Sarah Lawrence Addresses Sustainability and Accessibility of the Barbara Walters Campus Center

Art Rendering of the Barbara walters campus center. photo courtesy of the sarah lawrence website. 

Art Rendering of the Barbara walters campus center. photo courtesy of the sarah lawrence website. 

The Barbara Walters Campus Center (BWCC), a project unveiled to the student body this past year, has elicited all sorts of speculations, concerns, and excitement among the Sarah Lawrence community.  Discussions of the BWCC have often centered around how the building will impact the environment surrounding it, and how it will go about being accessible to students.

Sustainability briefly became a hot topic through the so-called “Treegate” controversy – the College planned to remove a large cherry tree from the construction site, so students started a Change.org petition in an attempt to save the tree.  

While Sarah Lawrence could not cancel the tree removal altogether, students received an email regarding the repurposing of the tree’s material throughout other parts of campus. While the tree falls under the umbrella of environmental impact, it constitutes only the tip of the iceberg in the big picture of sustainability.  The entire construction process, not just the initial clearing of the land, allows for choices for or against sustainable practices. Vice President for Finance and Operations Stephen Schafer reported that the construction will adhere to the guidelines of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a system credited to the U.S. Green Building Council that rates construction projects on their adherence to sustainability.  

The BWCC construction process, according to Schafer, will follow these standards by “incorporating several design strategies including an energy efficient building, pervious surface materials to reduce storm water runoff, the use of renewable and recycled building materials, and a portion of the roof will be a green roof.” 

The “green roof” is set to entail exactly what the name suggests – a rooftop filled with plant life that will be open to student occupation.  During an information session held on May 10 with a representative from KSS Architects, a description of the green roof likened it to New York City’s High Line.  

During the session, the representative from KSS Architects informed the audience that the BWCC will not be using solar energy.  However, the building will include motion sensors that help to optimize light usage.  

In terms of serving the Sarah Lawrence community, accessibility is a key issue in the construction and design of the BWCC.  Rebecca Gross ('17), one of the co-chairs of Disability Alliance, said, “[the administration] got in contact with [Disability Alliance] very early.”  According to Gross, the administration reached out to Disability Alliance before Disability Alliance reached out to them. The group’s other co-chair, Emma Graydon ('17), asked a question about accessibility at one of the BWCC town halls, and the organization received an email soon after to meet and discuss the issue.

Gross stressed that “accessibility is not just a checklist of legal requirements.”  Accessibility includes not only the aspect of physical access, but also a visual aspect – if an accessible structure visually appears inaccessible to an individual with a disability, it is not welcoming to those with disabilities and can thus be considered inaccessible.  In the context of the BWCC, this relates to the main staircase in the building’s atrium.  Designs of the staircase, which included seating, made it a focal point in the atrium.  Disability Alliance expressed to the administration that this design could alienate students

in terms of accessibility. The staircase as a focal point would serve to create visual inaccessibility (the elevator would be far less visible), and the seating on the stairs would create a center of social life from which students with mobility issues would be excluded.  

During their meetings, Disability Alliance brought numerous suggestions to the administration, such as not placing the elevator in the corner, maintaining a consistent altitude on the stairs, and including no sharp turns in the building.  Gross said that the administration demonstrated a willingness to listen to Disability Alliance and take their requests into account. The organization plans to meet with the administration again to discuss the outside of the building.

Earlier in the year, students advocated for the hiring of union labor for BWCC construction, and the College agreed to follow this policy. However, some students expressed concern that the funds needed to hire only union labor would remove funds from sustainability and accessibility efforts.    

When presented with this issue of funding, Schafer said, “The budget for the campus center includes funds to ensure we construct an accessible building with sustainable features.  The decision to hire union labor for the construction of the campus center is a commitment to a principle that was overwhelmingly expressed by the College community.  While it is true that using 100% union labor for construction will be costlier than a blend of union and non-union labor, we remain committed to designing an accessible building as well as incorporating as many sustainable features as possible as we aspire to achieve the goals and tenets of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).”

Zoe Patterson (’20)

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Commencement Speaker J.J. Abrams Talks about Life at SLC

Filmmaker and slc alum J.J. Abrams ('88). courtesy of vulture. 

Filmmaker and slc alum J.J. Abrams ('88). courtesy of vulture. 

With graduation approaching, the Sarah Lawrence community is excited to hear filmmaker J.J. Abrams (’88) talk as this year’s commencement speaker. As a follow up to The Phoenix’s “Excitement Increases Over J.J. Abrams (‘88) as This Year's Commencement Speaker,” the school paper interviewed Abrams on his career, his time at SLC, and advice for students:

Why did you decide to come to SLC?

I chose SLC partly because I was trying to figure out the best next step after high school. My father gave me advice, ‘learn what to make movies about rather that learning to make them.’ Growing up in LA and having been born in NY, it also felt like home. The combination of these things made the decision an exciting one and one I’m grateful for.

What was one the most memorable moment of your time at SLC?

One of the most memorable moments was… Joe Papaleo, a writing professor was like a wizard in his office in Andrews. He saw me as someone who could be a writer. That feeling of being seen, not by a parent, but by someone you respect from the outside was a powerful thing.

What aspects of Sarah Lawrence play into your professional life today?

You need to find your own discipline. In the environment at Sarah Lawrence you need to be your own advocate and be responsible for yourself at a level many colleges may not require. I found a rhythm between work I needed to do and work I wanted to do.

I also found community, people that I can dream and share aspirations with. I remember sitting at Bates with my friend, Andy, talking about things we would build. Right now, I am standing in a building built by my friend. It’s not just the way of life you can develop, but the people who become your community. I still talk to my classmates.

What do you think are 3 things that led to your success?

Incredible luck.

The love of what it is I’ve been doing.

The collaborations I’ve had with people that are better at what they do than I am.

Do you see what you do as entertainment or art, or is it both for you?

Storytelling. If it’s entertaining for some people, that’s great. I’m grateful for making a living doing what I love to do. I try not to define it.

It can be dangerous when you consider your work art. Not to say it’s bad if someone does. If someone considers their own work art, you can fall into a pretentious zone quickly. Respect your work but don’t quantify it as just one thing.

What prompted you to speak at SLC and how do you feel coming back?

President Karen Lawrence asked several times but because of schedules. [This] year I was free on this day. I look back at my time at Sarah Lawrence fondly. The idea of returning to give a commencement felt bittersweet but if it’s something the school was requesting, it was the least I can do.

Donna Karimi (‘17)

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Excitement Increases Over J.J. Abrams (‘88) as This Year's Commencement Speaker

Filmmaker and slc alum  J.J. Abrams. courtesy of buzzfeed.

Filmmaker and slc alum  J.J. Abrams. courtesy of buzzfeed.

In recent years, commencement speakers have included journalist Fareed Zakaria, cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah, and humorist Mo Rocca. It’s been a few years since the last speaker, Vera Wang (‘71), was a Sarah Lawrence alum. This year, it has been announced that J.J. Abrams (‘88) will be the commencement speaker. 

Writer, director, and producer J.J. Abrams has been consistently working on films and t.v. shows such as Super 8, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Alias, Lost, Fringe, and Westworld. He is a recipient of several awards such as two Emmys, a Producers Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Television, and awards from the Directors Guild of America to name a few. 

Senior class president, Sadie Rose Zavgren (‘17) shared that many seniors were interested having him as a potential speaker even before he was chosen. As one of the school’s most notable alums, “There was positive feedback. People seemed super excited. They posted screenshots of the email the school sent out and posted it on social media because they were so excited”.  

It’s no secret that J.J. Abrams has been asked on several occasions to give a keynote address. President Karen Lawrence said that “At the urging of students over the years, I have invited him to deliver the commencement address, but this has been an extraordinarily fertile and busy period of J.J.’s career, and he graciously declined due to his hectic schedule”. This can be why many were surprised to hear he is this year’s speaker. 

Lawrence, like many students on campus is happy to have him as a speaker. Regarding why he has finally decided to speak after several offers, she said, “In public interviews and to friends, J.J. has said he feels Sarah Lawrence was exactly the right school for him. I think he believes in magic—maybe it’s just the right time and the class of 2017 is just the right class to hear what he has to say.” 

Donna Karimi (‘17)

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

APICAD and Other Groups Affected by Spring Semester Fund Drainage

The first issue of "the hyphenate," a new zine by the student group apicad. Photo credit: Janaki chadha

The first issue of "the hyphenate," a new zine by the student group apicad. Photo credit: Janaki chadha


This semester, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition for Action and Diversity (APICAD) launched the first issue of “The Hyphenate,” a zine founded as a way to foster community and provide a platform for Asian-Pacific Islander students to showcase their work. At the launch party for the zine, contributors read to a large turn-out. The success of the zine may overshadow the fact that they were in danger of not putting out an issue at all when student senate was unable to fund them. 

This year, senate ran out of funds earlier than usual, which led to financial concerns for many groups on campus. Joshua Luce, the director of student involvement and leadership, states that senate usually runs out of funds in mid-to-late April and that “it’s surprising that this time it was mid-March.” As a group affected by this, APICAD said, “It was really disappointing, but we understood that funding was low. Luckily, crowd-sourcing our funds was really effective, and so many people supported us, particularly other students of color.” In the past, it has been unusual for organizations to fundraise on their own, but a few other organizations, such as SLC’S Rocky Horror Picture Show, had to do the same this year. In addition, the Visual Arts Review was underfunded by student senate and held an arts sale in December to cover their costs for the 2016-2017 issue.

Like APICAD, the Environmental Awareness Organization had to be creative and flexible with their lack of funding. Melanie Ersapah (‘17), co-chair of the Environmental Awareness Organization, said that since Earth Day fell in late April, it was difficult to plan in advance. The organization was denied funding for a waterbottle distribution event, which they had done the previous year. With few options, the group held a farmer’s market at no cost. “We don’t usually ask for funding until we figure out the logistics like space and contacting the right people,” Ersapah said.

Given that APICAD only asked for $600 for the zine, although they missed the funding deadline, they were surprised when senate told them that they could not receive funding. Ja Bulsombut (‘19), co-chair of APICAD, found the situation to be troublesome, because she felt she did not receive enough information on the different types of funding processes. “People of color are underrepresented on campus, and this is one of the ways the college can help us. We need a chance to bloom before anything happens.” APICAD raised $666 through an online campaign and were able to print their zine. But, they affirmed that the success should not sideline the fact the school’s support is crucial for the growth of student organizations, especially those that promote voices from students of color. 

In APICAD’s case, they applied for funding from the spring programming line whereas they should have applied through the publications line. Through this line, publications are funded in the beginning of each semester, typically right after student senate is elected. Most organizations on campus apply for the fall publications’ line, especially if they are long-standing publications. If they are upcoming publications, it is still best to apply in the fall as there is a larger budget. According to Luce, only 10% of the fall budget is carried over to the spring. “Really meant for new initiatives coming up or to fill in gaps for those who didn’t apply for fall funding,” Luce explained. 

When asked how groups should apply for funds, Student Senate Chair Leonardo Rocchiccioli (‘18) talked about a training session held for all clubs and organizations at the beginning of the year, informing them of how to apply for funds and how to use GryphonLink, the site designated for student organizations to promote and fund events. However,  the process for publication and student spaces are different than other organizations. Senate worked with Lucy Dunphy Barsness (‘17), the publications space manager, to create a training session for the publications funding process as well. 

