Note: This article contains discussions of sexual violence, rape apologism, and brief suicide mentions that may be disturbing to some readers.
The article you are about to read is intended to prompt renewed discussion of sexual violence and survivor re-victimization at Knox College. Although our campus has seen multiple waves of student activism centered on Title IX and sexual assault, the apathy regarding these issues is becoming pervasive at our school. As soon as the furor dies down from the most recent protest, petition, or call for change, we go back to our comfortable complacency. In short, we have learned to turn our face away from the collective suffering of an extraordinary number of students on our campus.
Now, we're going to face it head on.
PART I. Knox's Troubled History with Title IX
PART II. Ongoing Crises at Knox College
PART III. Survivor's Anonymous Testimonies
PART IV. Final Address to the Knox College Community
PART I: KNOX'S TROUBLED HISTORY WITH TITLE IX
Most of us are familiar with the fact that, since January of 2014, Knox College has been under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights for alleged gender-based discrimination against sexual assault survivors (x). Since the start of the investigation, Knox has taken some important steps to right our wrongs. We have hired a sexual assault therapist, stopped using comedy skits to teach incoming first-years about consent, and -- most importantly -- hired an external investigator to conduct investigations of alleged sexual violence, rather than using a Grievance Panel of faculty, staff, and students.
All of this is good news, at least on the surface. But if you dig deeper, you find that the infrequent changes the Knox administration makes to policies and procedures are often a response to extensive student campaigning and outcry (and the Office of Civil Rights' firm suggestions), rather than proactive measures on the part of the Knox administration.
I'll give perhaps the most obvious example of how long it often takes for issues to be addressed at Knox. As previously mentioned, the College previously utilized a Grievance Panel to investigate Title IX violations, which meant that professors, faculty, and even fellow students were tasked with resolving sexual misconduct. In 2006, sexual violence victims began reporting problems with the Panel, and their concerns led to a comprehensive assessment of the Panel by a Knox student. The assessment included substantive evidence that there were indeed serious problems with the Panel; for example, the study found that Panel members were scantily trained for their position, that the victims who underwent the Panel process felt their assaulters were given blatant preference, and that the victims were asked about their credibility, their sexual history, and their alcohol consumption, with one survivor stating the Panel treated her like a "lying slut."
Fast forward to the year 2014, when an article in Knox's student newspaper, The Knox Student (TKS), stated that survivors at a Title IX-related focus group expressed feelings of re-victimization by the Grievance Panel (x). This is a full eight years after the earlier assessment debating the merits of the Panel, a span of time in which the Panel had continued to operate even as students repeatedly attempted to voice their concerns. During the eight years between these two articles, the TKS wrote at multiple points that the Panel needed to be dissolved, and students reiterated their concerns. In sum, it took nearly a decade for the Knox administration to seriously consider dissolving the Grievance Panel despite growing student frustrations.
And that's certainly not the only example of the Knox administration dragging their feet when prompted to change policies and procedures. After a 2014 student rally featured several students speaking out against Knox's Title IX process, Title IX staff and administrators published an open letter to the campus the following week with the headline "We Hear You." The letter addressed an expansion of confidential reporting options for survivors (note: the options at Knox College are a total of 3 people, all of whom are therapists), as well as their plan to better communication between the students and administrators and to provide students with a safer campus.
Almost two years later, the Knox administration had to write another, similar open letter after a new flood of student activists again accused them of mistreating sexual assault survivors. This second administrative letter was a response to an April 2015 TKS article that described a student named Kathleen (name changed) and her harrowing journey through her Title IX process at Knox. Kathleen wrote of the serious hostility of the Title IX staff, of a 14-hour long hearing on campus, and of not being allowed to leave the campus building during the entire day of the hearing even though her offender was allowed to Skype in (according to her testimony in-person, she also had to be escorted to and from the bathroom). The administrators' article promised more changes, better policies, easier processes -- much the same way the former Title IX team promised the student body almost two years earlier.
