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

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

Keya Acharya giving their 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 what prompted the creation of a Sarah Lawrence chapter of It’s On Us.

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 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.

Questions Continue Post Sexual Assault Survey

Posters meant to educate students on sexual assault on campus.   Photo credit: Ellie Brumbaum

Posters meant to educate students on sexual assault on campus. Photo credit: Ellie Brumbaum

In the aftermath of the survey released this past January, SLC continues to deal with the issue of sexual assault and safety on campus. Recent events have been setting out to inform and promote communication within the Sarah Lawrence community, joining other efforts in the last few years since SLC went under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights for a Title IX violation. 

At a Town Hall organized by the Sexual Assault Task Force earlier this semester, a small crowd gathered in the Miller Lecture Hall: the task force, some other faculty, staff and administration, and a few other students. The meeting was described in an email to students from the faculty as an opportunity to discuss topics related to the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault, the school’s “recent and forthcoming Sexual Violence Prevention & Support efforts” and “policy updates on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence & Stalking,” as well as “other topics raised by the community.” 

The survey, released in January, showed an 11% official reporting rate, and a lack of perceived safety at Sarah Lawrence compared to other participating schools. Discussion at the meeting focused on the results of the survey, what had been done to improve safety in the past few years, and what could be done in the future. Dean Allen Green, head of the task force and Title IX coordinator at SLC, said, “We have engaged in a very very rigorous educational campaign,” and that among other things, they have “been looking at our resources to make sure students have access [and] also been looking at the role of our investigator that investigates those cases; there are still a number of questions that we have on the table to look at.” 

Some suggested at the meeting that communication problems between students and school administration or staff might have a role in low reporting rates or students feeling unsafe. Genevieve Lamont (’18), a member of the task force, said, “One thing that we were discussing a lot is that everyone who took the survey who experienced sexual assault on this campus chose to tell somebody about it, whether it was a friend, a mentor, a teacher, an RA, health services.” She continued that despite this, only 11% of the students who experienced assault actually submitted a formal report, meaning they actually went to security, so the task force wondered whether this could be connected to “doubt in the institution, and relationships students might have to campus security and the institution.” 

She added that it would be most helpful to open that dialogue to the campus community, but this has been difficult to consistently enable. 

Student Carolyn Martinez-Class said, “I think most of us don’t read past the fourth paragraph of an email. So – the laws changed, and the police is no longer immediately involved. But people are still operating under the assumption that the police is immediately involved. So that’s part of the hesitancy.” Additionally, speaking on awareness of the many policy changes mentioned at the meeting, she said, “And there have been changes to the hearing process. My first year, that was part of the horror stories.” 

Nathan Naimark (’17), another student on the task force, explained that the survey showed that, “Generally students do feel like they are valued and respected in the classroom. And generally they do feel like they are treated fairly by the faculty, staff, and administrators. But also there are lots of numbers, lots of sections in this first part that point to the fact that students don’t necessarily feel listened to by campus staff and administrators.” 

There have been multiple programs recently at SLC to inform students about the resources and rights they have, and about assault prevention and the definitions of consent. However, the response from students has still been unclear. Students may not feel they will be listened to and respected, when discussing safety or when reporting violence. Hannaway explained after the meeting, “There are so many reasons a survivor might not report their assault, and those reasons will differ for every person. I can’t necessarily say why someone isn’t reporting. Everything possible should be done to make sure survivors know that they are safe if they do choose to report, but nobody should ever be shamed for not reporting.” 

She also advised that, “Changing the conversation, and making sure that discussion about sexual assault on campus is both informative and sensitive would help students feel more comfortable reporting.”  

The survey itself did not specifically address reasons for a perceived lack of safety or for low reporting rates. Cultural factors, not only lack of knowledge about school policy, can be part of what makes it difficult for victims/survivors to report violence. Shannon Ruth-Leigh, a member of the task force who is also part of the health-advocacy graduate program, referenced a study that found, “The number one reason that [students] didn’t report is because they felt that the incident was not serious enough to warrant a formal report. And then, for –particularly for LGBT students, the second main reason was because they feared they would be questioned for the assault.” 