Regarding the general issue with lack of funding in all lines, Rocchiccioli said that “this year there was a big spike in the amount of people and the amount of money people have been asking for. GryphonLink makes it much easier to register an organization and submit a budget.” However, this ease of communication is not the only reason funds have run out earlier than usual.

This academic year, there have been 51 new organizations on campus. Luce finds this to be an “abnormally high” number of new groups. “I’ve been here 9 years, funding requests fluctuate dramatically depending on what groups are active and what projects are going forth,” Luce said. 

This year’s budget for student activity fees totaled $318,000.00. A breakdown of those numbers show: traditions was allotted $45,000, student spaces $84,000.00, publications $38,000, fall programming $41,423.41, and spring programming $50,628.61. The rest of the funds went to other fees such as the senate operating budget and joint purchases. The depletion of funds resulted in the need to depend on the contingency fund of $5,000.000. 

With all these clubs and organizations vying for funds, there is a higher amount of competition. Senate runs on a “first come, first serve” basis and encourages groups to submit their budgets as early as possible. Luce said, “the goal for senate is to use all funds since they are meant to be used to create opportunities.” In an ideal world, Luce said if all budgets were to be submitted, “Student Activities Senate can have a whole landscape of funding distribution.” He acknowledged that not all projects can be conceived in a short amount of time, as Ersapah pointed out. 

It is unknown what next year’s playing field will look like, but all parties are in agreement that it is imperative that groups have opportunities to support their events and projects. 

Donna Karimi '17

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

School Reevaluates First Year Studies

Politics professor Sam abrams and his donees at a broadway show. Photo courtesy of the sarah lawrence website

Politics professor Sam abrams and his donees at a broadway show. Photo courtesy of the sarah lawrence website

One of Sarah Lawrence College’s distinctive features is its First-Year Studies (FYS) system. Most schools have some kind of course directed specifically at new students, typically designed to introduce them to college-level writing and academics in general. But at a school that touts itself as unique and individualized, incoming Sarah Lawrence students have a difficult transition to make compared to other collegiate institutions. As Sarah Lawrence is in a general state of self-evaluation and change, the FYS system is being reevaluated. According to Assistant Dean of the College Ron Afzal, however, this is nothing new.
 
“From 1936 on, the school has been debating the nature of our First-Year Studies,” Afzal said. “It’s a healthy part of a college to constantly look at itself and say, ‘are we doing the best we can do with what we have?’”
 
There has been disagreement in the past surrounding FYS. Faculty members disagree on the purpose of the system and how it should be run. Furthermore, it can be difficult to get professors to take up the courses. Sarah Lawrence has small academic departments and when professors take on an FYS, they have to sacrifice other potential courses. This can be a problem in certain disciplines, such as in the language departments.
 
Melissa Frazier is the only professor teaching Russian this year. When she is tapped to teach an FYS, a guest faculty member must be hired to teach Russian in her place.
 
“When I first came to the College, my faculty group was not offered the opportunity to teach First Year Studies, because we have to be replaced,” Professor Frazier said. “I can’t offer the levels of Russian, so it was very expensive to have us teach First Year Studies.”   
 
In February, the Curriculum Committee sent out a campus-wide email regarding the reevaluation of FYS. According to the email, different administrative committees and student leadership groups were asked to discuss FYS in their regular meetings. “We are asking each of these groups to discuss FYS from the standpoint of their own raison d’etre at the College,” the email said.
 
Dean Afzal said that these groups are beginning to give feedback, but that it is too early to know exactly what people think about FYS. Among the faculty interviewed for this article, there is not a consensus on the purpose of an FYS, or on what can make the system better. These professors generally agreed, however, that a don and a group of like-minded first-years is a stabilizing force in the difficult transition into college.
 
“Those first weeks at college are difficult, I think everyone would agree,” said writing professor Jo Ann Beard. “They come with some necessary bumps and knocks as students get accustomed to their dorms, their classes, their new life. In our class, and in my previous FYS class, students really connected to one another, and spent time in class and away from class actively offering each other support.” 
 
In cases such as Professor Beard’s, the class itself can provide a sense of community as students begin to socially navigate the Sarah Lawrence campus. However, there are sometimes unrealistic expectations about the relationship between don and donee.
 
“I’m really against fetishizing the don,” said Professor Frazier. “I actually think the important thing about the Sarah Lawrence system is that you should be connecting with many adults.”
 
For Professor Kim Ferguson, of the Psychology department, the don is first and foremost an academic advisor.
 
“Students' programs at SLC are very self-directed, and as such, it is important to have a supportive mentor who knows your work well - and knows you well - to help you make good decisions for your program,” Professor Ferguson said. “I don't feel strongly about the importance of being in a course with all first year students, but I do think that it is valuable to begin college with a cohort of people who you get to know well, academically and beyond. There is a lot of value in having a cohort in terms of academic success and overall well being.”
 
The school’s growth has been another concern for the FYS system, though Dean Afzal said Sarah Lawrence is not looking to expand significantly. Bigger incoming classes require more FYS faculty, which would either require the hiring of guest professors or overload current faculty.
 
“The system works when faculty have the time to fully engage in it,” Professor Ferguson said. “The challenge at the moment, I think, is that with a growing college, we are teaching FYS more frequently than in the past, and with a larger number of students.”
 
As with anything, problems with the FYS system do not preclude professors from enjoying them, or thinking them valuable. All of the professors interviewed for this article expressed that teaching an FYS is gratifying.
 
“It gives me the opportunity to get to know my donnees as whole people,” Professor Ferguson said.
 
Ricky Martorelli ‘19

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Bedbug Case on Campus Rattles Affected Student

Bedbug found in a dudley lawrence dorm room. Photo courtesy of andrea cantor

Bedbug found in a dudley lawrence dorm room. Photo courtesy of andrea cantor

“Nighty night, don't let the bedbugs bite” may be more than just a nighttime saying for the Sarah Lawrence community. In the past semester, there have been reported cases of bedbugs, and the reports are calling into question the protocols the school has for informing the community.
 
Maureen Gallagher, the assistant vice president for facilities, confirmed the presence of bedbugs at SLC. Gallagher stated, “We have confirmed cases of bedbugs this year. We are extremely proactive once we are informed of a potential situation. As soon as a student notifies us they believe they have bedbugs we move quickly and work closely with the student.”
 
A student who requested to remain anonymous, has been dealing with bedbugs since the start of the semester. It began when she noticed bites, ranging from pea to quarter sized marks. She said, “I never actually saw them. The Monday classes started I got little welts on my arms mainly. I had, at first, three on one arm, but by that Thursday of that week I had a least 12 I think. I tried to convince myself it was just dried skin, but they were very itchy, red and inflamed.”
 
The four parties that are involved in dealing with a reported case are the student, Facilities, Health & Wellness Center, and the school’s hired exterminator. “The Student must be seen by a medical clinician at the Health & Wellness Center to examine the bites and confirm that the cause is from bedbugs,” Gallagher explained. “My office contacts our pest control vendor who arrives on campus the same day, if not the next morning if the report comes in later in the day.” The pest control vendor is hired to do an initial treatment and follow up surveys of the room. All parties inform the student on how to proceed with washing their clothing and sheets as well as on other preventative measures.  
 
In accordance with the protocols the anonymous student, who lives on the second floor of Dudley Lawrence, was checked at the Health & Wellness Center, and the exterminator came within an hour of being called. The exterminator detected evidence of bedbugs, including one live bug, but he concluded that it was not an infestation. The student cleaned her sheets, encased her mattress with a protective casing, and notified Facilities of people she hangs out with. “Operations asked me where I spend a lot of time. They asked me the names of people I spend a lot of time with so I gave them two of my friends’ names and they checked their rooms,” she said. They found evidence of [bedbug] fecal matter in one of my friend’s rooms, but they didn't find any actual bed bugs.” They treated the Andrews Court Room for bedbugs, which apparently also had a spider infestation.
 
The exterminator has been to this student’s dorm a handful of times, including when she found a live bug both following the initial treatment as well as preceding spring break that started on March 11. After each visit, including his two visits during spring break, the exterminator maintained that the situation was not an infestation.The anonymous student, who stayed in the Hyatt hotel for two nights after seeing the first live bedbug, said her main issue was that Facilities did not notify the people on her floor. “I wish they would alert at least everyone on my floor, because I had to be the one to tell my bathroom mate and tell the person across the hall from me,” she stated. She noted that both people were nice about the situation. “They put me in an awkward position where I feel the need to tell people, but it’s not my job,” she continued.
 
After being informed by this student, the bathroom mate requested the exterminator to come to her room. No bedbugs were found in the adjacent room and it is unknown of whether other rooms in the building were checked by the pest control vendor.
 
Wade Wallerstein (’17) was another person the student notified. He said he could understand not wanting to create hysteria, “I understand that bed bugs can be contained if caught early enough, and I appreciate the school's concern in not wanting to create panic amongst the inhabitants of Dudley Lawrence. I also understand that relocating all of us and spraying the entire building would be highly costly, invasive, and potentially harmful (due to the insecticides that they would need to spray).” Wallerstein did not have his room inspected, but he affirmed that he knows how to check for bedbugs himself. He continued, “I’m no entomologist, or exterminator, but I think that in this case, the school got lucky. They might not be so next time.”

“We do a limited spraying. We use a dry steam, we co vacuuming steaming, traps and bed covers,” said Bob Ciardullo, the exterminator who treated the student’s room. He explained that the treatment he employs uses low levels of pesticides and typically takes one to two rounds to get rid of the bedbugs. “We follow up automatically in two weeks, but sometime there are bed bugs that come out from hiding during that time,” he continued. Ciardullo said he has treated a “handful” of bedbug cases this year at Sarah Lawrence, but the situation in Dudley Lawrence was low leveled. “What is most important is finding out who the person hangs out with. Bedbugs hitchhike from person to person,”Ciardullo continued. In his estimation, treating other rooms would have been “needless” and that this was the most effective approach given the situation.

But it cannot be said for certain that the situation is contained without alerting the rest of campus. Perhaps the student brought in the bedbugs from the city or from another location, but bedbugs are very easy to spread and could have feasibly come from another Sarah Lawrence resident. Bedbugs can spread through clothing, boxes, furniture and other items. The bugs rarely transmit diseases, but are still considered a health hazard and too small to be easily detected by the naked eye. It is very possible that students, especially with their hectic schedules, will relegate bites as either rashes or in this student’s case, “dry skin.”
 
Mary Hartnett, director of medical services, explained that the Health & Wellness Center does not have a protocol in place for notifying the campus, since it does not confirm the presence of bedbugs. She explained, “It would be inappropriate for us to notify the campus based on our assessment, because we don’t confirm the presence of bed bugs, the exterminator does.  If bed bugs are confirmed, the exterminator and Facilities requests a list of places the student frequents and a list of students who frequent the place where bugs are found.  The exterminator checks these areas.” Asked for a comparable situation, Hartnett explained that if the case were lice, there is a procedure in place to inform the student body so that they can be checked.
 
