Addison Bennett and Soraya Attia Write Open Letter on Sexual Misconduct

Written by Executive Editor on February 27th, 2015

Thursday evening, the Skidmore community received the the following email sent on behalf of SGA President Addison Bennett ’16 and Senior Class President Soraya Attia ’15:

Dear Friends, Peers, Classmates, and all Skidmore Community Members,

As members of this community, we are writing in support of the recent efforts to bring attention to sexual and gender-based misconduct (SGBM) at Skidmore. This is an issue we have been working as SGA to address since the start of the academic year. Through the It’s Happening Here campaign and our work with the Advisory Council on SGBM, we have made strides to effect concrete policy changes that prioritize student safety and promote a zero-tolerance environment. Reina Kiefer’s readmission hearing protest on March 13 is one of the many examples of activism we have been calling for this year. We urge students to attend this peaceful protest to show our Student Body’s support for survivors across our campus. SGBM happens far too often at Skidmore and, as students, we must stand up together and work to prevent it.

It is time to become the zero-tolerance campus we wish to be. When a community member commits a sexual crime, we should not welcome that person on our campus. SGA has been working with the Advisory Council, the Vice President/Dean of Student Affairs, and other parties to make significant revisions to the SGBM policy, including:

  1. Changing sanction language to state that the College expects the SGBM Hearing Board to expel students found in violation in all cases of SGBM.
  2. When the Board does not choose expulsion, it must justify its decision in a written rationale for the case’s official record, which would be available to both parties.
  3. Expanding definitions of SGBM to include types of misconduct Skidmore does not currently account for, such as emotional and financial abuse.

Thanks to the work of the many student leaders and the responsiveness of the Advisory Council to our serious recommendations, we are proud to announce that changes along these lines and more are likely to be added to the official policy very soon.

​We know the numbers. Too many students of all gender identities experience SGBM while at college. Furthermore, the statistics available to us at this moment suggest that offenders will take advantage of other individuals more than once. According to Jed Rubenfeld in his 2014 New York Times article, Mishandling Rape, “Research suggests that more than 90 percent of campus rapes are committed by a relatively small percentage of college men — possibly as few as 4 percent — who rape repeatedly, averaging six victims each. Yet these serial rapists overwhelmingly remain at large, escaping serious punishment.” At the start of this year, we knew we needed to work toward practices that acknowledge this reality and adequately sanction all sexual offenders.

We are proud to say that progress has already been made so that students will not have to go through what Reina is going through moving forward.  However, at this moment, there are wrongs that must be corrected if Skidmore truly does hold its community values to a high standard. We are here to represent and stand by each and every student on this campus and to advocate for what is right.

​As student leaders — but most importantly, as Skidmore students — who have taken on this task of advocating for changes to our policy and culture, we have been heartbroken and humbled to hear stories from our friends and peers who have experienced SGBM at Skidmore. Whatever our policies may state, in the very real experiences of these innocent survivors, Skidmore does not always appear to prioritize their needs over those of the individuals found in violation.

To Hearing Board administrators and faculty: We implore you to remember the voice of the student body and the changes we have been advocating. Do not allow rapists to be a part of our community.

To the students: We urge you to take notice of this issue, educate yourself, and take steps to establish yourself as our ally against SGBM. We look forward to changes not only to our policy, but also to our culture, and we need your commitment to achieve that end.

To survivors: We admire your strength, and we offer you our advocacy as peers and friends. Please know that you have the support of an overwhelming majority of students and their representatives through SGA. We respect the difficult burden that you must bear, and we hope that the increased attention drawn to this issue will serve to combat without causing further harm.

We hope that our friends, peers, and classmates become our allies in setting Skidmore’s community standards on sexual and gender-based misconduct to a level as high we believe they should be.

Sincerely,

Soraya and Addison

 

7 Comments so far ↓

  1. That guy says:

    This move by Skidmore SGA makes a mockery of justice. Instead of forwarding these cases to the bodies designed to handle them, the courts and police, they are augmenting the college’s kangaroo-court system.

