Sexual assault is an epidemic facing all corners of our society. Before the “Me Too” movement, much of the national conversation about the crisis centered on rape culture on college campuses.
This centrality of discourse led to Lawrence and its institutional peers to make a number of reforms when it came to how they adjudicate these issues. Lawrence’s updated Sexual Misconduct Policy, available on the Lawrence University website, is one product of this work.
The updated policies and other reforms were possible because of brave students and faculty who worked together to protect their peers and students. While many great gains have been made by student organizations and individuals on this campus, problems with our institution, its policy and student behavior persist. Recently, a trusted campus community member shared with me something they felt was a major issue in the current policy. In the current policy, under the heading “Complaint Process Procedures” one paragraph begins “The Lawrence University Title IX Coordinator has the authority to initiate an investigation based on allegations of discrimination, prohibited by Title IX, even absent the filing of a formal grievance, or after its subsequent withdrawal.” This means that a survivor, whose agency has already been stripped away by a perpetrator, may have that agency taken away yet again by whomever may be serving as Title IX coordinator at the time. I do not write this article because I have reason to think our current coordinator, Kimberly Jones, is doing anything like this. On the contrary, I have heard her praised by some of our survivor peers.
That being said, I think that if we are serious about breaking down rape culture, then it starts with its institutional echoes in our policy. We should never be regulating the facility for any person to take agency from a survivor. As a community, our policy should be to listen to survivors, provide support and validation and work as hard as possible to make this place the home it is supposed to be again. If a survivor doesn’t want to pursue a complaint, then the university who they are paying for their education should ask how they could help instead of forcing a victim’s hand.
The policy does go on to specify that “In such a circumstance, the University Title IX Coordinator will take all reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the matter in a manner that is informed by the complainant’s articulated concerns.” But one must remember that this is a policy written by a committee, so those against this statute probably asked for this kind of language as a concession. This clause does nothing to limit this authority and only offers a conciliatory promise of “reasonability,” which may beg the idea that some survivors wishes as to how their case should be handled are not reasonable. In reality, what is unreasonable is for Lawrence to claim it wants to help and support survivors, when it can’t even guarantee them any control if they come forward for help. Many serious incidences of sexual misconduct are never reported and I fear that policies like this do little to assure survivors that they are going to be supported.
Those two quotations are all of what the policy says on this matter. There is no missing context here. This policy must be changed and I think as an institution it must be determined how and why this policy came to be. I could wax poetic about conspiratorial ideas that explain why this exists. I am sure some of you reading this may have already come to you own conclusions about what reasoning led to such a problematic policy. The truth is, we can’t know because this process was not transparent enough. If faculty committees continue to make decisions against the interests of the student body, then students must demand more oversight. This policy needs to change; our community needs to change. In this context, the survivor should be everyone’s first concern. If you disagree, I think you should take a grave look at what you value and why. As a community, let’s vow not to strip survivors of agency and instead find a way to teach people to honor a person’s right to self determination of their body and life in the first place.