Informing the community goes beyond the students who live in the dorms. The professors and facility workers who work in the building were not notified of the Dudley Lawrence bedbug situation. English professor Neil Arditi and history professor Fredric Smoler, whose offices are in Dudley Lawrence, said they were not notified. Both refrained from commenting. Sal Haddad, a SLC worker, said he has never been warned about bedbugs and wished the school would inform the workers so that they could prepare better. Haddad said, “If we go somewhere where there is lead paint or dust, we prepare for it. We put the mask on, the jumpsuits on, gloves, but if they don't tell you about anything else in the room, you just go in it and then the next thing you know—you have bedbugs.”

Andrea Cantor (‘17)

 

 

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Group Meeting on Sexual Assault Grows Tense

It's On Us members accepting a  Student Leadership Award. Photo by: Dana Maxson

It's On Us members accepting a  Student Leadership Award. Photo by: Dana Maxson

Last week, the Phoenix reported on the first meeting It’s On Us, a student organization focused on sexual assault, had with the Title IX Coordinator Al Green to discuss demands the group had presented to administration in the fall. The conversation of the first meeting with Green and members was fairly tame in comparison with the second meeting, which took place last Wednesday. 

That is not to say Green opposed the second half of the demands after conceding to the first half discussed two weeks prior. Rather, he acknowledged that most issues students have are valid, though he noted repeatedly that he would have to seek legal counsel before making any official changes. The tension appeared to come out of a sentiment members shared: it’s possible that Green may not recognize the gravity of these issues, even as students make effort to explain them. “It’s really hard to feel like we’re not being listened to,” It’s On Us member Abbey Serafin (‘19) said.

While discussing a demand on how “sexual assault” and related terms should be “clearly and concretely defined to the student body,” a discrepancy arose between Green and members about what constitutes a sexual assault.

Green told members that the school indicates degrees of the incident by using specific terms like “forcible touching” in campus alert emails instead of using “sexual assault” in all cases. This is because, he continued, “Sexual assault assumes penetration.”

It’s On Us leader Emma Heisler-Murray (‘18) immediately proceeded to read aloud the exact legal definition of sexual assault, which includes any non-consensual sexual touching of a person. 

After the meeting, Serafin told the Phoenix that comments like Green’s are fairly common misconceptions about sexual assault that can invalidate the trauma many survivors go through. She added that misdefining sexual assault in this way erases assaults in LGBTQ+ relationships.

“Hearing comments like that can be hurtful and invalidating, but are even more of reason to advocate for changing the way the school handles and talks about sexual assault,” Serafin said. “It also enforces the idea that our actions and efforts need to be directed at not only students, but also faculty, staff, and administration.”

It’s On Us members spoke to Green in this meeting about introducing a Peer Educator program to the college to educate the campus on sexual assault. Some of the It’s On Us members see discussions with Green as part of this same teaching process.

“Al Green thinks he’s completely educated on issues of sexual assault, but that’s not possible for someone who isn’t a survivor,” It’s On Us member Keya Acharya (‘20) said. “We are willing to teach you, even though that’s not our job.”

She added that in her view, Green did not always treat sexual violence with the seriousness it deserves, such as when members explained their own difficulties with the reporting process.

While discussing the lack of therapy sessions available for sexual assault survivors on campus, Green told members that therapy, in general, is in demand. He spoke about his son who, at his own college, is going through an issue, unrelated to sexual assault, and is having trouble getting therapy appointments at his school.

The purpose of his story was to point out that therapy shortage on college campuses is common. But It’s On Us members worry that the comparison signifies that Green may not be as informed as a Title IX Coordinator should be about the severity of sexual violence.

“His comparison between his son and being a survivor was utterly disgusting and unacceptable,” Acharya told the Phoenix. “It makes me so uncomfortable that this is being said by the Title IX coordinator.”

Therapy is one of It’s On Us’s demands, because they believe that limits on therapy at Health Services should be waived for survivors and that a trained therapist in trauma therapy, such as EMDR, should be hired. Green said that while, to his knowledge, the recently hired therapist does not have such training, she was the best for the position, since she had already worked for the college in the past. He added that current clinical social worker, Stephen Gadischkie, does have trauma training. Heisler-Murray pointed out that Gadischkie was trained in EMDR 16-years-ago, specifically at the time of 9/11. According to Heisler-Murray, Gadischkie told her he does not feel equipped to treat sexual assault trauma using the EMDR psychotherapy technique. Green said, in response, “I can follow up with that, see if that’s correct.”

It’s On Us members want institutionalized change at the administrative level. One of the group’s demands even directly asks the administration to “focus on the safety of the student, not the image of the college.” During the meeting, Green maintained that the school already does this.  He continued that if anyone feels otherwise they can report to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which a student did a few years ago and led to an ongoing federal investigation into the college’s alleged mishandling of sexual assault.

To clarify how the school, its administrators, and even Green specifically, may not be as sensitive as they could be to survivors on campus, It’s On Us member Maggie Leppert (‘18) explained that reports should be taken more seriously, throughout the reporting process, during and after the hearing, or even if the survivor chooses not to hold a hearing. Though Green has maintained that legally the school must be fair, equitable, and unbiased towards both parties, Leppert holds this is not an excuse to invalidate survivors’ stories.

“I think one of the things we need to talk about is the way that we use the word ‘unbiased’ to actually mean questioning survivors,” Leppert said in the meeting. “Because I think that when you say, ‘Because they were not found responsible, then it didn’t happen,’ or ‘Because we didn’t go through a hearing, then we don’t really know if it happened’ is saying that unless we have physical proof and physical evidence, then your word isn’t good enough.”

Leppert continued that not only should the school be more respectful and less suspicious towards the reporting individual during the reporting process, but they should also do more for the reporting individual in general. She said that this should be the standard of respect, even when the reported perpetrator is found not guilty in a campus hearing, which Leppert said is how the majority of hearings go despite, sometimes, a good deal of evidence indicating otherwise.

“We need to validate and say, ‘Well, legally we can’t expel them because they weren’t found guilty, but we can protect you this way, and we can do this, and we do believe you, and we are not going to allow this person to come near you, and that’s not going to be your responsibility,’” Leppert said.

Green responded that he would talk about this with his colleagues. “There are a number of things that I personally think we need to talk about, and then we will send to legal counsel and say ‘Are we correct? and ‘Do we have legal standing to make certain decisions?’”

Many of his responses similarly involved approaching legal counsel and discussing matters relating to policy with his colleagues more over the summer. Acharya said that, because of this, she thinks It’s On Us and Green “have been running in circles” during these meetings.

“Al says that he will check on things, change things, etcetera, but he never says ‘By this date, this policy will be changed,’” she said. “It seems like nothing is going to change.”

Serafin, however, is hopeful that discussions like these between It’s On Us and Green do prompt real action on the part of the administration and that the changes discussed come to fruition soon.

“As students of Sarah Lawrence College, it is our right to feel safe and secure on the campus, but unfortunately that is not the case for a lot of people,” Serafin said. “Sexual assault is happening on our campus, and as a result of the betrayal of safety, the school could at least better try to listen to survivors and actually hold the assailants accountable for their actions.”

Victoria Mycue '20

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

It's On Us Week of Action Prompts Campus Conversations On Sexual Assault

Keya Acharya giving her talk "Sexual Assault Trauma and Memory" during Spring Week of Action. Photo credit: Victoria Mycue

Keya Acharya giving her talk "Sexual Assault Trauma and Memory" during Spring Week of Action. Photo credit: Victoria Mycue

Earlier this month, the Sarah Lawrence chapter of It’s On Us participated in Spring Week of Action, a nationwide campaign to shift the way we think and talk about sexual assault. Events were organized by members of the chapter and were open to the entire campus community. The talks and workshops were meant to educate students on the nuanced issue of sexual assault, but there was another underlying issue in the dialogue: concerns over the way sexual assault is handled after the fact, not just legally but specifically on this campus.

At the end of Fall Week of Action in October, It’s On Us members and other protesters marched to the office of Title IX Coordinator Dean Al Green to deliver a list of 22 demands for change in policy regarding sexual assault on the Sarah Lawrence campus. Six months later, as Spring Week of Action was approaching, Green set up an official meeting with the chapter to discuss the demands in detail. The first thing Green said in the meeting, which took place Wednesday, April 11, was an apology for just how late the meeting was. He emphasized that he takes the matter as “nothing trivial.” 

The meeting covered the first ten demands and the discussion will continue in a second meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 26. Green was generally sympathetic and open-minded to each demand, but noted certain challenges and limitations. 

One demand of the group called for no-contact orders to “be enforced fully,” as several survivors at Sarah Lawrence have brought up breaches in their no-contact orders and the school’s lack of policy for penalizing perpetrators who violate them. Green said these orders are “hard on a campus like this,” detailing a time when a perpetrator was inside the Blue Room and, because of the dark, was not aware that the survivor who had the no-contact order against them was in the room as well.

Also discussed during the meeting was that the school is working on hiring a second Title IX Coordinator. The group’s first demand asks that survivors have the option to tell their story to a female member of the school administration, so It’s On Us members asked that the new hire be female. 

The school recently completed their search and offered the position to a female applicant, one who some It’s On Us members had interviewed and found favorable. She turned the offer down, however, and Green said he will restart the process again this summer to have it filled by fall. But because of the time frame of the hiring process this time around, students in It’s On Us question how involved in the process the school will allow them to be.

Members also brought up concerns about the school’s philosophy on sexual assault allegations more broadly. During her talk on sexual assault and trauma memory given during Week of Action, It’s On Us member Keya Acharya (’20) mentioned that she participated in interviewing some applicants for the Title IX position, who all told her that the school administration wants the new hire to remain "neutral" in cases of sexual assault accusations. Acharya said she felt this approach was harmful when taking into account the statistic that only two to eight percent of rape accusations are false. “Most of the time people are telling the truth,” Acharya said. “People need to understand these statistics so that [...] they can make an informed decision.”

While discussing one demand, which asks that students "be informed of all of their options and what will happen in full detail if they choose to report sexual assault,” It’s On Us members added that the signs in the restrooms about what to do after a sexual assault are outdated and should be replaced. The group also discussed the need for better access to therapy and their demand to waive the limit on free Health Services appointments for assault survivors, but Green said this would be difficult because of the existing high volume of students requesting therapy at the Health and Wellness Center.

At a recent conference he had attended about Title IX, Green mentioned he had found that, “In some ways, our campus is behind the times.” 

Overall, Green found no demand unreasonable and noted that the school was already improving on some of those shortfallings detailed in the list. He described the process necessary to undertake each demand as well as any involved complications, whether legal or specific to our campus.

Green confirmed that the federal investigation into the college’s alleged mishandling of sexual assault and subsequent violation of Title IX, which began in 2014, has not yet concluded. In addition to this case, there is a slew of current Sarah Lawrence students who were sexually assaulted on campus and feel that the college’s response was far from ideal. In fact, this is precisely why Emma Heisler-Murray (’19) decided to start an It’s On Us chapter at Sarah Lawrence this past fall.

“I’ve always been passionate about sexual assault,” she said. “But after I was assaulted last spring, I was upset with the way it was handled and realized how much of an issue it was when I learned about other people who were assaulted on campus, and I really wanted do something about it.”

Spring Week of Action included events like a talk by feminist author Leora Tanenbaum, a self-defense class, a talk for male-identifying students, a dating violence workshop, an intersectional disability and sexual violence talk, an intersectional LGBTQIA+ and sexual violence talk, and a presentation on the neurobiology of sexual assault.

