Since the second Clery Act complaint was filed two weeks ago, students have continued to push forward in the ongoing movement to combat sexual assault on campus.
Early Tuesday morning, May 2, Mia Ferguson ’15 says she sent a preservation of evidence letter to the Deans’ Office. According to Ferguson, this letter ensures that the College cannot destroy any evidence gathered during an investigation, which can be used if a student wishes to file a lawsuit against the school.
Ferguson said she also received notification from the Department of Education (DOE) that they have filed her complaint, and, in addition, have sent a separate preservation of evidence letter to the College. In an interview with The Daily Gazette, Dean of Students Liz Braun said she does not know of the College having been contacted by the DOE.
Since filing the letter, Ferguson says she has become aware of the administration bringing in and questioning several of her friends, the two RAs to whom she reported her sexual assault, and her assailant—all without prior notification.
RAs are listed officially as “Campus Security Authorities.” Under that title, they are legally required to report any information about criminal acts—including sexual assault—as their role in the Title IX hierarchy, according to Dean of Housing Rachel Head.
“If an RA was called in because they knew about something, they are required to disclose what they know,” David Hill ‘13, an RA in Willets, said.
With the purpose of these meetings not made clear at this time, Ferguson says that she fears this lack of transparency, which she believes points to the larger problem of an absence of administrative collaboration with sexual assault survivors.
Ferguson said that she is waiting for members of the administration to reach out and initiate conversation with her. So far, the only meetings Ferguson has held with the administration was one that she scheduled herself with President Rebecca Chopp.
Braun has stated that she has not personally met with Ferguson or Hope Brinn ‘15, and she cannot say about other members of the administration.
On Thursday, May 2, Chopp announced that Margolis Healy & Associates had been chosen to conduct the independent external review of Swarthmore’s sexual misconduct policies. This professional services firm—which specializes in Clery compliance assessment and training, and safety and security program assessments—has been hired in the past by such schools as Amherst, University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth.
The external review could potentially overlap with the investigation that may be conducted by the DOE. However, Braun says that the college is committed to its own process, and is looking to get started as soon as possible
“We’re moving full steam ahead with getting things up and running for both the internal team and the external team, so again, it might be some time before we hear from the Department of Education. We’re not going to wait from them,” she said.
The investigation will span the entire summer, and will most likely extend into the next fall semester.
“Part of the intention is to continue [the investigation] into the fall so that students will have the opportunity to be a part of that,” Vice President Maurice Eldridge said.
According to Braun, Chopp went through hours of phone calls, intensive research, and extensive interviews during the search for identifying the firm that would handle the external review.
“We’re all ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Braun said.
Chopp also revealed the members of the newly formed Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, which will work in conjunction with Margolis Healy & Associates. The Task Force consists of two members of the Board of Managers, two professors, two members of the administration, and three students.
Braun says she thinks the future collaborations between the Task Force and Margolis Healy & Associates is a promising start to addressing the issues that students have voiced so far.
However, Ferguson is apprehensive about the Task Force, and the degree to which survivors will be willing to approach such a newly formed committee.
“I have a very hard time believing that survivors who have encountered big problems with the judiciary system here are going to feel comfortable talking to this many people who they haven’t met before,” she said.
In response to a growing number of students calling for campus-wide action, Braun and Chopp met with members of the SMART team earlier last week. Braun said she was pleased with the meeting, in which she discussed the team’s long-term goals, as well as campus climate. Braun also said one member came up with the idea for Thursday evening’s candlelight vigil.
While Braun was fully appreciative of the vigil, many students held their doubts. Several students voiced their concerns to Braun and other members of the administration of the apparent paradox of honoring survivors who have been silenced in the past with a silent ceremony.
“It really was not meant in any way to signal that we think that there should be silence around this issue. I think it was more in the context of our history, our tradition, and also the power of silence,” Braun said.
In an open question-and-answer session that Ferguson and Brinn held on Thursday evening, May 4, Ferguson suggested remaining vocal, propagating discussion with professors, and supporting the SMART team as proactive ways that the students can remain engaged in the evolving issue. Ferguson has been particularly grateful for the support she has received from her professors.
“It’s been refreshing to have them open the door for dialogue instead of shutting me off as a threatening character. They want to understand things, they want to actually have these conversations so things can get better,” she said.
As the school year is rapidly winding down to a close, Ferguson and other supporters are not concerned about support dying down during the summer. Ferguson says she has faith that students who have been impacted by this issue will remain committed to pushing for change and showing their support.
Braun and Eldridge also see progress continuing, both in terms of student and administration activity. The school will continue collaborating with the external review board throughout the summer, according to Braun.
“From an administrative side, the work will definitely continue,” she said.
In the end, Ferguson’s ultimate goal remains the same: to push the administration into coming clean.
“I think if the college is able to come forward and become accountable for their past, I think that’s the most promising thing for moving forward. I want to work with the college. I want to be here for the next two years and be a positive, contributing member of the community,” Ferguson said.
In the near future, Dartmouth and Berkeley are expected to submit Clery Act complaints. Ferguson is also planning to submit her own personal Title IX complaint. As this movement continues to spread across the nation, Ferguson implores fellow Swarthmore students to stand up for survivors at other colleges.
“Those campuses, especially Dartmouth, have been a lot more destructive towards students who have been speaking out. I think what’s been awesome for me is that this campus hasn’t been particularly angry or aggressive at us,” she said.
However, both responses have manifested themselves in other universities throughout the country, and, according to Ferguson, the survivors and supporters receiving the brunt of the negative responses can use all the support they can get. Ferguson and Hope both urged students to follow pages such as “Stand with Dartmouth” during the question-and-answer session, as well as to join them in reaching out to survivors across the nation through the IX Network.
“Look, we see this is a national problem…let’s support the students around the country who are trying to address this for themselves, because we know that Swarthmore, in a lot of ways, can be a safe haven. Let’s make sure we’re speaking for other students as well who can’t come to Swarthmore,” Ferguson said.