Who Is Left to Take Responsibility?


*Content Warning for Sexual Assault

Last night, the brother of a Kenyon student, a Kenyon alumnus himself, published an open letter to Kenyon College, a letter that has, as of right now, been shared 688 times on Facebook. His sister was sexually assaulted in November, and in April, the college denied her appeal. She is transferring next fall. 

President Decatur sent out an email in response the next day. He states:

Over the past 24 hours, the Kenyon community has been made sensitive to issues regarding sexual misconduct.  I and no other College administrator can comment on any student conduct case of any type. To do so violates the rights of privacy, and would, in turn, multiply the pain felt by everyone involved. This may seem to some that the College is hiding behind the law, but I believe that this is simply the right thing to do.

But I must speak out clearly on the larger issue of sexual assault.  Some may react with skepticism when a college president mentions “zero tolerance” for sexual assault and “fairness” regarding the procedures to address policy violations. But I do not express those sentiments lightly. I speak for all of us at Kenyon when I say that sexual assault is absolutely unacceptable, here or anywhere. Each Kenyon student has the right to pursue their education, growth and development without obstacles created by sexual assault, and each student is guaranteed a fair and equitable process for a resolution.  I embrace this moral and legal obligation, and my colleagues do as well.  The law dictates that we do so; but more importantly, we do so because of our values and our commitment to the safety and welfare of our students.

Speaking out against sexual violence is admirable; even acknowledging that rape occurs on college campuses is a huge step forward from where society was ten or twenty years ago. But it’s not enough to hide behind rhetoric. The college needs to prove that students who were sexually assaulted get the care they deserve.

I understand the sensitivity of these cases, and how discussing instances of assault can often violate the privacy of those involved. But if the president of the college will not take responsibility, who will? There is clear evidence, over and over again, that cases of sexual assault on this campus do not result in fair outcomes for those attacked.

A SMA I spoke to commented “I’ve never seen a just outcome for a survivor handed down by this administration. Not once.” If the administration will not take responsibility, who will? It is easy for the college to say that there is  “zero tolerance” for sexual assault. In fact, it would be hard for them not to say that.

Kenyon is a small liberal arts college, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. And students are assaulted here. Students are raped here.

President Decatur writes that “moving us forward will require work and commitment from all of us,” and he is right. But when will rhetoric become action? There are student-run meetings dedicated to helping survivors of sexual assault. There are dozens of student volunteers on-call who are trained to handle issues of sexual misconduct. A sit-in  has already been organized for Thursday to “raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault on this campus and implore the administration to respond more appropriately to this issue by providing survivors with the justice they have been denied.” Students are taking action, in the hopes that the administration will follow suit. This issue is not something that can be solved by a placating email and a pat on the back. We, as students, deserve real and significant change.


36 responses

  1. That one quote is reckless and bombastic, and inaccurately portrays the social environment at Kenyon. What’s more, the whole argument behind this piece is premised on two pieces of anecdotal evidence. Journalism like this is reprehensible

    • While yes, the article should be tagged as “op-ed” (although since the Thrill’s de-affiliation with the Collegian, I don’t think there’s as much of a need), it’s mind-boggling that this is your primary concern. This piece doesn’t read like a news article at all, anyone with half a functioning brain would promptly realize it’s expressly putting forth an argument. There’s no subterfuge here. There is, however, a very real issue of sexual assault on this campus, which you’ve decided is second to a semantic issue. Let’s be a little kinder to those who are at least trying to give a voice to those whose narratives are being actively suppressed.

  2. While a good perspective, please label this what it is: commentary and opinion. It is not a news article as there is no attribution, and the statements made are to further a point of view. Again, on many points I agree with you, but be responsible as a journalistic enterprise and label editorial so as not to blur the lines between reporting and opinion.

  3. If there is another side to this story, Mr President, you have an obligation to share it. If there is no real other side, and this situation is the grave injustice it certainly seems to be, then to hide behind these excuses is cowardly and outrageous. At the very least you could pledge to take another look at her case. Or how about refunding her tuition? Or how about saying “every rape on our campus is a dagger in my heart and I will personally do everything I can to put a stop to it. Until we have this problem under control and can guarantee our student’s safety from sexual assault or at least assure them of a functional judicial process for handling these cases, I will neither solicit nor accept a single donation to our endowment.”