All members of the chapter participated in organizing, whether hands-on or by bringing up topics during meetings that eventually became too obvious of an issue to not include in an event. “I noticed that we make a lot of space in It’s On Us meetings for people to share their experiences, so certain things that they may be struggling with and what topics they care about, and we try to tailor the Week of Action to the needs that have been brought to our attention,” Heisler-Murray said.

As It’s On Us members noticed many students are not familiar with the laws and school policies surrounding sexual assault on campus, the Spring Week of Action also included an event called “Know Your Rights,” led by Caitlin McCartney, a Gender Justice Fellow at national non-profit organization Legal Momentum. “The law can be an important tool for victims of sexual harassment and violence,” McCartney said during her talk.

Legal Momentum recommends schools do a few things that they may not already be doing in cases of sexual assault, all based on the guidance that interprets Title IX. “The burden should be on the perpetrator when at all possible. It shouldn’t be on the victim,” McCartney said. She added, “If you’re in a class and someone cheats on your paper and you report it to your professor, it’s not going to be you proving why the student should be expelled.”

These recommendations also include providing safety and educational accommodations for victims, withholding a diploma from the accused perpetrator until the case is complete, and banning a non-student perpetrator from campus to prevent additional assaults.

Another event held during the week was called “Guy Talk,” and was only open to male-identifying students. As no male-identifying individuals attended any events in the Fall Week of Action, Heissler-Murray said the event was held to push for more male participation in the discussion on sexual violence. Talk leaders Andrei Dolezal (’19) and Caleb Wolf (’19) played a “consent playlist” and presented on the laws of consent in New York and more specifically at Sarah Lawrence, the definition of affirmative consent, their own personal experiences with it, and the related campus climate.

In further efforts to expand the campus conversation on sexual assault, Spring Week of Action introduced a number of more intersectional events than Fall. It’s On Us members Maggie Leppert (‘19) and Haley Bogdanoff ('19), who are also members of Disability Alliance, lead a talk on sexual violence in the disabled community. The comprehensive talk covered everything from able-bodied individuals taking advantage of the disabled in relationships, not only those of a romantic nature, to normalizing respect for all instead of considering respect towards a disabled individual a saintly act.

One attendee shared that because they are disabled and their previous partner was abled, people didn’t believe that the partner was capable of the abuse that this attendee came forward about. This is because people saw the abled partner as “gracious” for “dealing” with this attendee, a view that Leppert and Bogdanoff noted is unfortunately prevalent.

Heisler-Murray said that It’s On Us will continue to push for needed change at Sarah Lawrence, through events like Week of Action, through sub-committees with Dean Al Green, and through initiatives like the List of Demands. “I definitely hope that some of the policies at Sarah Lawrence change, and that sexual assault becomes something that’s more cared about at Sarah Lawrence,” Heisler-Murray said.

One student wrote Heisler-Murray a thank you card after Spring Week of Action, and another approached her about It's On Us, saying "I didn't know this existed before now—this is awesome." Ultimately, she is happy that the chapter and the Week of Action are starting more conversations about sexual assault, not just directly between It's On Us and administration through the List of Demands, but throughout the entire campus.

“I think more than anything sexual assault was a very quiet topic before, something very prevalent but very quiet, so I’m glad that at least it’s getting people to think about it and talk about it a bit more,” Heisler-Murray said.

Victoria Mycue '20

SLC Student Body Faces the Issue of Food Insecurity 

 Photo of SLC's swipe exhange Facebook group swipe u. photo courtesy of swipe u

 Photo of SLC's swipe exhange Facebook group swipe u. photo courtesy of swipe u

As the spring semester comes to a close, most SLC students are busy writing long conference projects and squeezing in class assignments. But for many others, the end of the semester brings along another worry: not having enough meals swipes left. Food insecurity is an issue for a larger portion of the campus community than one might think, according to a recent survey of the student body. 

“In the college environment, there is an assumption that you’re poor when you’re a college student and [...] a lot of people with food insecurity are not seen and their issues are often ignored because of that,” said Anica Mulzac, psychologist at the Health and Wellness Center.

The discussion of food insecurity was brought up by Mulzac three years ago. After observing that many students face this problem, she wanted to help address it. Mulzac teamed up with Natalie Gross, Director of Campus Diversity and Student Life, and Paige Crandall, Dean of Student Affairs, to collaborate on the issue. The three colleagues had already heard a plethora of anecdotal information on the subject, but there hadn’t been a formal collection of data yet. In order to craft the best solution, they decided to create a survey to collect data from the undergraduate and graduate student body.

“We really wanted to know in light of that data what should we really be providing because if we just rush in with a solution and not know what it looks like on our campus, [it wouldn’t be as effective],” Mulzac explained.

The survey’s overall response rate was much higher than they anticipated. By the first day, they received about 400 responses. The final number of responses totalled at 518, which was more than double in comparison to other school-wide surveys. Even though there was the potential to win $50 after completion, they attributed the success of the survey to food insecurity being a huge and relevant problem on campus, Crandall said.

Not only were Crandall, Gross and Mulzac blown away by the amount of responses, but they were also surprised by the extreme results. In the survey, 58.49 percent said yes to the question, “Have you ever ran out of meal swipes or meal money before the end of a semester?” and 5.71 percent said yes to, “Have you ever gone hungry because you were out of meal swipes or meal money?” In addition, 54.44 percent said yes to the question, “Have you ever received a meal swipe from someone else because you didn’t have any left?” and 71.82 percent said yes to “Have you ever given a meal swipe to someone else because they did not have any left?” These high percentages confirmed the belief that food insecurity is a serious issue on campus.

Gross added that in the comments section of the survey, “There are a couple people who said ‘I worked extra hours to make more money to eat or I skipped meals, so I would eat protein bars or whatever and then eat a full meal later.’” She said this anecdotal evidence showed that, “People were navigating and negotiating [meals] and kind of doing without. I think that three meals a day is pretty basic and if you get a snack or two that’s like a bonus, but to know that people are navigating and not having three full meals is a really big deal.”

The survey showed that the majority of students experiencing food insecurity turn to their friends and family for help or use the student generated groups Swipe Exchange and Swipe U. While the creators of the survey aren’t opposed to the idea of meal swipe exchanges, they can’t endorse it because it would go against the school’s contract with AVI. The unused meal swipes go back to AVI for food facility renovations at SLC and company revenue, Crandall said.

After analyzing all of the feedback from their survey, Crandall, Gross and Mulzac created a plan to tackle the issue of food insecurity. Their first step is to have more discussions this semester with students to understand all sides of issue even further. Next, they will implement Ted Talk-style information sessions about meal plans during orientation to cover the basics of how they work and the best ways to track them. They will also provide meal plan management help and potentially provide temporary swipes or meal money. For example, Mulzac explained that if students reach out to specific offices on campus and claim that they are experiencing food insecurity, they would be given a card with a few meal swipes to help sustain them.

While the steps in this plan take immediate action, they also have created a long term plan to incorporate a potential pantry on campus. In their survey, 82.43 percent said yes to “Would you utilize a food pantry if there was one available?” Their goal is to be able to have dry and refrigerated foods in a grocery store-style setting, which would be “open to anyone who came and said that they wanted something or needed something, so whether it’s students, faculty, or staff,” Gross said. 

Crandall, Gross and Mulzac also plan to meet with colleges facing similar situations. Out of the 467 member institutions registered with the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), they found six schools on the list that match the size and liberal arts population of SLC. They hope to learn how they’ve made food pantries work on their campuses and what other strategies they have used to tackle this issue.

Currently, food insecurity will be resolved on a case-by-case basis, until further definite plans are made and accompanied by funding. “We want students to let us know if they are struggling and if they are in need, whether it’s a temporary need or a rest of the semester need, so that we can best figure out how to strategize and help,” Gross said. If students are in need of help, they should contact Crandall, Gross or Mulzac and if students want to get involved with the discussion of food insecurity, they can email stuaffairs@sarahlawrence.edu for more information.

Alexa Di Luca ('19)

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Light it Up Blue Won’t be Lighting it Up at SLC

The Light it Up Blue protest from 2015. Courtesy of Rebecca Gross. 

The Light it Up Blue protest from 2015. Courtesy of Rebecca Gross. 

Typically victories are determined by what is happening, but for Sarah Lawrence’s Disability Alliance (DA), a victory came from something that did not happen this year—Light it Up Blue. The event, which was supposed to take place on campus April 3, involves lighting up buildings with blue lights in honor of Autism Acceptance Month, previously entitled, Autism Awareness Month. While other locations, such as the White House, participated in the event, Westlands remained its traditional brick color. This departure was a result of the efforts of DA and other activists, who disagree with the mission of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization for autism, which spearheads the Light it Up Blue campaign.
 
“Autism Speaks was founded on the belief that being autistic was a tragedy and that autistic people should be ‘cured’ of their differences,” said Emma Graydon (’17), co-chair of DA. “Autism Speaks is a hate group that promotes fear and perpetuates dangerous, harmful stereotypes.”
 
Sarah Lawrence has partaken in the ceremony in the past. The school also has connections to Autism Speaks, since its founder, Suzanne Werner Wright, is a Sarah Lawrence alumna and was a Board of Trustees member from 1998-2006. In 2000, the Suzanne Werner Wright Theater in the Performing Arts Center was named after Wright in honor of her many contributions to the school. Wright passed away last year.  
 
Two years ago during the Light it Up Blue ceremony, DA members staged a protest outside Westlands. Rebecca Gross (’17), co-chair of DA, said that the group worked with the administration, but when they realized the event would still occur, they decided to hold signs, pass out relevant literature, and have, to the best of their abilities, an “accessible protest” so that all members could participate. They tried to make their protest accessible by keeping it relatively small and quiet so as not to create sensory overstimulation.
 
Last year, as covered in the Phoenix’s “Light it Up Blue Lights Up Protest,” DA again had to fight the lights as they were informed that the school had accepted Autism Speak’s offer to participate in the campaign. DA members worked with administrators and created a Change.org petition. The petition read, “Against the will of autistic students, their allies, and the SLC Disability Alliance, on April 2nd, 2016 Sarah Lawrence College will light up Westlands with blue lights as part of the international Autism Speaks event, Light it Up Blue. This event is meant to promote Autism Speaks and their Autism Awareness Month. However, in spite of their name, Autism Speaks continually silences and dehumanizes the autistic people in our lives and communities under the guise of ‘awareness.’” The petition reached its 250-signature goal and subsequently, the school called off the event.
 
“Our main goal isn’t to cause conflict, it is just to make sure everyone is comfortable,” said Gross in regards to the publicity of the protest. On the Change.org petition, not only did current students make comments, but also prospective students voiced their outrage of the school’s participation in Light it Up Blue.
 
This year DA has not had to do any demonstrations to stop Sarah Lawrence from lighting it up blue. Thomas Blum, vice president of administration, explained the reasons why the school decided not to participate this year as well as in the foreseeable future: “The college as an organization/institution stopped participating because: (1) of the expressed student objections to the certain actions taken by Autism Speaks over the years, and (2) the reality that it is better practice and policy for the College not to endorse specific causes that our outside of its specific mission. In fact, we discussed this change with senior management at Autism Speaks.”