Alongside the administrators' article ran a column by Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS):
Because of Kathleen's case and many other mishandled cases, Knox
administration should and must already know that we deserve more. Yet
administrators have not answered students' calls for change to a reformed
system that does not cause pain and revictimization . . . Compliance with
the OCR is not enough -- we need to feel that our administrators feel that
the prevention of sexual assault and the support for survivors/victims is a
priority because they truly care, not just because they have to.
SASS and other student groups had spearheaded multiple campaigns against sexual assault by that point, and their exasperation in the open letter came as no surprise to those who had kept track of these efforts. And as I close this section, I have to note: students have an phenomenal capacity to fight back against injustice. I am so inspired by the activism I have seen both at Knox and across the United States. Students around the nation are putting together demands to end structural racism at their colleges, holding protests and signing petitions, and joining survivor Emma Sulkowicz in a symbolic gesture of survivor solidarity called "Carry That Weight." Knox students are no different: we too, have carried that weight, taken back the night, and reclaimed our bodies. Yet again and again, through no fault of our own, we fall short of changing what several survivors simply refer to now as "the Knox System."
PART II: ONGOING CRISES AT KNOX COLLEGE
As our investigation under the OCR continues, administrative apathy toward Knox's Title IX problems has persisted as well. The most recent major attempt to correct these problems has come in the form of the ongoing student-driven Title IX campaign. Much of our focus in the 2014-2015 academic year was our demands for change, which included basic requests such as educating students on mandatory reporting policies (an endeavor promised by administrators in the April 2014 "We Hear You" letter, but never fulfilled), providing sexual assault resources for international students, and informing students of the availability of retroactive prosecutions. The demands were formulated in accordance with the Office of Civil Rights' guidance on Title IX, professional input, and -- crucially -- the testimonies of dozens of students who had gone through with Title IX complaints.
Throughout our campaign, students repeatedly told our campaign their cases had been mishandled in numerous ways. Two survivors told me that a Title IX staff member called their therapist and asked them to breach confidentiality so that she could find out if the survivors "were doing okay" in therapy. Others had been told by Title IX staff that simply telling their own friends and family members that they had been raped constituted a "retaliatory act" against their rapists, and that they could be legally threatened by Knox. Many of them stated that they had been touched, rubbed, or hugged by our Title IX Coordinator without their consent. Some said they had been denied academic accommodations because they did not have medical proof of PTSD, or asked to change residence halls so as not to live near their perpetrator but were denied a room change.
A huge problem survivors reported consistently was Knox College's stringent mandatory reporting policy. Mandatory reporting has always been a heated issue at Knox College -- the policies are so rigid that even if a mandated reporter overhears a private conversation between two students about sexual assault, they are told they must interrupt the conversation and ask for more information, even if they know neither of the students. This strict policy applies to dormitories, the cafeteria, and even off-campus locations. Resident assistants have also expressed concern, and student activists went before faculty committees voicing their disagreement with the policy a few years ago. Last year, a petition to relax some of our school's reporting policies garnered approximately 750 signatures, which is roughly half of the entire student body. Far from "breaking a culture of silence," as our college president once envisioned, stringent mandatory reporting policies have furthered a culture of fear. To compound the issue further, according to my and other students' surveys of the student body, most students at Knox still do not even understand what mandatory reporting is, much less how to report a sex crime.
Toward the end of Spring term, 2015, the Title IX campaign hosted a forum in which students could openly discuss the problems they had voiced to us privately. The two-hour-long forum revealed serious concerns students eagerly put forth, including accounts of racial discrimination by Title IX coordinators, frustration that many Title IX cases linger for over half a year in some cases, general upset that fraternities are not allowed to expel known rapists because they have been told it is considered "retaliation" under Title IX, and so forth. The forum culminated in a summary available online but garnered no serious administrative response.