Society’s messages about assault can affect victims/survivors’ decision whether to report, in complex ways. There are many factors, culture-based and not, that go into that decision. Discussion at the town hall meeting about education and policy change around sexual assault brought up questions of how to provide respect and support for survivors in whatever decisions they make. 

Martinez-Class elaborated on what she had said at the town hall, “I think part of the low reporting rate is the lack of support not just institutionally but also from students themselves that folks who have been assaulted face. I think another part is that folks really don’t know what happens if you do report it. The same bad experiences that were circulating when I arrived in 2013, are still circulating, and that bad image has persisted through policy changes.”

As discussed at the meeting, school’s efforts to better inform students have had some success. Students who participated in the mandatory ‘Consent and Respect’ course, in the past few years, were more likely to answer in the survey that they understood consent and how to report an assault. Hannaway and other students, however, think more needs to be done in the future. 

She explained, “I would love for the administration to emphasize the experience of students more. Talking about sexual assault absolutely requires sensitivity and understanding, especially when it’s coming from administrators. The tone of the most recent town hall definitely didn’t create a safe environment for discussion, but I think that’s something that they’re going to work on.” She added, “The emphasis should be on survivors and safety, not on numbers. I think there are different ways of communicating that would be way more effective. I would love to see more programming on sexual assault prevention, especially in FYS classes or in orientation. If we can get library info sessions in FYS classes, shouldn’t we be able to get something as important and necessary as sexual assault prevention?” 

Venika Menon (’18), a student on the task force, pointed out the need for communication with students through sources other than besides faculty; I don’t know if 100% of professors would be able to give the best information possible.” Even with future training for faculty about how to discuss sexual assault, other sources of in-person communication would remain important. 

VOX has been planning a program like what Hannaway suggested, to supplement the information campaigns and the few, optional in-person workshops the school has hosted so far. “VOX has been working over the past year to develop a small, discussion based workshop on affirmative consent. We have trained ten students in teaching these workshops, and we’re hoping to get the workshop out to as many people as possible soon. We designed the curriculum with Planned Parenthood with the hopes that it could be implemented as part of the FYS program,” explained Hannaway. There have already been test workshops, and Vox is now searching for the chance to implement the workshops. Hannaway said, “In our test workshops, the feedback has been really great. Taking the discussion about sexual assault back into the classroom was really impactful. The Sarah Lawrence education is all about discussion and critical thinking, so giving that same importance to sexual assault prevention was definitely our goal. Now, we’re just focusing on bringing the workshops to more classes.”

Workshops are being planned for faculty and administrators as well, not only students. Ruth-Leigh discussed workshops planned through the Capstone project, at the meeting. She is working with the Health Advocacy program on “developing a workshop for administrators and faculty around how to best support students affected by sexual and interpersonal violence. And that doesn’t just mean from the moment that somebody comes to you and says, ‘I think I may have been assaulted.’ I think most people on this campus have the awareness of how to get that person to resources right then. But I think that there is a need always for an ongoing conversation about how we can better support students who are coming in with a whole range of traumas, of experiences, that affect their ability to learn and develop here on this campus.”  

The discussion about sexual violence, at Sarah Lawrence and elsewhere, is not limited to the task force or to events such as the town hall. At the town hall, Menon said, referring to her and the two other students on the task force, “We are very aware of the fact that the three of us do not represent Sarah Lawrence.” Lamont said part of their goal is, “making sure that those conversations are spread throughout the campus.” She added, “We’re a campus that can talk about this and wants to talk about it. We don’t want to hide it. We don’t want to pretend like it’s not happening, or that there’s not something we can do. Because that’s not what this school’s about.”