“That said, if a recognized student organization or group of faculty wished to orchestrate a Light It Up Blue event on campus, the college would have no objection whatsoever,” Blum said. “As for what this means for the school in terms of disability awareness, my answer is that the absence of Light It Up Blue will have no impact on the priority the college places on disability services and accessibility.” 
 
As for now, Westlands will refrain from the blue lights, a win that Gross believes is testament to DA’s resilience. “I think this is something Disability Alliance has cared a whole lot about. We try to represent the opinions of the people in our group on campus and of disability rights advocates on a larger scale.  This means promoting self-advocacy, and making sure that conversations about disability are led by people with disabilities," said Gross. "We are the foremost experts on our experiences."
 
DA will be celebrating Autism Acceptance Month with an open mic night on neurodiversity and a fidget-making workshop. The dates and locations are still to be determined.
 
Andrea Cantor ('17)

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

What Does the Trump Administration Mean for Campus Sexual Assault?

An It's On Us protest on campus last semester, covered by News 12: Westchester. Photo courtesy of News 12. 

An It's On Us protest on campus last semester, covered by News 12: Westchester. Photo courtesy of News 12. 

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released what is known as a “Dear Colleague” letter concerning Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX bans discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. This letter specifically concerned sexual harassment and violence, defining it as a form of sex discrimination and setting a series of guidelines for educational institutions to follow. These guidelines included holding perpetrators to the preponderance of evidence standard and the designation by schools of an employee as Title IX Coordinator, a position held by Dean of Equity and Inclusion Allen Green at SLC.

While the Obama Administration focused intensely on campus sexual violence through policy measures such as the Dear Colleague letter and through initiatives such as the It’s On Us campaign, the issue’s future in the Trump era is uncertain. The official 2016 GOP Platform states that progress made on issues of sexual violence by the Obama Administration “must be halted” and indicates support for rolling back the preponderance of evidence standard, so that educational institutions would have to hold alleged perpetrators of sexual violence to the same “beyond reasonable doubt” standard that a court of law upholds. 

If the Trump Administration were to follow through on the Republican Party’s stated goals, Dean Green said it would become more difficult for the College to hold people responsible for sexual assault and harassment. He defended the current preponderance of evidence standard. 

“We’re not a court of law,” Dean Green said. “It would probably make it much more difficult [if the College has to use] a standard of evidence that is used in a court of law. Might [that] make it more difficult for respondents to be found responsible? It may. Right now I think that our standard says something about the expectations of students on college campuses.” 

“Preponderance of evidence”, otherwise known as the 51% rule, means that the significance of evidence in a civil case is given priority over the amount of evidence. Part of what this means, Dean Green said, is that the survivor in any given case is taken seriously as someone capable of narrating something that happened to them.  

“[Sarah Lawrence] is a place where we think students can narrate an incident and be believable, and that we should be able to find an outcome based on that as opposed to saying ‘without evidence or without x, y, and z, we don’t have anywhere to go,’” Dean Green said. “I think that makes college into something less tenable; if we’re building the minds of the next generation then I would hope that we’re building the minds of folks who have the sensitivities and the intuition to create an environment that’s safe for everyone.” 

For on-campus sexual assault advocacy groups such as It’s On Us, communication between survivors and administrators is an issue of great concern. It’s On Us is a nationwide public awareness program initiated in 2014 by the Obama administration. Emma Heisler-Murray, a junior, created Sarah Lawrence’s chapter in 2016.

A document circulated by the group demands of the College a list of actions regarding sexual assault policy, including the clear definition of terms like “affirmative consent,” continuous consent training for upperclassmen, and prioritizing the needs of the survivor if a report or complaint is made.

“Survivors should not have to tell their stories to multiple people or multiple times,” reads one of the demands. “They should be able to choose one person within the administration with whom they trust to share this story. They should have the option of this person being a female.”

Dean Green said staff members are looking for ways to make campus safer and respond to the criticism and demands of students. Survivors can informally disclose that something happened to them without mentioning the perpetrator’s name or they can make a formal complaint in which someone is named. Either way, Dean Green said that he tries to minimize the number of times that someone has to tell their story, which was an early complaint about Sarah Lawrence’s Title IX policies. 

A more recent criticism is that there are no female Title IX agents on campus for students to talk to. According to a posting on Inside Higher Ed, Sarah Lawrence is currently searching for such an agent, and Dean Green confirmed that this search is ongoing. In the meantime, he said, there are temporary and admittedly imperfect solutions to the problem. 

“As much as I would like to think that I am sensitive and approachable, I know it’s very different for a woman to have to relive a story in front of a man, if that was the case,” Dean Green said. “And so what we’ve done in light of that is try to connect them with Victim Assistance Services, who can be victim advocates and who can also work with them through the process. [Victim Assistance Services] are a confidential resource off campus, though we work closely with them.”

Victim Assistance Services offers a 24/7 hot line, and confidential disclosures can be made to counselors at the Health and Wellness office. 

Dean Green acknowledged that talk around sexual violence often excludes people of non-binary gender identities, and said that preventative measures need to include them.

“It’s not just binary,” he said. “I wouldn’t want people to assume that this men/women binary is the only thing we’re seeing — I think we have to be very responsive to everyone in our community.” 

Despite the network of resources that Sarah Lawrence has related to sexual assault, the Sarah Lawrence Sexual Assault Task Force’s Biannual Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey found that only 11% of students who experienced sexual assault made a formal report while 92% of students indicated that they knew and remembered the reporting process. Dean Green said it is hard to interpret this statistic because the choice to report is so personal. 

The Task Force’s findings say, “We want all students to know that confidential support is available through the Health & Wellness Center. If you have experienced sexual violence, the decision to make a formal report with the College and/or contact the police is yours. Staff at the Health Center will support you in the choices you make. If you choose to make a formal report, campus officials are trained to help you navigate the process.”

Additionally, the survey found that 65% of students reported feeling safe at Sarah Lawrence, compared to 85% at peer institutions. Again, Dean Green said this is hard to qualify, but he did point to several efforts that the school has made to secure the campus. 

“Every campus is different,” he said. “Our campus is wide open, we have a thoroughfare that goes right through [it]. It’s hard for me to quantify what exactly that says about feeling safe. We’ve added more blue light phones, we’ve talked about using the inner routes around campus, we have the shuttles — so again I don’t know if it is a perception of when [students] are traveling around campus. It’s hard for me to read something specific into those statistics.” 

Dean Green said he wants students to know what resources are available to them. In addition to those resources that are already available, there are a number of proposals from students that are being reviewed and implemented into Sarah Lawrence’s sexual assault policy. Students have pushed for all students to take the Consent and Respect online workshop. Dean Green said next year will be the first that every student has taken it, as it is offered to incoming first-years. 

Information about Sarah Lawrence’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Support programs can be found at sarahlawrence.edu/svps. Dean Green said his office in Andrews is always open to students, and he can be reached by email at agreen@sarahlawrence.edu. 

Ricky Martorelli '19

 

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

As AVI Attempts to Solve Issues Caused by Weekend Hours, Some Remain Dissatisfied

Bates Dining Hall, which has not been open for dinner on weekends this academic year. Photo courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence website.

Bates Dining Hall, which has not been open for dinner on weekends this academic year. Photo courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence website.

Discontent remains among the Sarah Lawrence community about the change in the weekend hours of Bates and the Pub instituted last semester, despite some improvements made since last fall. 

After students raised various concerns—discontinuous service, long lines and wait times, a lack of options, and the needs of the athletes—AVI resident director Lydia Becker promised to adjust the food service program accordingly and has since introduced some solutions.

This semester, Bates no longer stops making hot food at 2 p.m. but rather continues up until closing time at 4 p.m., dissolving what was described as a “service gap.” According to ticket times—when the order is placed versus when it is delivered—the Pub has become much more efficient, shortening lines and wait times. The Pub has also begun putting hot food in the ready-to-go case before the venue opens at 4 p.m. Additionally, serving athletes breakfast after Saturday morning practice began at Bates almost immediately after this shortcoming of the new operational hours was vocalized early last semester.

Though the discussion of issues coming out of the new operational hours was largely spurred by a petition to "normalize" the hours of Bates and the Pub and effectively change them yet again, Becker plans to maintain the hours as they are now for the foreseeable future.

“The operational hours was a big change, the biggest change the campus had seen in a couple of years,” Becker said. “I don’t need to revisit and ask for more big changes. I think where we are is smart, and I think we need to continue to head down this path.”

Though Becker describes the newly implemented solutions to concerns stemming from the new operational hours a type of necessary “give and take,” creator of the petition Amit Sankaran (‘17) describes them as “damage control,” and feels that the original change “created more problems than we solved.” He says some issues have improved, and some have not, but overall, the decision should have involved more members of the community. That way, the major change could truly benefit as many people as possible.

Becker told the Phoenix last semester, “You’re never going to make everyone happy, and we know that. The goal is to make as many people happy as we can, and this decision was never meant to make people unhappy. I think it was meant to be efficient, and it was meant to provide some things to my team, and we’re going to reevaluate it.”

Sankaran, however, said that he “entirely disagree[s] this is the solution that makes the fewest number of people upset,” and noted that the Senate meeting during which Lydia spoke about the potential change last spring had only a few students in attendance, representing very little of the community’s needs. 

The petition Sankaran created on September 12, about a week after classes began, garnered over 100 signatures. “At the time, the metrics demonstrated to me that it was an issue that people were concerned about,” Sankaran said.

Not only was Sankaran looking to see how many other members of the community held similar views on the new hours, but he also wanted to publish the minutes from the Senate meeting during which the decision was discussed in order to show students where the change was coming from.

This semester, one consequence he sees as essentially irreparable is that because the new operational hours of the Pub and Bates are completely complementary, the entire campus must eat at a single venue during a mealtime, “putting unnecessary stress on the food workers.”

Sankaran said that when the petition first began circulating at the beginning of last semester, several Pub workers praised him. 

“I haven’t talked to a single Pub worker that thinks that their job is easier because of the new hours,” Sankaran said. He also noted that this was within the first few weeks of school and their sentiments may have changed. 

However, an AVI source who wished to remain anonymous recently told the Phoenix that many workers have remained displeased with the change in hours, citing reasons related to undesired changes in their schedules. The source noted that what would make the workers happiest would be to “put it back the way it was” last year. 

Though many students in signing petition did specifically note that the Pub workers seemed “overworked” on weekend nights, Becker disagreed and characterized it as misreading the situation.

“When you’re standing in line in the peak hour, it does seem like everyone is overworked, especially because you’re standing and waiting,” Becker said. “If you came in and you had your food in three minutes, everyone’s not working quite as hard—you think. They actually are working very hard all of the time. It’s just the perception of when we’re standing in line and we see everyone busy and kind of grinding away…[but] I do not think overworked is the right word. Working hard is absolutely, but that’s everyday whether we’re busy or not.”

Last fall, one Bates employee who also wished to remain anonymous told the Phoenix that many fellow workers were not fond of the change. However, the same individual this semester expressed newfound feelings of content working under the new operational hours. Becker said that in the beginning of the school year a few complications had to be worked out, but things are running much more smoothly now.

“It was just assimilating my team to the change, and the students to the change, to where everyone kind of knows this is how it sort of works,” Becker said. “And as we move into the second year with these hours, students returning are already used to it, first year students have no other expectation because it is what it is.”

