Department of Education representatives visit campus to hear concerns over sexual assault

Graphic by Lexie Brown '17

Graphic by Lexie Brown '17

TRIGGER WARNING: This article mentions sexual assault and rape

At 2 PM on April 2, about 15 students attended a meeting with representatives of the Department of Education. The two representatives, John Collins and Anna Moretto Cramer came to Sarah Lawrence to investigate the college’s adherence to Title IX, a clause in the Education Amendment of 1972 that bans discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions.

The representatives plan on having another open meeting at SLC, most likely during the week of April 28. They are considering holding two meetings in the afternoon and evening.

The students present explained their personal perceptions and experiences of Sarah Lawrence’s response to sexual assault. Topics such as Sarah Lawrence’s lack of transparency about procedures that followed a report of sexual assault, the failure of administrators to provide complainants’ with options, security’s poor or slow response to reports and administrators’ negative attitudes and reactions to criticism were discussed.

During the meeting, students also talked about the various ways in which the school had tried to address students concerns such as Karen Lawrence’s announcement to the student body, the optional consent workshop held earlier this semester, and the flyers with phone numbers to call in case of sexual assault which were put up a few days before the DOE arrived.

Collins and Moretto Cramer were particularly interested in the efforts of many members of the student body to push for reform of the sexual assault policy this past fall semester. The representatives took a hard copy of the Demand and Grievances that was compiled when students coalesced for reform and were also sent an electronic copy.

There was also a discussion about Sarah Lawrence’s efforts to notify students about this meeting. Many felt that the administration had failed to adequately inform their students. At the time, many of the students claimed that they had not received a notification from the administration. And while a universal email was sent by Julie Auster on March 18, the email did not detail the reason for the Department of Education’s visit and simply said, “see attached” with the flyer from the representatives.

Among the students there was a sense of frustration with the administration, but also relief that Collins and Moretto Cramer were willing to listen and be receptive of student’s personal experiences with Sarah Lawrence’s response to sexual assault.

The meeting lasted over an hour. While most of the student’s had to leave, the discussion with Collins and Moretto Cramer was able to continue. They were unable to tell who had reported Sarah Lawrence to the DOE, but explained that while most of their investigation would be based off school records, they considered the student body’s experiences to be relevant. Out of concern, it was suggested they look at the records with a critical eye since from past discussions with administrators the numbers seem to be inconsistent with the student body’s experiences. Collins assured me, “every answer creates more questions.” They explained that no matter what the outcome of their investigation that they would continue to track Sarah Lawrence’s compliance with Title IX for several years. Moretto Cramer and Collins said that they were relieved to see a better turn-out at the second meeting, because after the first meeting they were concerned that they were not going to reach many students.

Since Collins and Moretto Cramer had planned to hold individual meetings with students, Izzy Waxman ’14 and myself followed them to the Slonim Library, where the various sections of the document were looked over and any confusion about wording was clarified. No other student came, so we were able to talk with the represenatives for over an hour. During the meeting we explained the circumstances revolving around the writing of the Demand and Grievances stating that over 200 students received and were given the option to give feedback on the document. The organized student March in response to a string of emails about sexual assaults and the meetings students had held afterwards were brought up. Waxman told the representatives that many students were under the impression that the administration did not take these concerns seriously.

By the end of the meeting, Moretto Cramer and Collins took contact information. They requested that as many students as possible could be sent any information whether critical or supportive of Sarah Lawrence’s handling of sexual assault. Specifically they are interested in student’s personal experiences. They state that if any student would like to contact them, the student does not have to provide concrete evidence of their experiences and that all personal information will be removed from the information that they take into consideration. This information was sent to the list of emails that were collected during last semester’s student coalition.

If you would like to contact the Department of Education with your experiences, please consider emailing John Collins at john.collins@ed.gov and Anna Moretto Cramer at anna.moretto.cramer@ed.gov.

If you are concerned about your personal information being attached, consider emailing me at icusack@gm.slc.edu and I will be sure to remove personal information before forwarding it to them.

The representatives of the DOE will notify me when they plan on holding another meeting and I will make an effort to let as many students know about it as possible. Please email me if you would like to be notified. 

by India Cusack '14

icusack@gm.slc.edu

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