Noting that the administration had refused to even attend the forum, SASS once again ran an open letter in TKS, stating:
[The administrators'] assertion that survivors' voices are already heard enough
on campus is deeply problematic, as survivors' needs consistently go unmet and
survivors themselves continually express feeling silenced . . . the student body
has had virtually no idea how the administration intends to hear student feed-
back or accept our input . . . [T]he idea of an open forum has been extensively
discussed during this ongoing campaign as well as during [other task forces].
Students are aware of the incredible lack of communication that has been
visible since the appointment of our current Title IX Coordinator.
The letter ended with a plea to the administration to "please prove to students that you have a vested interest in our voices and concerns." But with no response to the letter, and after several frustrating meetings between students and administrators which had no fruitful outcome, students in the Title IX campaign held a protest in front of prospective students to warn that not only is rape prevalent at Knox, but it is relatively unchecked. This protest, too, was met with almost complete dismissal on the part of administrators, though administrative silence on student protests at Knox is nothing new: a Black Lives Matter protest and speakout at last year's MLK Day commemoration, a Black Lives Matter solidarity rally for Mizzou, and a large-scale student walkout were all met with unsatisfactory outcomes, as well.
More recently, the Title IX campaign focused more on collective healing, survivor solidarity, and victim resources, including producing a Student Manual for Title IX, a website for recovery resources, and other endeavors. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful at accomplishing most of our goals due to lack of resources and administrative interest. Activism in general has somewhat waned in the past few months, because (in the words of a fellow activist): "Why even try when nothing ever changes at Knox?" Indeed, the prevalent sense of pessimism and (somewhat justifiable) complacency throughout the student body has only seemed to grow during my time at the College. Despite all this, I know that Knox students have an incredible legacy of resistance, protest, and solidarity.
So, on to the stories. Read these as a call to action. And then: act.
PART III: SURVIVORS' ANONYMOUS TESTIMONIES
Note: Please also be aware that I cannot source these comments. They are pieces of evidence I have collected during my discussions with over 25 survivors at Knox College and are used under the condition of anonymity. As such, they are confidential, and I cannot "prove" anything. I only hope that the weight of the statements and the prior evidence given in this article is enough to speak for itself.
"My Title Ix [sic] case at Knox literally almost destroyed me. That's all I have to say about it."
"As a student activist, I have heard three separate survivors on this campus claim that they have either attempted or seriously considered suicide because of the difficulties they experienced during their Title IX process."
"Our school president said that she's not the one to go to to talk about [our Lead Coordinator] mishandling things, then promptly said, "You should go to her boss, which is me," and [she] refused to handle it."
"I desperately wanted to talk to [a professor] after I was raped, but she was a mandated reporter. I felt like I had no support system. I didn't know who could report me."
"When I was filing a complaint, and at later times, the [Title IX Coordinator] touched me, without asking. She probably meant it to comfort me, but it felt invasive and weird. I know she has done this to one other friend. I also have just felt a general lack of caring during my Title IX case in other respects. I mentioned problems with my case to [staff and administrators], but everyone basically just told me to look at it in a different perspective or to take it up with [another staff member] who never really responded back. I almost wish I didn't file a complaint in the first place because I feel like it's not being taken seriously."
"The issues here at Knox with the Title IX are unbelievable, and the even more shocking thing is that the school doesn't move one finger in order to fix things up, instead they brush it off. [The President of the school] is not qualified to be a president because she does not take these issues seriously nor does she listen or respect the students and their demands of change."
"I have been on this campus for a while at this point and my perception of Title IX issues on this campus has done nothing but tank since I first arrived. As an artist on this campus I often feel unable to own my trauma in the way I want to for fear that I will fall victim to mandatory reporting. I additionally am appalled on a campus that is this small that offenders are allowed to walk around as though they have not violated often multiple people. It is horrendous that my lovers and my friends are forced to look at their rapists on a daily basis. WE ONLY HAVE ONE CAFETERIA, it's a sticky situation, [and] people are often unable to eat or have to leave because of the sheer amount of people who are known aggressors in the caf. It's deplorable."