While Becker characterized adaption as good and necessary, Sankaran argued that it is only natural and does not imply the situation is near ideal.

“Adaptation happens,” Sankaran said. “People figure out a way to get food. Just because people adapt, doesn’t mean that you did it correctly.”

Another consequence some students feel is irreparable with the new hours is the lack of breakfast before 11 a.m. In signing the petition this past fall, Gabrielle Risica (‘17) noted her reason as follows: “This is ridiculous. There is no reason why I should not be able to get food before 11 a.m. on the weekends or a wholesome dinner in the evening. Our meal plans have not changed, so the hours shouldn’t either. I demand reasonable food options at reasonable hours of the day if I am paying the same price for a meal.” When the Phoenix spoke with her recently, she indicated that her sentiments have not changed.

Though Becker said that according to data analysis, “we are not a traditional breakfast campus,” Sankaran noted that it takes little man power to open the Pub in the morning for non-grill options like coffee and an apple that a student may, for example, need at 8 in the morning on a Saturday before going to work at their job.

“I’m able to go buy groceries and feed myself and make breakfast on my own,” Sankaran said. “But, I wouldn’t assume that everyone has that.”

This is something Sankaran said should have been considered in Senate initially. He also clarified that he is not against the decision in its entirety, as he understands it from a financial perspective.

For a few years now, AVI at Sarah Lawrence has been losing money, not profiting. The decision for the new hours was part of an attempt to improve that reality.

“I will confirm that finance and trying to not operate at a deficit drove me to look at the program as a whole, and that was what I went to Senate with to request to make some changes,” she said.

Describing other benefits of the change, she explained, “Obviously [operating under these hours] creates a ton of efficiency for us. It also provided great opportunity for some of my team members to work a tidier schedule, which is better for them and their home life. It provided some relief to the facilities and maintenance team. If we could have a building operating at less hours that saves on natural resources.” 

At the Senate meeting last spring, Becker noted, “This is not something that’s committed forever, we’ll be asking again next year if suddenly we see a blossoming student body. It can change back or change to something different.”

Becker said last semester that this year’s student body grew and AVI was not aware of this until the first day of operation in the fall. Head chef Jordan Luchini said, “We were originally told that it was going to be less than the year before.”

Becker told the Phoenix last fall, “The petition is absolutely correct. I said that if student population grew, we would have to reevaluate, and that’s where we are.” This semester, however, Becker said that she does not plan to change the hours once again, noting that not only does it create financial efficiency, but it also is better for the AVI employees on campus, a team of 85. 

Still, Sankaran stands by his view that more of the community should have had their voices heard in making this decision.

“I understand that business decisions are business decisions, but I think that when you’re a business is serving a community, you need to take the concerns of the community seriously.”

Victoria Mycue '20

 

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

What’s up with Mansell? Water and Gas, a Troublesome Duo

Mansell House on Mead Way, empty since January. Photo courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence website

Mansell House on Mead Way, empty since January. Photo courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence website

Fourteen residents of Mansell house found themselves faced with a problem right before returning to campus in mid-January. They were involuntarily moved to new room assignments due to water and gas leaks that occurred in the building over winter break. 

It was only a few days before returning to campus that residents were notified of the situation. They were then assigned their new rooms and movers were hired to move their things.

“It was pretty sucky considering it was approximately three days before we got back to school,” said Bobby Marcus (’18), who now lives in Hill House. Fellow Mansell resident Auden Hargrove (’17), who now lives in Andrews Court and is also the resident advisor of Lower Mead Way, was “surprised and frustrated by the very little information given [at first]. It left a lot to the imagination.”

The affected students were given more information once they returned to campus at a meeting with Residence Life on January 17. It was at this meeting that they finally learned that not only was there a water leak, but there had been two gas leaks as well. 

According to assistant vice president of facilities Maureen Gallagher, the heat went out in the house on January 10, causing pipes to burst in the attic. The water went down to the room under the attic, and to the kitchen, located under that room. It was only when the fire department was notified and investigated the building that they also found two gas leaks present. The gas leaks were repaired but the extensive water damage would take more time to fix. Maintenance cleaned the water and the school called a licensed mold-remediation contractor to dry the house with special air heaters known as desiccants. An environmental hygienist was called to collect wall samples, test quality of air, and determine damage levels. 

Not only did this work affect the residents of Mansell, but the neighboring Mead Way houses, Perkins and Brebner, lost wifi connection as a result of the power being cut in order to continue work on the house. The wireless router was held in the Mansell basements and the neighboring students were left without internet for almost two weeks. 

Some Mansell residents say the moving process could have gone more smoothly. Grether and Marcus say they lost no belongings, the same could not be said for others. “So much of my stuff is missing. A lot of weird things. Of course posters, art, books were damaged but there were things like contacts, my hairbrush, and my retainers,” said Hargrove. The students were allowed to enter for roughly 20 minutes to collect belongings that remained in common areas but apart from that, they were not allowed back in. On this, Marcus reflected, “ I want to go back home but that’s just not possible.”

Understandably, the situation called for the removal of all students in the house as it is still being monitored before construction can start. However due to the sudden nature of the incident, students were reassigned to whatever housing was available. Grether and Marcus who had previously doubled in Mansell are now living in a triple in Hill House. This displacement caused frustration similar to during the beginning of the school year, when an unusually high student population forced the school to covert doubles to triples all over campus, and house a small group of students in the Hyatt hotel at the Cross County shopping center. 

The triple Grether and Marcus were placed in was originally a double. The apartment they live in is also substance free and quiet housing. On this issue, Marcus said, “We are not either, yet we have to comply with rules we don’t agree with.” Despite being unhappy with this aspect of their new housing, Grether said he didn’t want to raise a fuss because, being on a meal plan where he has to cook many of his meals, at least both he and Marcus are lucky enough to still have a kitchen.

However, not everyone reassigned from Mansell was as fortunate. Some students that were on meal plan 5, which offers 16 swipes and 375 units of meal money a semester, were placed in living situations where a kitchen is much less accessible. Hargrove mentioned that some advisees had these issues but when she asked if it was possible to increase their meal plans as a form of compensation, the school did not respond to her email. Although the overcrowding cannot be helped at this point, she said, it should be possible to work something out in regards to food. 

Will it be possible for these students to ever use the kitchen in Mansell again? The house is currently awaiting approval to be worked on, so Gallagher says there is no certainty. She said, “We don’t want to set false expectations of when they can come back.”

As of right now, everything with high levels of moisture must be removed: the attic, kitchen, some wood flooring, and the walls and ceilings of the room directly affected by the water leak. Foregoing the waiting period of clearance, when asked about an estimation of how long it would potentially take to fix all this, Gallagher said that because of the amount of work to be done, possibly a month. With all the trouble coming out of this situation, one might wonder, what are the chances this can happen again in another building on campus? 

Gallagher states that the likelihood of a Mansell-like incident occurring again is uncertain. “A house losing heat and having a pipe break and the Yonkers Fire Dept detecting a gas leak at that same site is highly unusual. This situation took place over winter break when there was no one living in the house. Normally when a building is occupied and occupants feel cold someone informs us immediately.” 

As for regular inspections, there are no “structured inspections or checklist,” but Gallagher said that maintenance periodically checks the buildings over break. She added that it’s best to report any unexpected occurrences or discomforts to the school so they can investigate the situation. But does a situation like this call for having a regular system of inspection put in place?

Donna Karimi '17

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Yonkers Officials Encourage Students To Engage in Local Politics

Yonkers City Hall. Photo courtesy of the Yonkers Tribune. 

Yonkers City Hall. Photo courtesy of the Yonkers Tribune. 

In the wake of the new Trump administration, many students are looking for ways to resist the policies and changes to come.  On January 25, Sarah Lawrence hosted a Yonkers Panel in the Library Pillow Room, where local and state Democratic officials spoke to the community about political action under the new federal government.

The panel was organized by Mara Gross, director of Community Partnerships; Judith Schwartzstein, director of Public Affairs; and some faculty members.  The idea for the event stemmed from desire among the faculty to help Sarah Lawrence students connect with their local officials.  Many students attended the meeting – some had to resort to sitting on the floor or standing. 

Speaking at the panel were two Yonkers city councilmen, Christopher Johnson and Michael Sabatino; two New York State Senators, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and George Latimer; and New York State Assemblymember Shelley Mayer.

Each speaker spoke to the audience for several minutes.  Afterwards, several students presented questions to the panel, concerning topics such as immigration, hate groups, the proposed Muslim registry, LGBTQ discrimination and access to contraception.  

During the event, the panelists emphasized the importance of constant involvement in politics.  State Senator Stewart-Cousins noted, “politics impacts you wherever you are.”  Addressing the urgency of our current political climate, Assemblywoman Mayer said, “the moment is now.”
State Senator Latimer, who serves the state senate district in which Sarah Lawrence exists, spoke of his experience when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972, comparing it to our most recent election and saying, “politics was real and it was personal”.  He compared the recent women’s marches to the anti-Vietnam War marches.

Some of the discussion revolved around what students themselves can to do to help, even if they are not registered to vote in Yonkers.  The speakers mentioned multiple local organizations, including the Westchester Young Democrats and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, with which Sarah Lawrence students can get involved.  The panel also referenced the website swingleft.org, where people can help Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms. The officials added that students should also get involved in their own districts when they return home from school.
    
Zoe Patterson ’20

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Spring Registration Week: Still as Ableist as in the Fall?

Spring semester registration taking place in the library. Photo credit: Nimmi Hamid '17

Spring semester registration taking place in the library. Photo credit: Nimmi Hamid '17

Another registration week has come and gone, but not many of the ableist issues that the Phoenix shed light on last fall in “How Abled Are You For Registration Week?” have been addressed. 
 
“To the best of my knowledge there hasn't been any change yet to the registration issues for people with disabilities,” said Rebecca Gross (’17), co-chair of student group Disability Alliance. “It is definitely something that we need to keep advocating for as students and that the administration tries to focus on this as much as they can, because it impacts students, teachers, and staff.” 

Gross noted that despite the larger structural issues remaining, the elevators in the Science Center and the New Dorms were functional as opposed to last semester when they were out of service during the entirety of registration week.
 
Since fall registration, Polly Waldman, dean of disabilities, and Daniel Licht, registrar, have worked on making sure that the information on disability accommodations during registration week is more visible. “We created a new link to the information and made sure it was in several places – easy to find,” Waldman said. “Also, we wanted to be sure that the information is clear that it is for anyone with a disability – not just a mobility issue, and I believe that it is clear on that point.”
 
But in terms of institutionalized changes, this registration week was the same as last semester’s process. Still, Leonardo Rocchiccioli (’18), student senate chair, assures that registration week and disabilities have been discussed in-depth at senate and said hopefully real change to the process will be made in the coming years.
 
Rocchiccioli explained, “What we have been talking about in big senate and a lot in curriculum committee is about the portion where people have to stand outside the library, eliminating that, and making that part of registration digital. So we still have to sign up for interviews, we still have to do interviews, but the actual act of registering for classes, or in other words, standing outside the library and waiting in line and speaking to the registrar or the registrar’s representative – making that part online.”
 
The most apparent obstacles that senate faces when implementing this new system is how to provide the registrar with the student and don’s signature, which is, as of now, required on the hard copy registration form. But Rocchiccioli seems confident in the possibility of institutionalizing a digital component to the final stage of registration week in the next year or two.
 