J.M. Stewart '18

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.

Sexual Assault Survey Brings Up Questions About Safety on Campus

Consent education posters on campus. Photo credit: JM Stewart.

Consent education posters on campus. Photo credit: JM Stewart.

Results from the Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey that began in February 2015 were published recently, and while Sarah Lawrence’s results were similar to other schools that participated in the survey, there were some important differences. One of the most notable differences was the rate of reporting—11%, despite 92% of students saying they knew how to report. The percent of students who felt safe on campus was also unusually low; 68.1%, while this statistic was 84.7% at peer institutions. 130 schools participated in the survey, and approximately 500 students at SLC. 

The Task Force was created in the fall of 2013. “It came after a major incident on campus where we wanted to take a look at our policies and procedures,” explained Dean Al Green, the leader of the task force and SLC’s Title IX coordinator.  Genevieve Lamont (’18), a student representative on the task force, said, “It’s very much an ongoing dialogue. We need feedback from students, because we – the three undergraduate students – make up a very small portion of [the student body]. All our narratives are very different...and they’re not conducive to getting the general climate of the whole campus.” Lamont continued, “We rely on feedback from students to kind of get the general understanding, so it’s very much an ongoing dialogue that is happening, and it is constantly changing, and it has different viewpoints, and it’s very complicated. But we’re doing our best.” 

There is a task force email,, but representatives of the task force say it has been underused. Another student on the task force, Venika Menon (’18), explained “We would appreciate if students wrote to us, because I know that it’s a conversation a lot of students have on campus.”

One of the most visible changes to SLC policy on sexual assault in the past few years is the Affirmative Consent policy. In July 2015, a higher standard for consent was established in New York state law. Sarah Lawrence’s definition of consent now echoes that definition. The school has publicized the updated definition of consent through a poster campaign. The posters are part of a larger effort to educate SLC students on sexual assault, particularly on sexual assault prevention in recent years. The mandatory Consent and Respect online course also began two years ago, for all new students and for students in leadership roles such as RAs. It appears to have been helpful; survey results indicated that first and second years felt they had more knowledge of how to recognize and respond to assault, compared to juniors and seniors (who did not all take the course). 

“Speaking from personal experience, when we did the Consent and Respect before coming to school and then after doing it as a student leader on campus here, I think it’s a good re-introduction to the concept that happens, [and] it makes a lot of laws clearer to you, about what your rights as a student are, so that can be very helpful,” Menon said. 

Michelle Guile, a Health Advocacy graduate student who recently joined the task force, partly agreed: “I definitely felt like the consent training was helpful, I mean it did give you the option to have the Title IX coordinator’s information texted to you, which I personally did so that I would have it.” However, she also felt more was needed, saying, “It’s helpful but it’s also lacking...I definitely feel like there needs to be more education and awareness of what’s happening. Especially for people who don’t live here, or are not on campus all the time, like you’re not going know [certain] stuff.” Guile also raised some concerns about the ‘Yes means yes’ posters around campus. “There’s probably just so much more to it that you’re not going to understand by just seeing that poster.” She clarified, “You have to actively educate people.” 

School procedure in cases of assault has also changed. The changes are based in an effort to make resources more accessible to victims/survivors, and to give them more control over the situation following an assault. Dean Green explained, “We have made a few changes in that we now kind of automatically call victims’ support for any victims; we also are working with Westchester Medical Center and a program there called FACT – Forensic Acute Care Team – which is, anyone who is sexually assaulted, they would go directly there [and] they could retrieve evidence and maintain it, and so that happens.” He continued, “The other change in policy is that we used to automatically call Yonkers police, and now it’s up to the victim to decide if they want the police called. 

He added the school has started doing threat assessments immediately after an incident is reported, to assess whether an individual should be allowed on campus. He explained, “We have to make that assessment based on the safety of the whole community. And so we’re really taking that very seriously as well. 

