I was intimidated by the questioning and I didn’t know what to do.

On Lack of Knowledge:

The lack of knowledge and persistent ignorance that the Associate Director of Investigations had in regards to my case was overwhelming. Multiple times, in some instances for my own sake and in others for her own curiosity, I had to educate her. Whether it was talking about the fetishization of black women, or about queerness, or about using emojis in text messages, or about different kinds of pornography. Different parts of my identity were relevant to my experience and as such they were relevant from the case. Yet  I was made to feel otherwise. Some people want to remove the individual person from the case for the sake of convenience--that’s something that I refuse to let go. What must be understood is that treating every person like a full person and themselves, understanding all parts of their identity, is not exceptional; it should be the standard.

There was also a lack of knowledge provided to me. Even after I had gone through all this questioning and I had done all this research,  I didn’t feel like I knew my rights. I didn’t know if these faulty procedures such as disorganization, prolongation, and inappropriate lines of questioning were authorized at all.  The SHARE website did not even have answers to my questions. You should be able to assume that your rights are being protected; it takes a lot of energy to go out of your way to try to figure out what your rights are and if they were violated.

Impact on my Interpersonal Relationships:

I was blessed to have lots of friends who had witnessed how this relationship had taken a toll on me, and how the assault had taken a toll on me. They had seen how it affected my eating and sleeping. I was grateful to have friends who were willing to step up to the plate to be a witness for me. After the process, they all agreed they felt they were being attacked and intimidated when they being interviewed. They felt that there was blame cast upon them, so much so that it took a toll on our friendships.  One of my witnesses shared with me that they their frustrations with the process was affecting their relationship with me. That really hurt. I can imagine that it’s really hard to be asked to be a witness, because that puts you in a place where you want to have an ability to protect the person you are a witness for. But the questions are hard, and they were put in an uncomfortable situation.  I wouldn’t have my friends go through such a process again. If I had to go back,, I would’ve chosen not to make them do it.

The Final Report

Towards the end of the process, when the *Assistant Dean of Students got involved, I was given several chances to go over the final report, submit any redactions, ask any questions, and seek any support I might need. Interestingly, throughout this process, I was given all these options to speak with staff in order to express my concerns, ask for help, to confide in, etc.  I find this peculiar; it seems now that they are not able to actually help me,  due to a lack of both knowledge and compassion. Further than that, I would not feel comfortable going to any of those people for help. Not only do I refuse to engage with them, but I want to make it clear that I know they are just checking off their boxes.

 I refuse to let them, at this point, check them off. In fact, I know that my talking to them would serve them more than it would serve me.

241 pages

252 pages more

Do I have to read these 493 pages? How long do I have?

I bet I must have to read his name at least 100 times in those pages.

I wonder how many times my name and his appear in the same sentence.

I wonder how many times lingerie, oral sex, and my name appear  in the same sentence.

I wonder if the next time I see him I’ll vomit again.

I am a survivor. I am a survivor. I am a survivor!

Don’t tell me I’m not. Don’t ask me that same question.

I am a survivor who is sad.

I am a survivor who is angry.

I am a survivor who was made to distrust her body, her mind, her identity.

I and many other people with me were failed by this system. No, this is not the first time I’ve been assaulted. Not the second, third, or fourth, or even fifth. I came to think that at Swarthmore I could pursue options and that I wouldn’t be confronted by people in authority who would openly shame me. If I knew that the pain of the adjudication process would worsen my anguish, I would not have even tried. I would have wiped the tears away and willed myself to forget them along with my bruises as I had done many times before. This is what institutional love is, right?

I want Swarthmore to love me so bad it makes me sick. I am tired of questioning myself.

Swarthmore boasts a lot of things here. We are progressive. We are intersectional. We are informed. Right? I am tired of being told that I should shut up and be grateful. I am tired of being told that it could have been worse. I’m working for my body to come back to me.

I can’t sleep.

I am tired of being made to make room for this.

5 months

150 days

I am resilience. I am a survivor.

In the end, when I was asked to go through hundreds and hundreds of pages full of documents, I chose not to.There are a number of reasons why I decided I was not going to read a single one. These are three:

 1. I am a person, who strives to love herself. That does not include spending my time reading a combination of retraumatizing information, it doesn’t include reading lies about or involving me, and it doesn’t include being reminded of being questioned in a way that made me feel scared.