    • Anna, it is against federal law for the president to comment on the case. If he made the comment you ask him to make, the college would be sued by multiple parties including the federal government.

      Additionally, there has been no indication the system has failed. Just because the outcome isn’t the one people expected based on one side of the story, doesn’t mean it was the wrong conclusion. More importantly, the administration cannot guarantee students will not get assaulted the same way they cannot guarantee students will not get injured or sick. It is their responsibility to ensure students adhere to the guidelines in the student handbook, but it is unreasonable to ask the college to be in every room at every time of day.

      • What federal law specifically prevents him from commenting? What law prevents him from taking a truly zero-tolerance stance and taking real action here? And if you had read MH’s letter you would stop entertaining the possibility of some imaginary “other side to the story.” There is an actual federal law called title 9 that requires schools to use “preponderance of evidence” as the standard to judge these cases by. Read Michael’s description of what happened to his sister and tell me that isn’t a preponderance. It’s one of the most clear cut cases I’ve ever heard of and it’s outrageous that this was the outcome.
        And of course a college can’t stop every bad thing from happening on campus. What the college can do is respond in a way that is both personally and socially just. What the college can do, frankly, is give a damn. Haven’t seen much evidence of that.

      • The law preventing the school from discussion the case is the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. And while you may see it as clear cut, others do not. I don’t know how you can call this clear cut while only hearing half the story. We don’t get to hear the other half. It’s wrong to try this in the court of public opinion.

      • Concerned alum, sure we haven’t heard both sides of the story. And we should! Frankly, I’m interested in hearing what kind of excuses this student had for sexually violating an unconscious young woman to the point in which she is bleeding. But, just as in cases in which someone might, say, throw someone onto the pavement and start kicking them so that they bleed, it doesn’t matter worth a damn. This student has violently assaulted his peer. That should warrant criminal penalty, and at the very least, expulsion.

      • Anna Vogel, no we shouldn’t hear both sides of the story. Accuser protections exist for a reason. Victims deserve privacy regardless of the outcome of the case. This is not for adjudication in the court of public opinion. Regardless of how the case turns out, accusers deserve the right to privacy. In this case the accuser did give up some privacy by going public, but that does not make the legal obligation of the college any less clear.

  4. I agree and appreciate this article so much. Kenyon needs to pay more attention to the issue of assault on campus, both on the prevention aspect and in the implementation for title IX after the fact.

    I want to add, though that the quote by an SMA “I’ve never seen a just outcome for a survivor handed down by this administration. Not once.” is blatantly false. I agree Kenyon has a lot of work to do to make it’s title IX process a more just one, there have been a few findings of responsibility. Spreading misinformation in order to cultivate anger is not productive. It is not the way to push for change.

    • Hi, this SMA verified the quote with me. Their experience may not speak for all of the SMAs, but it is true from their point of view. I promise you that the intent of this article was not to spread misinformation.

      • The quote that the SMA posted is inflammatory and false. I fully believe the system needs to be changed, but in order to do that we need to focus on something more substantive than exaggeration and anger. I think this is a great article, I take more issue with the quote itself. Also, the heartbreaking truth is that there is no true justice for a survivor of sexual assault, nothing can make fully right the wrong that was done to them. The ultimate “just outcome” does not exist–and if it does exist there is no way this SMA can tell a survivor what should be just in their case, nor is he justified to make a blanket statement on behalf of every person who has gone through the title IX process.

        I myself am and SMA who has been involved with multiple title IX cases. The system needs reform. I just this reform to be a productive and actually informed process, not one surrounded by aimless anger and misinformation.

      • Anon 9:47 — the SMA said that *they* had never seen a just outcome.” If you’re saying the quote is false, then logically you’re explicitly saying that that particuar SMA *has* seen a just outcome. How, exactly, do you know that?

    • Yeah, I was an SMA who knew of at least three people who were kicked out/left due to Title IX cases. That particular SMA’s quote reads like he knows of all the cases that go on, or has special insider knowledge of Title IX proceedings, which, isn’t necessarily true – many SMAs won’t have first hand knowledge of any cases. We also don’t share everything in the group to protect people’s confidentiality. It’s an incredibly inflammatory quote that’s now being quoted in at least one national outlet without any proper context.