The reasons behind the low reporting rate, and the relative lack of a sense of safety, remain unclear. The perception of a lack of safety is likely part of a wider problem than that of sexual assault. Menon pointed out that “People feel more unsafe than the numbers would suggest they should, and that [is because of] a lot of factors including the perception about general school safety, and the question of ‘have you ever been attacked or sexually assaulted’ was a very specific question, so I think people might have come at those two questions differently.” She continued, “The example that I gave at the committee [was], I would feel unsafe walking from here to Hill House at night, for a very specific reason, that being that my friend has been egged on Kimball. It has nothing to do with sexual assault. But that would also play into my answer in the first part, the perception question, and not into my answer in the second part. There are specific things that have gone into people feeling unsafe on this campus.” 

Green continued, “And we’ve been thinking about what does that mean. We’ve got security around, I don’t know if the perception is that security’s not responsive… We just don’t know. We’ll continue to ask questions, but I don’t think we’ve had any hard affirmed conclusions yet.”

Possible factors may include a lack of perceived social support for survivors. 

Lamont expressed surprise that there is no dedicated student group to enable discussion and community for survivors; “There are typically things that have chapters across different schools ..That’s really surprising. I bet there would probably be a lot of interest in that.” An isolating culture at SLC could be part of it, as could certain classroom dynamics. On the subject of feeling triggered in a classroom setting, Lamont observed, “I definitely would not feel comfortable saying to the majority of my professors, ‘Yeah, I need to leave because this is upsetting’, even for like a few minutes. That definitely does not seem like the culture.” 

There has been a history of controversy over the school over Sarah Lawrence’s responses to sexual assault on campus. Sarah Lawrence was one of multiple schools placed under investigation for sexual violence issues by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, in 2014. That controversy is part of the reason for changes in the past few years. Dean Green said, “The other thing that spurred the organization of the task force was, we have also been looking to get a response from the Office of Civil Rights about the case, the allegation that we failed the complainant. It’s been over two years now, we haven’t heard anything. We don’t even know what the complaint is, what the basis of the complaint is, we’re not allowed to know.” He continued, “But the OCR came to campus, and had open meeting with administrators and students, and there were a select number of administrators that met one-on-one with them. And they walked away, and we just have to wait for, I think, a ruling. And then we’ll look at what they say we have to change. We may have already made some of the changes that they will recommend, because we have been changing our policy as we perceive things that aren’t working as well.”

There will be a Town Hall meeting tonight, tentatively schedule for 5:15 pm in the Marjorie Leff Miller lecture hall. Students will have the opportunity to share their perspectives with the Sexual Assault Task Force.

JM Stewart '18

Issues surrounding sexual violence and misconduct persist on campus

Dean of Studies and Student Life, Allen Green, led the first sexual misconduct meeting on Sept. 18. Photo by Anthony Magana '17

Dean of Studies and Student Life, Allen Green, led the first sexual misconduct meeting on Sept. 18. Photo by Anthony Magana '17

For the past year, the subject of sexual violence and harassment has loomed over our campus like a specter. Brought to popular attention by a chain of assault cases and acts of misconduct that occurred one after another early last year, it is has been an ever-present, urgent and scary topic that fails to avoid anyone’s attention. This year has seen the creation of two new student organizations (Dangers of a Single Narrative and Students Against Sexual Violence), and even a full-fledged investigation by the Department of Education into our college's adherence to federal funding policies. 

Many students have spoken out about the sexual violence on campus, and many continue to do so. An overwhelming majority of interviewed students critiqued either the current policies of the administration or the way these policies are handled in our community. 