“Curriculum committee has talked to what they see as all the relevant stakeholders in this process including the registrar’s office and the IT people, the IT self help desk, and those are the three main players seeing if we can implement that in one to two years,” Rocchiccioli said. Neither Waldman nor Disability Alliance has been consulted.

But not conferring with Disability Alliance may only perpetuate problems for students with disabilities. In the fall article, Emma Graydon (‘17), co-chair of Disability Alliance, explained that the interview schedule being online presented issues for those with processing disorders.
 
When asked why student senate chose this part of registration week to change, Rocchiccioli responded, “This, by no means, is a final solution to anything. This is something that is ‘tacklable,’ something that is, not so much an easy fix, but something that all can agree needs to be changed. I think the other parts of registration week get more contentious, but this is one step that we can take forward together.”
 
Changing the in-line registration process would rectify many issues for both non-abled and abled bodies. But while upgrades to the system may simply increase convenience for able-bodied students, these changes are essential for non-able-bodied students. 
 
“Registration at SLC is ridiculously inaccessible. There are no maps of campus, registration sign ups are often in inaccessible buildings or up flights of stairs,” said Charlie Spiegel (’20). As noted in the fall article, MySLC did launch a digital registration map this past summer, but its existence may not have been publicized well enough for students to know about it.
 
While changes to registration week are in the works, students with disabilities continue to feel the burden of its discriminatory practices. Spiegel added, “Things need to be more standardized, and [the school] needs to proactively create policies for people with disabilities rather than relying on the passive stance of ‘Oh, people with disabilities should come to us for help.’”
 
Andrea Cantor ’17

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

SLAC Puts on 'Winter Themed' Winter Carnival

Last night Sarah Lawrence Activities Council (SLAC) put on another successful Winter Carnival.
 
Emily Eason ('17), co-director of SLAC, had nothing but praise for how the event turned out. "It was executed really well and we have a great team this year who gave us a strong start to the semester," she said. "I am so excited for what we have planned and this is a really good indicator how we can bring together the community and have a good time on the campus." 

Unlike previous years where the carnival had themes such as Harry Potter, this year the event was simply winter themed. "Cleverness on our part," Eason laughed. This seems to be a trend for this year’s SLAC team. Back in October, Fall Formal was BYO (bring your own) theme.  

Students get temporary tattoos. photo credit: andrea cantor '17

Students get temporary tattoos. photo credit: andrea cantor '17

Students seemed unfazed by the choice of theme as they played laser tag, listened to music, ate cupcakes and mini corn dogs, took pictures in the photo booth, and more.
 
Other students who head clubs sat off on the sidelines of the gymnasium, manning booths and offering information about their organizations to fellow peers.

With students laughing and dancing, the event provided much needed relief to the stressfulness of registration week. 

Andrea Cantor '17

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Art of Teaching Program Wins Grant to Promote Diversity

SLC's Art of Teaching program was one of 56 across the state to receive grants from the New York State Department of Education. Photo courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence website. 

SLC's Art of Teaching program was one of 56 across the state to receive grants from the New York State Department of Education. Photo courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence website. 

Sarah Lawrence College’s Art of Teaching Graduate program has won a competitive state grant of $103,334 for this year to recruit and train a diverse group of future teachers to work in disadvantaged schools.

This grant supports the importance of diversity when hiring teachers, acknowledging that, “the best way to train teachers to understand the challenges that face inner-city children placed at risk, is to have teachers who come from those communities.” 

Fittingly, part of the grant is a collaboration with Yonkers Public Schools, which has a high population of economically-disadvantaged students. The grant will create a teacher mentoring program offering professional development for the teachers at Cedar Place Elementary School, a pre-K through 8th grade magnet school in the city whose student body is 96 percent students of color and 76 percent students with families that have incomes at or near the poverty line.

“This Teacher Opportunity Corps initiative is a natural extension of the relationship Sarah Lawrence College already has with the community of Yonkers,” said Kathleen Ruen, Acting Director of the Art of Teaching program. “The grant offers us vital support and helps us to expand the work we are doing to prepare our students to teach in disadvantaged communities, as well as to recruit students from minority backgrounds and help them become teachers.’’

The Art of Teaching program will receive $103,334 in 2017 and up to $659,000 over five years from this grant, awarded by New York State’s Teacher Opportunity Corps and funded by the state’s Department of Education.

Winning this grant is a notable achievement for Sarah Lawrence and the Art of Teaching program, and recognition of the quality of the school’s program. The size of the award is substantial, especially considering the small size of the graduate program. Sixteen teacher preparation programs statewide received this grant, and the award the Art of Teaching program received is comparable to the other grants, which ranged from under $100,000 to $300,000 a year.

“We are very pleased with this award...It is a recognition of the excellence of our education program, which we have known for years through the feedback of our alumni and through our top re-certification rating in 2011,” said Ruen.

The funds from the grant will support several purposes including: the design and teaching of a 3-credit course that addresses the needs of children placed at risk, tuition relief for full-time New York State residents who qualify for financial aid, reimbursement for test fees and travel, a mentorship program for graduates in their first year of teaching, and a more robust approach to selecting a diverse Fall 2017 class to better represent the children they will teach in the future.

Shane Tan '20

 

 

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Asbestos on Campus

Broken down and discolored pipes in a Dudley Lawrence dorm room. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor

Broken down and discolored pipes in a Dudley Lawrence dorm room. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor

SLC students undergo a good deal of stress, affected by everything from conference papers to extra-curricular commitments. Sometimes, the saving grace is getting some sleep, even if it’s a quick catnap breaking up an all-nighter. But what if where we sleep is making us sick?

Several Sarah Lawrence operations workers, who wished to remain anonymous, discussed their long battle over getting the school to survey the possibility of asbestos on campus.

They affirmed that asbestos was specifically brought up during the labor negotiations last year (which finally ended with a union contract this past summer), and said they felt the need to raise the issue because “it is a safety hazard.” One worker reflected, “We were around it in the boiler rooms and stuff and we wanted it removed. They told us that there was no asbestos on campus and we told the lawyer that was B.S.”

According to, Beth Ditkoff, a biology professor at Sarah Lawrence, asbestos has the potential to pose a real threat to our health and safety. 

She explained, “Asbestos is a natural mineral product, which was used in the past in various construction materials such as insulation. Long-term exposure to asbestos can cause a serious lung condition called asbestosis—chronic scarring in the lungs leading to shortness of breath, cough and heart disease. The asbestos can also damage the lining around the lung leading to fluid buildup, difficulty breathing and intense pain.”

Air circulation was a major concern of the operations workers interviewed. “There are air handling units that we have to go in and turn valves and there is asbestos right near the valve and now its getting sucked up into the units and being blown out throughout the building,” one worker explained. He went further to say one of the rooms in the Performing Arts Center in fact had the issue of asbestos spreading through the air vents. Once the situation was recognized, the school had the asbestos removed from that designated room, but the worker clarified that this was only one room out of many that may have a similar issue.

Prior to winning their union contract, workers felt compelled to work in places they believed to be riddled with asbestos, because otherwise they would face possible dismissal. One worker explained the situation, “Before they could say ‘you’re not going to do your job? Fine then you’re fired’. At least now we can say no, or not be afraid to say no.”

Asbestos is not the only issue with Sarah Lawrence’s facilities. Victoria Mycue (’20) quoted Victoria Ford, a member of the board of trustees, in an October 2016 Phoenix article, “Meet the Couple who Funded the Gilbert/OSilas Renovations,” saying that most of the buildings on campus are at least thirty years behind code. The reason that asbestos is so concerning, apart from the other facility issues, is that in the mid-1900s, asbestos was a prevalent substance used in building homes until its eventual decline in the United States after the Clean Air Act of 1970. This time period is when many of Sarah Lawrence’s building were being built or renovated. It is not illegal to have asbestos containing material as long as it is not frayed, cut or damaged. But one of the workers said due to the amount of work they do near asbestos, “[I] can’t see how you can’t disturb it.”

Maureen Gallagher, the assistant vice president for facilities, denied the reports of harmful asbestos. “There is not an asbestos problem on campus.  Do we have asbestos containing materials (ACM) on campus? Yes. As you know the campus is 90 years old with many buildings having been built in the early to mid-1900’s,” she said. Paradoxically, she explained, there are situations when it is better for public safety not to remove asbestos. She said, “Having ACM in buildings when it’s not damaged or disturbed poses no risk for the occupants of the building and the well-being of all within in our community is one of the highest priorities of the College.” She added, “In many instances it is safer not to remove asbestos if the area in which it is contained is in good, sound condition.”

The workers do not seem to agree that the school’s main priority is safety. Rather, they believe money is doing most of the talking and leading administration to deny an asbestos issue. 

One worker said, “The whole thing came up when we were fighting to get the union here. They were saying that they are going to make [us] wear uniforms and we said ‘okay, no problem, we’ll wear uniforms.’ Then the union turns around and says ‘now you have to pay to clean those uniforms.’ The college asks ‘why’ and they said because [the workers] touch chemicals and asbestos, and the school says, ‘there’s no asbestos on campus.’ Everybody else in the room was like ‘yes there is.’”

This is not the first time that The Phoenix has covered asbestos on campus. In a 2012 Phoenix article titled, “Students grow frustrated with poor facilities management,” asbestos was cited as a major concern.

In that article, Mitchell Sutherland (’14) wrote about Dudley Lawrence and how the building was constructed at the height of ACM usage. He explained, “When buildings like Dudley Lawrence decay, becoming an epicenter of peeling paint and leaky pipes, the asbestos deteriorates. When this occurs, asbestos fibers tend to come lose and spread throughout the air. If inhaled, the fibers can cause mesothelioma, a cancer that grows on the lining of the lungs.”  In the article, Sutherland mentions 1984 as the last recorded time of asbestos removal.

In the 2012 article, Sutherland wrote that Gallagher said that the institution receives federal funding and thus does procedural surveys to stay up to code. In a recent correspondence with the Phoenix, Gallagher said, “Asbestos removal and air monitoring is done by licensed contractors.  Our maintenance employees do receive awareness training which helps them identify areas that may contain ACM so that we can bring in professionals to assess the situation, and if necessary, resolve the problem.”

The workers are at a consensus that whenever they have brought up asbestos, the school has “swept it under the rug.” The awareness training that the workers received started last year as a part of the labor negotiations. But one worker explained the inefficiencies of the training.      

He explained, “They actually skip through a lot of stuff. The school is paying them for their time. The guy said ‘well you don’t do this, this and this. So I won’t go over it.’ We had to stop him and say ‘yes, we do this, this and this.’”

There have been some recent improvements to asbestos on campus. Gallagher said early this semester that when Gilbert, now OSilas, was undergoing construction, asbestos was removed. The newly renovated laundry rooms were also checked for asbestos before their upgrades. The results led to some of the laundry rooms being cleaned for asbestos.

Gallagher added that there are two scheduled abatement projects for Westlands’ basement and Slonim in December/January and one more for sometime in 2017.  She added, “All of the work is contained in basements, boiler rooms and some storage rooms. I can also share the College is continuing its work with consultants to survey various parts of campus, especially basement and boiler room areas, which will allow the College to formally identify any additional necessary abatement projects.”