  5. As a Kenyon parent I am outraged. Rape is not sexual but violence in the pursuit of power, As such, none of our children are safe unless the administration starts to take rape seriously. I call on all parents to hold the administration accountable.

  6. The article says, “Kenyon is a small liberal arts college, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.” I couldn’t agree more — Kenyon itself is an educational institution. So how can we expect it to properly adjudicate sexual assault? This should be left up to law enforcement. In no way is the bureaucracy of a small liberal arts school equipped to properly investigate and handle charges of this magnitude.

    • To favor law enforcement over the “bureaucracy of a small liberal arts school” to “investigate and handle charges of this magnitude” reduces the issue of who should handle sexual assault cases to a binary. It is well documented that the college/university process offers a better outcome to survivors than the criminal-justice system does. This is not to say that the college/university system properly handles sexual assault cases – I firmly believe it does not. And yet, “the criminal justice system simply moves too slowly and is constrained by too many ‘formidable procedural obstacles,’ as Judge [Richard A.] Posner puts it”—in his book “The Problems of Jurisprudence”—“to reliably punish campus rapists and remove them from the academic community.”

  7. I would like to remind those who have objected to the decision that what we have to go by is the extremely biased version of events presented by the brother of the girl who says she was assaulted. No one has heard anything from the other side. What if we are misjudging? Who are any of us to pass a judgment on the situation, on the college, and on the “seriousness” and “accountability” at stake here without any evidence from either side? Not only is this piece not journalism, but those here taking positions on the issue are guilty of something far worse: prejudice. Think about what you’ve done, and hope that you are never, ever, before a jury that works they way that you do.

  8. While I sympathize deeply with Hayes and his sister, let us please be the rational individuals we purport to be and at least recognize then possibility of there being another side to the story which we have most certainly not heard and will never hear unless the accused comes forward of their own volition. It is true that the College decided upon a certain come. It is not indubitably true that that was the wrong decision. In so emotionally-charged a case – and rightfully so – it is only reason which can deliver the truly just outcome. Perhaps it did. Perhaps it didn’t. It is up to the students to decide this, indeed; but they should do so with only half a bag of evidence.

    • If reason renders us “cold,” “heartless,” or even “misogynistic,” than so be it. Ad homenims should not deter coolheadedness, something Decatur is perhaps trying to illustrate here (and I would be the first to admit his administration is less than reactive).

  9. I feel for everyone involved in this situation. I too am interested in hearing Kenyon’s side of the story. Last year, a student was kicked out for sexual assault in a situation where there was very little evidence. With that and the evidence that was apparently available in this case, it just does not add up that the school failed to respond. Disappointing and confusing. It would be good for the school to be consistent in the way that they handle sexual assault…the inconsistency shows little care for the students and makes it clear that they have other motives for their reactions.

  10. In general, universities don’t care about this sort of thing until alumni donations are affected. Not before that.

    • Funkapus, if that’s true then why has Kenyon totally reformed its Title IX policy in the last few years? Considering measures including the hiring of Andrea Goldblum as title IX coordinator in 2015, a total overhaul of college policy to meet federal standards, the abandonment of kangaroo courts comprised of students/faculty/administrators for an impartial investigator-based system, the implementation of substantial “interim measures” to help victims maintain the best possible learning environment, and large investments in mental health/counselling services, I don’t know why on earth you think Kenyon doesn’t “care about this sort of thing.” I’d argue there has been a huge expenditure of time and resources to combat sexual assault at Kenyon , and one blog post doesn’t undermine these recent systematic changes.

      President Decatur was remiss by not mentioning all of the work the college has done in this area and I really can’t explain why. It is true he can’t comment on this case, or any specific case, but he needs to outline and explain the existing policies/resources at Kenyon and make it abundantly clear how hard Kenyon has been working to address sexual assault and gender-based issues at Kenyon. There’s a vocal segment of students and young alumni who will never be satisfied with Kenyon’s commitment to this issue, as fighting for feminist/SJW causes is their lifeblood, but it’s the responsibility of President Decatur to defend Kenyon against angry criticism, which is becoming an increasingly larger news story, that could have negative ramifications for the college in terms of donations/public opinion/matriculation.