One student, a survivor of sexual harassment and physical assault on campus who chose to remain anonymous, voiced her frustration towards the administration for what she views as caring more about prestige and reputation than the welfare of victims of sexual misconduct. She said, “I would like Sarah Lawrence to completely forget about protecting the name, forget about their ego, forget about how many people they want to apply and increasing those numbers, saying 'this is a wonderful place to be' while ignoring all the things that students can do wrong. I want them to focus on their students' health.” The same student also said that the school acted against its own policies of confidentiality by sharing a document directed at her with the accused. “The administration just had me fill out papers—there was basically no emotional support,” she added, again expressing her concern and frustration that, in her view, students didn't get enough emotional support from the school last year.

Another student had been assaulted before coming to Sarah Lawrence, and felt that this school does a far better job than the vast majority of liberal arts schools out there, particularly her previous college.  “The reason I transferred here was because I heard that Sarah Lawrence handled these things better,” she said. “I was raped at my previous college and Sarah Lawrence was very sympathetic with everything that happened and my old school wanted me off school property.” The student voiced the need to realize that sexual assault on campus is a national problem, pointing out that she knew many others who have had similar experiences at other liberal arts colleges. She remarked, “At my previous college, I was not offered therapy, I was not offered a Dean to talk to, I was not offered police services, I was not offered anything. Sarah Lawrence has better policies in place for that, from what I've been told.” It is of note that she was sexually harassed this year by another student at Sarah Lawrence. She told us the harasser was dealt with immediately by security and her friends, as well as given a no-contact order, which she claims has been extremely effective. When asked if she felt safe on campus, the student replied that she felt relatively safe, but that, “there are certain people back on campus that make a lot of people very uncomfortable.”

The issue of sexual misconduct becomes even more daunting considering the Department of Education's investigation into Sarah Lawrence’s adherence to Title IX, a law passed in 1972 which requires “gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.” The Dean of Studies and Student Life, Allen Green, reported that the investigation is still inconclusive, and that the administration expects a response from the Department next month. The Dean also said that even the complaint is unknown to the school, as the law does not allow it to be known if the administration even requested it. 

Solutions to these problems are not so easy to formulate. The Dean expressed his deep concern about student-on-student violence in the Sarah Lawrence Community, and said that, “there are no clear cut answers,” to calls for a comprehensive solution. The Dean acknowledged that, at the moment, the school policy is not set to change, and that he and his fellow administrators want to “keep as many ideas on the table as possible” before considering making any decisions about modifying what's on the books. In other words, the Dean said, the students should be able to voice their concerns more effectively to the administration, and stated that “Asking students what they want is the best policy.” He also emphasized heavily that times are changing, referring specifically to “the changes of gender itself” and how we ought to think about gender differently in today's world, especially too when discussing the issue of sexual assault. “I want us to think critically about the different parts of our policy to see if they pass the litmus test,” he stated, “We should periodically look at policies and procedures to examine their relevancy.” 

Two issues the Dean found especially in need of re-examination were the policy's application to grad students, about 99% of which live off-campus, as well as the treatment of transgender women who are victims of assault, considering having been assigned male at birth and potentially having male legal documentation only. Green stressed that “we need to do a lot of self-reflection” before any amendments are to be made, lauding open discussion and the critical thinking of students, faculty, and administration as a community. 

In fact, the Dean and  President of the College Karen Lawrence held a campus wide meeting on Sept. 18 in the Reisinger Auditorium. A handful of students, faculty, and administrators attended, but no more than thirty. The meeting was very much an open-forum where all members of the school, almost exclusively students, asked questions and made many suggestions. In particular, the Dean outlined the school's new online sexual violence and consent program mandatory for incoming freshmen. There was another all-campus meeting on Oct. 1. Fewer than 30 people showed up, including mostly students, but also faculty and administrators. The meeting was, again, an open forum, with Dean Green and Dina Nunziato of Health Services outlining Campus Alerts in particular, and attendees asking questions throughout.The next all-campus meeting will be on Oct. 13 at 3 p.m. in the Donnelley Auditorium. 

