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.