Letter to the Editor

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

To the administration of Mount Holyoke College,

On behalf of the student body, we feel that the actions taken thus far to deal with the problem of sexual assault and gender-based violence are not only grossly inadequate, but harmful to students and survivors. We recognize that due to the restrictions of the legal framework in place, the administration has attempted to address this issue to the best of their ability, but there are more helpful and inclusive ways to solve the problem. From the student body’s perspective, here are the actions we would like to see taken by the administration:

An official apology from President Stephens:

It has been said previously that an apology was not necessary; however, an apology would indicate that the administration is taking responsibility for their mistakes and has the best interest of the student body at heart. The allegations were made a year ago, and yet neither students nor the faculty of the accused professor’s department were Letter to the Editor made aware of them until recently, further putting students at risk. Sonya Stephens, as the face of the administration and the College, needs to step up, and an apology from her would indicate that she and her administration are prepared to engage in a real dialogue with students. The statement that she most recently made as of Oct. 21 was not an apology.

A place and time for dialogue to take place:

We recognize that some attempt to engage students has been made in the form of open forum discussions. However, the first discussion was announced mere hours before it took place, and it was at a time when many students, particularly students who work, student athletes and CAs, could not attend. Many were disappointed with the outcome of the meeting, and felt that it was meant to placate the student body and silence dissenting voices. We request that a mandatory meeting, including faculty and the administration, be held at a time where everyone on the campus can attend. Classes and other obligations should be suspended ahead of time in order to guarantee full access to this forum. Student workers should be allowed to attend the meeting during scheduled shifts and should be compensated for those shifts. Multiple spaces on campus should be made available for these meetings. Members of the administration should lead these dialogues and construct them with as much transparency as legally possible in order to give students the information necessary to keep them safe. The legal process should be explained in depth to students so all can understand why we have been kept in the dark about certain details of this investigation.

Communication from the administration:

We appreciate the attempts by various divisions of Student Life to communicate some information and provide some resources to the student body. However, these emails, which sometimes come multiple times a day, can be triggering for survivors. We ask that a trigger warning be attached to these emails so that survivors can decide if they are emotionally prepared to read their contents. The majority of these emails include lists of resources designed to support students during this trying time. However, many students feel that these offices are inadequate, need further training on issues of race, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, and for those reasons cannot be helpful to much of the student body. We demand further resources be provided and that the offices currently in place receive further training on biases and sexual assault. The student advisors and other professors have been playing a large role in caring for the mental health of the students, and while we appreciate their support, they are not mental health professionals and also need further training on these matters. Students would like the administration to clarify what legally can and cannot be disclosed so that we know what information has been withheld on a legal basis or otherwise. We would also like more information about how and where to report sexual assaults, as well as a basic outline of what a sexual assault investigation looks like on campus.

Volunteer-based and other support systems:

We request that trained student liaisons be assigned to the Title IX Office. Many survivors choose not to come forward on campus because of the Office’s connection to the administration, and they may feel more comfortable reporting to fellow students. These students should receive training in order to properly support survivors. These positions should be paid. We request that a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) be re-hired and on call at all times on campus, so that survivors do not have to leave their support systems in order to report and launch an investigation. In addition, we request that a safe space for survivors be formed so that all can discuss their experiences in a respectful, accepting environment without being pressured to take actions they may not be ready for.

Respectfully,

Giovanna Wiseman ’22 in conjunction with 70 concerned Mount Holyoke students

Mount Holyoke News

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