      • First, you’re fighting a strawman. I didn’t say “Kenyon doesn’t care about this sort of thing,” as you suggested I did. What I actually said was “In general, universities don’t care about this sort of thing until alumni donations are affected.” I stand by that general rule. If you want to make the argument that Kenyon is an exception to that general rule, you’re obviously free to do that, and maybe you’re correct.

        Question: since Kenyon began Title IX reform, how many students have been sanctioned by the school for sexual assault?

  11. Funkapus, I thought it was pretty clear you were referencing Kenyon and intimating that Kenyon alumni should cut off donations to the school because of Title IX/sexual assault policy shortcomings. If this was a baseless assumption, I apologize, but I’m not sure why you would make a comment like that on this forum if it wasn’t aimed at Kenyon. Were you honestly trying to make a point about general universities and not have it relate to Kenyon at all? That seems bizarre to me, considering this debate is about Kenyon’s response to a recent case and the effectiveness of its policies.

    The most recent Cleary Act report is from 2014, so that’s just before many of these measures were in place (changes really picked up in the Fall of 2013 after I graduated). In 2014, there were 4 cases of rape, 8 cases of fondling, and 2 cases of stalking. In my understanding, The Cleary Act does not require schools to say if these ended in sanctions. To be honest, these cases should be private and numbers alone do not indicate how effective the policy is, i.e. a good policy could deter sexual abuse and result in lower numbers or lead to more cases being reported and produce higher numbers. I don’t know when the 2015 Cleary Act Data will be released or how useful the data is, but you asked for it.

    What I do know is that Kenyon is working VERY hard on these issues and I’m tired of people saying they’re “ashamed” of Kenyon and how it needs to “do better” without giving context. The current conversation is highly accusative and antagonistic towards Kenyon, but I think that’s due to lack of information. In a dispassionate analysis, I don’t see how a reasonable person can elevate a one-sided blog post over clear and numerous instances of Kenyon working hard to provide resources for victims and to create the best possible system for delivering a fair ruling.

    • A lot of people feel ashamed of the Kenyon because they themselves have had bad experiences with the school when dealing with personal issues or know someone who has. Kenyon has a long history of neglecting or mishandling mental health, alcohol, and sexual assault cases. I’ve known quite a few people who’ve been let down by the school in one of these areas. This is a more egregious case, but it’s one that’s part of a larger and longer trend.

  12. Hello all,

    From your comments it is apparent there’s an abundance of collective education on this forum . . .

    Why attack the reporter armed with cursory assumption? The first comment slammed her for including the SMA’s comment and later comments criticized that she published an opinion – not an article; not news. 24 years in journalism and one fact remains true . . . A published article – with or without blatantly expressed opinions – is still an article and provide any facts within that published article – any at all – and it is news . . . both as it is defined and as it is understood.
    And why say her inclusion on the SMA’s comment is, ‘ reckless and bombastic,’ or ‘blatantly false?’
    Did you talk to the SMA? No? Then how do you argue it is false? One SMA’s experience is not another. Additionally, as a reporter if I’m biased on an issue and I want to publish a piece that portrays an idea then I include information that supports the idea or helped me come to the conclusion initially. That’s not ‘reprehensible’ or ‘anecdotal.’ It’s only anecdotal if the evidence can not be proved. However, in this example proof would be impossible to gather without a desk audit performed on that particular SMA’s files to prove that indeed they had not even one case that showed the ruling was in clear alignment with the evidence. Further, if I’m the SMA who, through personal experience in my field of expertise, believe I have never personally seen a just outcome delivered by a particular administration then I would feel duty bound to make this information known. It is a one-person quote so all the offense taken in the idea it speaks for all SMAs at Kenyon or all Title 1X cases at Kenyon is misplaced. And if that SMA is willing to verify the quote who among you can say it is a lie?
    Finally, the point of the article is to make people aware of an issue. Who’s accountable, who’s willing to be accountable and who’s willing to hold them accountable?

  13. Pingback: Title IX: Last Semester’s Events and this Semester’s Changes | The Thrill

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