 2. I have a life here. This entire process became my whole year; the terrible relationship and process spanned from October to May. I refuse to give more time to this than I was forced to give already.

 3. The feeling, not just of reading and reliving all this information, but also being expected to respond to all of it, was too much to handle. I knew that I would have such a strong emotional reaction if I read it;  I would feel such a strong need to correct the errors, to save my name, that it would be too much, and I would implode.

I was being sent emails from the Assistant Dean of Students about the updates and the information about the documents that were being submitted to OneHub. Up until this point, I wasn’t really looking at them.  At this moment, I was relaxing outside of the Science Center, under the big beautiful tree there with a friend.  On that day, May 2nd, I received an email from the Assistant Dean of Students that said a statement has been submitted and that another resource had been submitted to the external adjudicator. He said that I could review them and let him know if I had any questions I had received many emails like this and didn’t much of it.

 I was having a really good day; I had this feeling that I shouldn’t open it.  Despite this, I opened it anyway. It was a document entitled “the inconsistencies in her story” written by my perpetrator with an excerpt from a Voices article in which I was interviewed. That was a lot. I remember being in this space where everyone was happy and laughing and getting up suddenly and running away. I remember realizing that I had less than an hour until my Acting final.  I remember knowing that I had people at the O4S sit-in to go to for support. After breaking down in front of a senior who would then become a friend to me, I went to my final, did my performance, and left immediately.

 Up until this point, I hadn’t really heard directly from my perpetrator.  I had been told that a lot of the things in the case file were submitted by him.  But this time, I was really angry.

 I try to resist the angry black woman, another stereotype. If I am thankful for this case for any reason it’s because it gave me my anger back.  I was no longer just sad; I was angry.  I was angry because I was not given a warning that I would have to read something like that. I was angry that he was running this process; I was angry that in my interviews, when I explained something abusive or inappropriate about our relationship, the Associate Director of Investigations would say “well, he didn’t mean it like that.” I thought about reaching out to the external adjudicator, saying that I was going to write a statement like his where I correct what he said and say why it’s wrong.  But I realized that wouldn’t help me. It wasn’t something that would benefit me as much as I wanted it to.

This process made me feel alone, it made me not trust my body, it made me not trust my memory, it made me question my precious knowledge, education, and experience.  On a more practical level, it affected my ability to function. After being told about what the final meeting would entail, I made a big decision to let go. I decided that my responses to emails from that point on would be simple. I was no longer able to pretend that this process was working. I wanted to show that I was making a conscious choice to step back from the process in order to protect myself.

To my perpetrator: I am sure you have convinced yourself of your innocence, and that this has been confirmed for you by your “found not responsible” notice. But I refuse to make room for you inside me. I refuse not to live my life as myself.  I hope you get help, because you shouldn’t do this to other people, and you probably will. So instead of focusing on you, this is my last goodbye to you.  You have taken up so much of my time and energy.  Instead of focusing on you and giving you a platform to haunt me, I am going to put myself first.

The reason I choose not to hate Swarthmore and instead choose to hate the failure of individuals and the TIX system:

My parents are Swat alumni, class of 93. I grew up on this campus, I grew up being surrounded by the arboretum. I remember being here every summer for alumni events. I loved Swarthmore from a very young age. I didn’t know that I was going to come here  and my parents never pressured me to come here. But I ended up really loving it here and I decided to come.  Despite this process, that is still one of my best decisions. I have met so many amazing people, I have grown so much as a person. At the same time, I refuse to not let myself remember this experience. Audre Lorde said it best that “your silence will not protect you.” I love Swarthmore but I refuse to be silent.  I find great pride in self-awareness, in self-assuredness, in voicing myself.

 The last week, I’ve seen my perpetrator on campus multiple times. Twice, we made direct eye contact and were within ten feet of each other. I glimpsed in the comments of a Philly Voice article I was lucky enough to be interviewed for about the end of the sit-in. I have never been called “entitled” “naïve” “millennial”  and described as “not going to survive in the real world” so many times. That really bothered me for a little bit, but again I refuse to be held by what is projected on to me by this system and its supporters.  I refuse to be portrayed like this.  I, along with other people who are being vocal and vulnerable, are going to make change wherever they go. All these honest and organized people, the people who are all the things that this process claims to be but isn’t—are doing the work that “trained professionals” are not capable of doing.  If the Associate Director of Investigations can preface each question asked of me with “I know this is an uncomfortable question,” then I have no problem asking people to be held accountable for their absence and failure. I have no problem challenging the justifying sentiment that “administration feel uncomfortable or vulnerable”. I am vulnerable. I am more than vulnerable.  What does it look like to be a student, to try to make change, to be a survivor, to study for finals…it means being uncomfortable. I have no problem making people who need to feel uncomfortable feel uncomfortable, for the purpose of growth. I was made uncomfortable, and it wasn’t for growth. 