It is unclear whether these abatement projects are as a result of or in a preemptive response to the workers’ latest meeting with the administration and union leaders. The meeting was scheduled sometime in early November. Unfortunately, Gallagher was unable to reply in time to give a response about the meeting. In whatever case, thankfully the workers’ voices are being legitimized. Not only is the school starting asbestos surveys, but also it conceded and purchased protective equipment for the workers.

But, if these abatement projects are restricted to boilers and basements, are they overlooking possible asbestos in dorms, kitchens, classrooms, and offices? Workers are in more direct contact with contaminants, but if there is peeling on the walls, or cracks in floors, there is a possibility of disturbed asbestos in upper levels of buildings. One worker said that the New Dorms gives him the most concern. He recalled, “In RGT I have to climb on top of the boilers, stand on it, to switch the valves. Is it asbestos? I’m not sure, but I believe it is. It’s got to be tested.”

The procedure for asbestos is extremely costly. It requires two outside companies to come in so one can perform the tests, including air monitoring, while the other examines the first group. Is this why repeated concerns about asbestos have gone unheeded for so long?  It will be many years before one could survey the true damage asbestos has caused, since related health problems show up later in life. Youth are the most susceptible to long-term damage, because they are still in development. The cost may be high to survey and potentially close buildings due to asbestos. But can we put a price on the health of our workers, faculty and students?

As one worker summed the situation up, “You would think in this day in age and at this school, all of it would be removed.”

Andrea Cantor '17

Student Senate Works on Bringing More Gender-Neutral Bathrooms to Campus

All gender bathroom signage in Esther Raushenbush Library’s downstairs restrooms. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor

All gender bathroom signage in Esther Raushenbush Library’s downstairs restrooms. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor

Whenever  Micha Dugan (‘19) begins to approach the nearest restroom, before swinging open the first door that they see is labeled as such, they halt before it. Looking at the sign on the door, Dugan, who identifies as non-binary and genderfluid, thinks: “Am I welcome here?”

After years of dialogue on the lack of gender-neutral restrooms on campus - and years of students like Dugan, a co-chair of TransAction, expressing their concerns - it seems progress might be on the horizon. Senate chair Leonardo Rocchiccioli (’18) introduced the issue at a Student Senate meeting on Sept. 22. The executive committee identified six crucial, “overarching goals,” one of which was to make all, or at least more, restrooms on campus gender-neutral. Student Senate continued to discuss their plan to achieve the objective throughout the fall semester.

“As a first step we want to make the bathrooms that work effectively as gender-neutral bathrooms, that are single stall bathrooms, make those officially and formally gender-neutral,” Rocchiccioli said. “After that we want to have a conversation about increasing the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.”

The library, MacCracken, the Science Center, and the Pub, among other buildings, have single occupancy restrooms with gender-neutral signage. Titsworth Lecture Hall was designed to have two ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) UNISEX restrooms and ADA compliant signage. According to Assistant Vice President for Facilities Mo Gallagher, as the college moves forward in new construction or renovation, the feasibility of ADA accessible bathrooms will continue to be considered.

As students have expressed that the gender-neutral signage may be not be as clear as it could be (Rocchiccioli noted that the existing ones were made “ad hoc”), one goal that Student Senate is discussing with Gallagher is sign redevelopment.

“Mo suggested that we come up with signage that seemed to be the most inclusive and replacing those bathrooms that are essentially gender-neutral right now with the new signage to make it formally more inclusive,” Rocchiccioli said.

Though the aforementioned buildings do have gender-neutral restrooms, other buildings that do not include Heimbold and Westlands, the latter of which Rocchiccioli said he finds especially concerning.

“Westlands is so important because it is our flagship building,” he said. “It is the first thing people see when they come to campus and it is so odd that we pride ourselves as a queer-friendly school and then they see ‘men, women.’  That was one of the big reasons I thought this was important, because people walk onto this campus and we say ‘We have a place for you here,’ but then it is like ‘Yeah, right, I don’t even have a place to go pee.’”

A concern that came up from some senators in actualizing the proposal was hesitation in abandoning all single-gender restrooms for fear of increased risk of sexual assault. Senators discussed this and similar concerns at meetings, according to the senate minutes.

Rocchiccioli clarified this concern, saying, “What they were talking about was that some people find a safe space in the bathroom and that they wouldn’t want to disturb that, and by safe space I mean if it is someone who has been assaulted, they don’t want to encounter the assailant in the bathroom."

The problem may be curtailed with implementation of single occupancy gender-neutral restrooms, but such would be difficult in buildings where single occupancy restrooms are not already existent.

Rocchiccioli said he believes that senate’s collaboration with the college to achieve this goal will turn into “tangible work in the next semester.” Dugan noted they are hopeful that the college and senate will succeed in their work.

“Changing signage and taking steps to make Sarah Lawrence a more gender affirming space will take time, effort, and likely some money,” Dugan said. “But this is a small, small cost in comparison to the gain.”

Victoria Mycue '20 and Andrea Cantor '17

College Moves Forward With Discussion on Majors

Students in a literature class, one of the disciplines that would be offered as an optional major. Photo courtesy of U.S. News

Students in a literature class, one of the disciplines that would be offered as an optional major. Photo courtesy of U.S. News

Last April, an email sent to the student body by Deans Kanwal Singh and Danny Trujillo outlining the prospect of “optional fields of study,” or “optional majors” sparked some interest and controversy among students and faculty alike.  Several Student Senate meetings were held with the issue at the center of discussion, and a town hall meeting was held shortly after the email was sent, where the majority of students present voted no to the idea.  

After an abrupt uprise in dialogue on the matter, however, discussion on the potential integration of optional programs of study seemed to die away just as quickly as it had come.  Conversation among the student body may have fizzled to a low murmur, but administration has remained steadfast in their pursuit to potentially bring majors to Sarah Lawrence.

In order to understand the implications of this issue, it is necessary to go back and examine how talk of bringing majors to SLC came about. In 1982, the New York State Education Department awarded the college with the ability to grant degrees in twenty-six undergraduate fields.  Areas of study were approved in subjects ranging from Literature to Chemistry to Theatre.  Since this time, however, the college has only granted students one degree: a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts.  

The proposal made last year by Deans Singh and Trujillo suggested that students could potentially receive degrees in some other field of study – or they could at least have an area of focus noted on their transcript in an official way.  

The other half of administration’s logic lies in the lack of visibility to the prospective student on online college search engines due to its lack of majors.  “We want students to find us,” Dean Trujillo said simply. Because Sarah Lawrence never actually granted the degrees approved in 1982, the college is not present in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which feeds the College Board and other notable search engines used by high school students when searching for their future college.  

Dean Singh explained that there there has not been a conclusive decision to reactivate the majors approved in the ‘80s.   

Despite over six months passing since the issue was first brought to the student body, Dean Trujillo explained, “This process is still in its exploratory phase.” He noted that administration is in the process of collecting information from the state of New York to determine what needs to be done in order to reactivate the list of majors approved in 1982. 

Drew Cressman, a biology professor who was involved with the dialogue with the state, commented on the measures taken over the summer.  “Our process involves providing the state with documentation indicating what a field of study in Biology would look like” he said.  The process also included recognizing the goals and courses offered that a potential biology major could entail.  

A clearly distinguished program of study interests the Biology Department, as Cressman added, “Many students are already completing a Biology field of study, it’s just not formally designated on their transcript.”

Dean Singh noted that she is actively speaking with faculty members at committee meetings and otherwise and asking them to work in their departments to try and determine how a potential program of study could look.  

Literature professor Nick Mills noted that, while it is still a work in progress, his department is working with an open mind, and also looking to collaborate with other departments.  “In the literature department, we are working out what a field of study would look like, and we will also consult soon with other faculty in Global Studies and Languages, where literature is also taught,” he said.

Similarly, Chet Biscardi of the music program is working with the department on more conclusive answers.  “We might require an audition at the end of a student’s sophomore year or the beginning of their junior year to declare a music major,” he said, adding the possibility of a required seminar during a music major’s senior year in conjunction with a major’s concert and an essay.

In terms of the specific departments that will offer majors, while still undetermined, Dean Singh noted to that they are looking beyond what is included in the list of majors that was approved in 1982.

“Thirty-five years ago our curriculum looked different, so there may be things on this list that are no longer relevant,” Dean Singh said.  In addition to removing subjects from the list, several could be added as well, such as Gender and Sexuality Studies and Computer Science.  

A major concern is that some department may not have the capacity to provide students with enough courses to fulfill a credit requirement implemented by certain majors.  On this point, Dean Singh called upon the state’s main concern that there are enough resources for students: “The state’s interest is in the protection of the student,” she said. 

On the whole, Dean Singh foresees students wishing to pursue a specific course of study would have to complete somewhere between 30 or 40 credits in a particular discipline, but the number could vary depending on department.  She also noted some programs of study could require a more hierarchical approach, such as biology, that begins with a general course that then branches out into more advanced and more specific courses.  Others, however, do not require a path that is so clearly defined.

In addition, conference work – which often dips into disciplines different from a course itself – is a huge chunk of a student’s workload.  Dean Singh made it clear that conference work needs to be considered as this process continues.

“Conference work is a really big piece of the scholarly and artistic work that all of our students do, so it absolutely must be a part of any system we create,” she said.

Dean Singh also notes that this process would be less like the typical college major in which you are required declare at the end of your sophomore year.  “The conversations that we’ve had on campus are that this would be something that would be very much retrospective.” In other words, a student could look at the classes they have taken and recognize they focused in a particular area and officially notate that on their transcript.  

But above all, Dean Singh emphasized that from the college's perspective, the fundamental values of Sarah Lawrence College will not be manipulated; whatever shape majors will take will not affect the pedagogy of an individualized liberal arts education that the college has upheld for so long.

There are, however, obvious concerns with this issue.  Some fear that the individualized education the college’s current structure provides could be in jeopardy, and others are worried that the already hectic registration process could be made worse by students wishing to pursue a certain major.

LGBT Studies professor Julie Abraham expressed some of her reservations about the idea: “What we do not want to do, I think, is inadvertently establish a two tier system, with some courses fitting into 'fields of study' and others outside. Nor do we want to reshape our LGBT studies curriculum in order to fit into a 'fields of study' system,” she explained. “Gender and Sexuality Studies/LGBT Studies classes are not just intended for students who want to focus in those areas, but for a wide range of students who take what they learn in our classes into the many other avenues in which they are working.”

First to allay some fears, Dean Singh stressed that any majors would be optional to each student.  She noted that students at Sarah Lawrence often follow a very coherent path, and this system would just be a way to solidify that path on the transcript for those students who wish to do so.  

She also warns against the use of the term “major” advocating instead to refer to this matter as a “program of study.”  

“We are, always have been, and will continue to be an institution committed to the liberal arts,” emphasizing that the interdisciplinary studies at the college’s core will not be threatened if administration and Sarah Lawrence as a whole move forward with allowing students to pursue specific majors.

Still, those who are hesitant towards the idea of majors have valid concerns, and as with any issue, it is important to voice any worries.  

“I would really welcome suggestions on how to get the widest input on student voices – I think that is something we struggle with campus wide,” Dean Singh said.

So whether you are for or against this important issue, it is vital that you make your voice heard as discussions move forward into the coming months, because, as Dean Singh simply puts it,  “We have to know what students think.”

Olivia Diulus '20

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SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.