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

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.

Consent workshop follows up fall semester's sexual assault protests

Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date Safe Project, presents his workshop on consentual sex for students   Photo by Lauren Gray '16

Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date Safe Project, presents his workshop on consentual sex for students

Photo by Lauren Gray '16

Throughout last semester, Sarah Lawrence College’s campus was a heated and upset one. Protests and marches regarding the safety of students and the climate of campus were being held monthly, and smaller groups of citizens were formed left and right to try and address the issues head on. It was hard to walk around campus without being reminded that “NO MEANS NO!” and that “consent to one act is not consent to all acts”. A call to arms of sorts was brought to the administration, demanding change and recognition and our campus was in uproar. Our voices were heard and Karen Lawrence, President of Sarah Lawrence College, called a school wide meeting that took place on the North Lawn, where hundreds of faces gathered together for what seemed like the largest congregation of Sarah Lawrence community members ever. Safety, change and other promises were made; however all in all, students left the lawn feeling little more than let down. 

Now here we are, in March, and the college is coming through, or at least trying. Dina Nunziato, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Health Services and Paige Crandall, Dean of Student Affairs, have been making efforts to reinstate a sense of security not only in the students and campus life, but in the willingness of the administration to hear what community members are concerned about. Because of this, the college hired Mike Domitrz to come to campus on Monday, February 10th and give his consent workshop entitled “Can I Kiss You?” as part of the date safe project. A total of only forty students showed up for the 7p.m. consent workshop, the change the campus had been asking for just months before. 

The idea that social justice, advocacy and caring about our fellow community members was but a fleeting spark of passion due to unjust situations is not one that the Sarah Lawrence community should strive to embody or uphold. Just because time has passed, does not mean the problems have disappeared and by not participating as a community, we create a climate that allows for the “social justice fad” to exist, and we all know that is not something we want to associate ourselves with.

A trend that Domitrz spoke about in his workshop was the concept of hookup culture, specifically about how it doesn’t actually exist. Because so many people in our generation adhere to a certain set of cultural norms, and the sexual education we receive is so limited in what we can do, as opposed to the long list of things we can’t do, we’ve entered into an era of silent sex. The stigmatizing of communication during sexual encounters in fear that it might “ruin the moment”, a concept which Domitrz also claims does not exist, has brought us to a place where miscommunication is almost unavoidable. When we look at the lack of communication between sexual partners, and factor in the social pressures that keep outsiders from interfering in potentially dangerous situations, such as the idea of “cockblocking” or remaining uninvolved to avoid confrontation, it is easy to see the flawed unwritten rules which govern a lot of the ways that we interact with each other. This system is hypocritical at the very least, where “stand by and watch” is normalized in party and hookup culture, yet as soon as someone has been raped, the gut reaction is to inflict harm on the perpetrator. 

The real question here is why don’t we just use our words? If the “magic” moment is just that, a fleeting period of time in which our partner wants us in the same way that we want them, won’t the same be true after the question is asked? It takes more courage to ask, because you put yourself at risk of rejection, instead of just going for it. Asking your partner also lets them know that you respect them and their body enough to check in with them. Surprisingly enough (or not), I’ve spoken with lots of students here at SLC who have said that they have received negative responses from some of their partners who did not want to be asked. Unfortunately, these reactions are part of the problem and are, in a way, propagating the rape culture that we find coincides with our current hook up culture. By making it so that our partners feel uncomfortable asking for fear of being made fun of or berated, we close the very streams of communication we need to have open in order to have enthusiastic and consensual sex, before anything has even really happened. Communication is key when exploring other people’s bodies, and if you feel like it’s too awkward to talk about, than you and your partner may not be ready to be doing it. 

It takes a community to make change, and as community members it is our responsibility to put in the same amount of footwork as we expect our superiors, colleagues and peers to put in. This means we cannot stand by if we see a dangerous situation unfolding, and we cannot just passively accept that SLC could be a better place. This is a call for continuing to proceed with the groundwork that has been laid before us and building a community, which is safe and consensual, both in and outside of our sex lives. 

By Lauren Gray '16
lgray@gm.slc.edu
sunnygray.tumblr.com

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.