Who am I?

I came to Swat early, for the Tri-Co Diversity Institute. I was excited, I was energized, I was hopeful.  I felt encouraged, I felt like I had gotten into the school of my dreams and I was going and I was already making a difference.  I got here, and things were okay.  I had a job. I was making friends.Things were fine. And then they weren’t. I wasn’t doing well in my classes. I was oversleeping. I was sick -- I would find out I had several deficiencies that were indicative of a lack of nutrients and were responsible for me feeling weak and tired constantly. I would sustain a concussion from falling down the stairs in my dorm. I would get a lump removed from my left breast and return to school the next day.  And I would have interactions with administrators who would make me feel scared and unsupported.

But I’ve also accomplished a lot this year. I’ve had two jobs, one as a tour guide (which I have been excited about but which also has been a hard job due to a lot of these experiences and the O4S movement). I am involved in a lot of pursuits on campus that I love and am dedicated to, including being a part of SASS, RNM, and OASIS.  I look forward to next semester when I can continue my love of dance and to benefit from on all of these opportunities.  And I look forward to fostering friendships with people I want to talk to and connect with.

I turned 19 this year, which was a big deal for me because a lot of the time growing up I didn’t think that I would make it to college, let alone my 19th birthday. I am a person who loves people and who seems to be wedded to the idea of forgiveness, who loves to forgive and loves to embrace people who try to be close to me, because I know what it’s like to make mistakes and feel regret. So I try to feel remorse and I try to feel the human in everyone.  My Quaker parents raised me this way. The truth is that I don’t know if I’m going to recover from this.  I have a couple of really solid goals that I’m looking forward to seeing through. And I can’t do those things if I am clinging to this process.  Moving on has to look a certain way and I don’t know what it’s going to look like for me.

I love myself because I am really driven. I love myself because I’m a good friend.  I love myself because I make my parents proud, even though I don’t always think so. I love myself because I am learning and I love learning. I love myself because I am outspoken. I love myself because I am okay being vulnerable, and I now know the difference between being vulnerable for growth and just being hurt.  I love myself because I remind me of my grandmother. I love myself because I am black and I am queer and I am a woman. I love myself because I am religious and I am scientific. I am a multitude of other identities that make me, me. I want to let this system know that I love myself. And I don’t love myself because I have always loved myself. I love myself because I have come to realize that, during the night, I am the only person who is there. When I am feeling really, really down, the first person to be there for me is me. And though this process tried in so many ways to kill me, I am more alive and awake and aware than ever.

 

Bria M. Dinkins

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Priya Dieterich for transcribing this as I sat with her in Kohlberg. Thank you to her for listening to me and accepting me. Thank you to her also for her smile. Thank you to Lydia Koku who read and helped me edit this. Thank you to her for being one of the first strong connections I made at Swarthmore. Thank you to her also for her presence, her vibrancy, and for her words. Thank you to Morgin Goldberg for always being a friendly face. Thank you for encouraging me to do what I wanted in this process. Thank you three for actively embracing me. Thank you to Voices for giving me a platform to share my voice. Thank you to Lindsey Norward for her editing and for her tireless work, positivity and support of me. Thank you to Lali Pizarro for her work and for always being receptive and kind. Thank you to many, many other people in my life. There are so, so many people to thank. Thank you to my freshman friends since the beginning. Thank you to my freshman friends I made at the end. Thank you to my senior friends; I love you and wish for you so much. Thank you to my classmates. Thank you to my professors who encouraged me, who were honest with me, who had conversations with me, and who were accommodating of me. Thank you to the people whose names and lives I don’t know yet whom I see everyday. Your presence inspires me. And thank you to my parents. I really could not have done what I have without you.

*The names of particular personnel at the College have been omitted in the abridgement of this statement.