The Dean expressed the administration's interest in having students bring forth as many suggestions as possible, especially students who “are aware of other institutions that may inform what we're doing.” Interestingly, he mentioned the importance of having “performances” and other “multi-media ways to address these issues”, stressing also the need for a faster form of communication, perhaps social media, to enhance students' role in making policies more effective and fostering a safe campus environment. 

Some students, however, think the school should be focusing less on effectively implementing the official policy and more on dealing with those who have sexually assaulted other students. One student said that for those convicted of sexual misconduct or assault “there's no process in place to reform their behavior before they come back on campus; there's nothing they have to do in order to understand what they've done. Although I appreciate they're respecting the boundaries of the survivor, they're still letting someone who is unsafe back on campus...there's no rehabilitation of the perpetrators.” Another student noticed that while the school mandates programming for those who drink too much, there is nothing similar for those who have sexually hurt or harassed others on campus. 

Despite these thoughts, the school may be doing more and considering more than at first glance. Health Services in particular has put up dozens of posters around campus outlining what to do if one is sexually assaulted, and has made information accessible by going to or even Dina Nunziato, the Director of Counseling and Psychological services, addressed her own concern, and the concern of many other staffers at Health Services, that procedures meant to help victims are having a reverse effect. She stated, “We want listening meetings. We want to hear from students about how to receive and perceive alerts, which are really designed to make students feel safe, are actually raising anxiety, and misinformation starts to get communicated.” She also stressed that the sexual assault liaison, once distanced from victims seeking immediate support, now directs students straight to Victim's Services. She informed that rape kits cannot be provided on campus because it would be tampering with forensic evidence if any case were appealed to police. Dina Nunziato also said that the biggest complaint of victims was that they often had to repeat their story too many times, especially if going through the Yonkers Police Department. 

Nunziato, much like Dean Green, spoke to the changes in society as initiatives to a new school approach to sexual assault. She observed, “Awareness has changed. There is an increase in awareness as to what constitutes sexual violence and what constitutes consent. Victim-blaming is shifting. Many victims are no longer blaming themselves as they used to.” The Director also said she is “hardpressed to say there is a decrease in safety. My sense is that this type of thing has been going on for a while among young people. But there is thankfully now a greater awareness of what constitutes as consent.”

Students Against Sexual Violence and Dangers of a Single Narrative, along with another unofficial student group, known simply as “the Green Guard,”  have made impressive leaps and bounds writing documents, organizing marches, and sitting in on important administrative meetings to make their messages heard. 

Unfortunately, most of the members of Students Against Sexual Violence have graduated and their meetings have been either absent or infrequent since the beginning of the summer. Most of the group’s meetings were of great help to survivors, who could report their stories to other students anonymously. Not to mention, the group acted as an organizing vanguard for student action related to changing sexual assault policies. 

Dangers of a Single Narrative, on the other hand, still meets regularly. The Co-chair of this student organization, Nathara Bailey ‘15, said that the group was started because it was felt that the administration was ignoring the issue of sexual assault, or the intersectionality of identities within the framework of sexual violence, such as race, national origin, and sexuality. She told us, “There were times where I felt like I had to choose whether I was going to be black or I was going to be a woman, and that was disturbing to me because I can't rip the two apart. They inform each other.” She said she appreciates the meetings the school has undertaken to make more frequent, but that she, similarly to the majority of those interviewed, would prefer if these mandatory.  

With one more meeting left and the conclusion of a federal investigation to go, we could not ask for a more inconclusive situation. Sarah Lawrence students, faculty, administrators, and general staff await the answers this semester is bound to bring, but those answers may not be as simple as they want or expect. Perhaps many are left with the sense that we all need to act as a community, as well as the feeling that this problem is larger than our campus. The Dean expressed this sentiment well, stating “We are striving to hold our students to higher standards than civil society, so that they can be models to change the paradigm in which we live.” Or perhaps as a student put it, “We should be focusing not just on education, but on how to make a decent person in society.”

by Aviya Eschenazi '15