Last semester was not an easy one at Kenyon. A series of events surrounding Title IX spurred campus-wide anger and demanded conversation. Time has passed, and naturally that conversation has faded. As the hill welcomes a new first-year class and many students returning from abroad, it’s a good time to review (or learn) what happened last semester. This post will also highlight this semester’s changes to Kenyon’s Title IX practice and policy.
The purpose of this post is to encourage further conversation. For this article, I talked to two Sexual Misconduct Advisors. It discusses rape and sexual assault.
At the end of April, Kenyon alumnus Michael Hayes posted an open letter: To Kenyon College, for failing my little sister (full article here and this Thrill article discusses it). In the letter, Hayes, who graduated in ’14, details the sexual assault of his little sister in November ’15, and reveals that the system failed.
And now, at the end of April, the process has officially concluded with the rejection of an appeal by a 19-year-old young woman who was sexually assaulted in her dorm room—in and out of consciousness—after drinking a bottle of wine, a couple of beers at the Cove, taking her three prescribed medications, and falling asleep in a residence hall that I, too, had lived in when I was her age, by a boy who insisted to her and to others that she was “too cute to be a lesbian.” Despite her documented injuries, a bed stained with her own blood, her sexual orientation, and the combination of that much alcohol and prescription medication in her body, the college concluded—both initially and on appeal—that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that it was more likely than not that the college’s policy on sexual assault had been broken at all.
– Hayes’ open letter
The post was shared on Facebook by hundreds and picked up by multiple news sources. Students were filled with confusion and anger at the college.
In response, a forum was organized and a summary of the proceedings can be found here.
A sit-in was organized in Peirce, intended to take place on Old Side only so as not to be triggering to survivors. It did not remain confined to that space, and many people were strongly affected. One student’s response articulated the pain that survivors of assault face when triggered, even when the source has the right intentions. The sit-in fostered even more tension when certain faculty members became involved and advocated for free-speech over censorship.
I think this situation highlights some important aspects of the issue at hand. This topic is highly painful and personal to many people on this campus. It is extremely important and worth discussing — but also extremely sensitive.
Reasonably, a lot of anger surrounding the open letter was directed at the college and its administrators. However, it is important to acknowledge that the processing of a sexual assault case demands systems outside of Kenyon. Because this case and any other is confidential, where exactly the system failed Chelsie Hayes is unclear. This is not to say that the college is not complicit in failing to protect victims of assault, but to emphasize that the handling of sexual assault cases is flawed at the national level. This student response articulates this idea. With this in mind, let’s focus on challenging processes not only at Kenyon, but at a larger systemic level.
National judicial processes of sexual assault cases are flawed, made blatantly clear by the handling of People v. Brock Turner case this summer. Basic considerations of the judicial system point to a pivotal flaw. Conversations about sexual assault often demand the restoration of justice to the victim. When discussing with SMAs, they pressed — What would justice for victims of assault look like? It is impossible to know, because nothing can undo an unacceptable act. Justice cannot necessarily be found. By centering conversation around justice, we are assuming that an impossible ideal is the standard. It is important to recognize that we are working within the limitations of judicial systems — broken systems. “Legislative process is so much different than justice. In reality, you are operating within logistical means,” an SMA said. These logistics are at times infuriating and unfair, but must be complied with. Though justice for victims is ambiguous, Kenyon is working toward a more just outcome within the logistical confines of legislature at the college and governmental level.
Moving forward, this year features some important changes concerning Title IX at Kenyon. The new interim Title IX coordinator, Samantha Hughes, has worked at the college and therefore is familiar with the structure of our school. Usually, coordinators are brought from other universities, like last year’s coordinator Andrea Goldblum, and therefore are unfamiliar with Kenyon. The SMAs I talked to find that Hughes wants to involve students in a way that they have not experienced from past coordinators. She encourages open dialogue with students, and students can schedule meetings with her in office hours by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, the college is bringing in an outside auditor, Rebecca Veidlinger, on September 19th. She will be conducting an audit of Kenyon’s current Title IX policy, and findings of the audit will be released to the public. Veidlinger sent an email to the whole school this morning with a private online feedback form that will be open until September 30th and office hour slots to set up meetings while she is on campus.
You’ve heard your professors say that Title IX demands college faculty and administrators to report if a student confides in them about an instance of sexual assault. This means that the Title IX office will be contacted and the student in question will receive an email from the office. This does not mean that the student will be required to go forward with the case. The decision to press charges or not is still in the hands of the student.
Confidential resources can be found with the Counseling Center, Sexual Misconduct Advisors, Peer Counselors, and chaplains. Beer & Sex Advisors do not have confidentiality.
Clearly this topic is still relevant and demands discussion on our campus. Though the system at Kenyon is broken, it is still an extremely important resource to students who have experienced assault. Kenyon’s Title IX process requires a comparatively low preponderance of evidence — enough to ensure more likely than not that assault occurred. Compared to local courts, which require evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt, our system is more sympathetic to a victim. Our system is BROKEN — here at Kenyon and here in this country. Let’s challenge that with constructive dialogue about Title IX proceedings at Kenyon and beyond.