"I completely distrust every aspect of Knox based on my own experiences. Health Services is a joke [and] they don't give birth control. The Title IX processes are scary. The administration doesn't care about this stuff and are no help, since they never follow up on problems students have had. Professors report you, resident advisors report you, and friends don't know what to do about any of this. Plus, you see your perpetrator everywhere on campus, and some of your friends are still friends with him. Do you see how scary this is for fucking survivors???"
"I do not feel safe at Knox College with the way that sexual assault cases have been handled. We are not allowed to "retaliate" by warning other students that these people are rapists, and and the victims are treated with contempt by the title xi [sic] panel. It's unsafe, not right, not serving justice to the victims."
"I successfully actively avoided reporting my assault for 504 days before I was outed to the Title IX coordinator. When the incident occurred barely two months into my first year of college, I already knew enough horror stories to understand that I was better off not reporting. The effort I put in and lies I told to conceal my story for over a year should make apparent the failings of Title IX at Knox. I still don't know who felt the need to tell my story for me but to them I have this to say: you are complicit in assisting the college in their attempt to assault me a second time. Fuck you."
"There should be no question of allowing the man who raped three women (and who knows how many more) back into the college after his expulsion. Yet that question was still asked. Even when our voices are heard, they're not taken seriously enough."
"The Title IX Coordinator touched me in a way I was uncomfortable with and didn't ask for consent beforehand. This was the first time we'd been face-to-face after the man who attacked me was found not responsible for my sexual assault."
"Title IX is incredibly damaging to survivors. Before I was forced to go through Title IX I had dealt with my assault and was able to go through my life. However, after being forced to go through Title IX, I have developed severe PTSD. I can't sleep at night without nightmares, and being intimate can cause flashbacks. I also should not have to give up being able to get into my own apartment so the person who assaulted me can be allowed into the building."
"The Title IX process at Knox is completely untrustworthy, invalidating, and disgusting. I have seen many friends suffer through the process, both voluntarily and involuntarily (mandatory reporting). I was subjected to mandatory reporting before it became a bigger problem. back in 2011 I was talking to [a Multicultural Center staff member] and disclosed that I had been sexually assaulted. She immediately called campus safety and told them that I was coming to report a rape. She made it seem like I didn't have a choice and that I absolutely had to report it. She walked me over to Old Main and announced that I was here to speak to campus safety about being raped. I was then forced to tell my story multiple times to multiple people. When I told them I wasn't quite yet ready to give them a name, they sent me home and never followed up again. It made me feel like they cared more about investigating for the sake of seeming like they cared instead of actually caring about my wellbeing."
"I talked to the president of Knox about the fact that I know 14 sexual violence survivors at Knox who are not reporting their sex crimes because they are scared of our lead Title IX coordinator. I told the president about this and she said, "Can you give me the 14 names?" I said no, of course not, because then she would have to report them to our Title IX staff. She responded, "Well then, I can't prove the absence of something, so I'm going to have to disregard this information." I shared this information with a social media outlet and Knox students were floored. It is so incredibly irresponsible for the person in charge of our school to completely dismiss information that people are afraid of our Title IX staff and that they aren't reporting serious victimizations because of her."
PART IV: FINAL ADDRESS TO THE KNOX COLLEGE COMMUNITY
Dear Knox Community,
I am grateful to those of you who have read through this entire piece. I am even more grateful for those who will act on these words and challenge, protest, and change. I could not descriptively mention some of the current problems Knox College has with Title IX - the lax No Contact Orders, the paltry sanctions, and so on - but I earnestly hope that this article has provided a glimpse at what is happening on our own campus.
Speaking as a student, this school did not provide the college experience I and so many other students wanted when we enrolled at Knox, confident in our decision to pursue education here. We have been deeply hurt, first by our assaulters and harassers, and then by the very school authorities meant to protect us. We have come together in campaigns, protests, petitions, speak-outs, and now this article, to demand more. I wholeheartedly promise you that the student outcry will not relent until these problems are rectified.
The word is getting out.