    It is unfair to the victims because it shifts their cases to a board composed of college representatives with a direct and obvious conflict-of-interest: preserving the College’s reputation. It denies them an opportunity to see their rapists punished with the sanctions required by law.

    It is unfair to the accused because, particularly with regard to their Constitutional rights, these college-run “courts” bear no resemblance to their legal namesake. As 28 members of the Harvard Law faculty recently noted in a letter, concerns include (quote):

    ■ The absence of any adequate opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses and present a defense at an adversary hearing.

    ■ The failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused, particularly for students unable to afford representation.

    ■ Adopting a definition of sexual harassment that goes significantly beyond Title IX and Title VII law.

    ■ Adopting rules governing sexual conduct between students both of whom are impaired or incapacitated, rules which are starkly one-sided as between complainants and respondents, and entirely inadequate to address the complex issues in these unfortunate situations involving extreme use and abuse of alcohol and drugs by our students. (end quote)

    The current policies, and the new proposal, ignore basic tenets of due process. They ignore the laws and values that we teach our own students. Skidmore’s students are pursuing this despite several recent high-profile cases in which college disciplinary boards have variously failed to provide victims with appropriate redress, or slammed through a conviction to satisfy a student body hungry for blood, only to later discover the suspect’s evident innocence.

    In a time when even our educational institutions are adopting hastily written, ill-considered policies in response to this issue, Skidmore needs to lead by example.

    It should:

    ■ Form a stronger relationship with the Saratoga Police Department and openly request they assign experienced officers to investigate sexual assault claims.

    ■ Offer pro bono assistance in providing legal representation to both claimed victims and suspects, especially those unable to afford it.

    ■ Remove the Hearing Board’s jurisdiction to consider any matter greater than disciplinary infractions, such as pulled fire alarms and minor drug possession, that would not ordinarily draw the attention of police.

    ■ If a victim decides to pursue a case, immediately forward it to the Saratoga Police Department.

    ■ If a suspect is convicted, immediately expel him.

    The issue here is not whether or how sexual assault should be punished. It is that, in America, as in all liberal democracies, convictions are supposed to happen in one place: a court of law. Not in the court of public opinion. Not in a fake court staffed by college administrators. That is justice.

    As I have previously stated, our student body’s ignorance of these fundamental principles means that either they are not being taught basic human rights, or they have created a dangerous culture that disrespects them. Both the epidemic of sexual assaults and the ignorant response by the College demonstrate a deep institutional sickness.

    As long as these hypocritical policies stand I will be withholding all future funds from the College.

  2. notarapist says:

    This is all well and good, but this letter, and the one sent to the community by the president, both subtly seem to be blaming the entire Skidmore community for the sexual assault that recently occurred. I think those advocating for a safe campus and to get rid of sexual assault need to be careful of the language they use, because shaming the community and trying to make the entire community responsible for such an act by one person is unrealistic and harmful.

    The part of the letter asking faculty to not allow rapists to be part of the community – how does that make sense? One does not have a crystal ball that will let us know who the rapists are before they rape, unless they have already committed the act previously and it had been documented.

    I’m all for Skidmore becoming a safer place, but it is also being unrealistic if it thinks it can ever be totally free of sexual assault forever, and it needs better ways of handling this than blame and shame of everybody who would never think of committing such a horrible, humiliating act. The truth is we live in a society where sexual crimes are common, and Skidmore has to realize it cannot shut out reality, and that as much as it would like to be its own sterile bubble, it has to exist within a larger community, the entire planet. This means that sometimes bad things will happen on campus. It is better to have in place a solid social network so that students who are harmed can be allowed to heal safely and correctly, and that guilt is not placed on those who may be able to support them.

    I also would like to remind us that we did have a rapist running amok on campus recently who was not a student. So even if the Student community successfully never again admitted another STUDENT who would commit sexual crimes, as I said it exists within the wider community, and you still have to deal with the possibility of sexual predators showing up on campus.

  3. Anon says:

    Beautifully said!

  4. SilentMinority says:

    I was raped by a woman at skidmore. No one was talking about zero tolerance then. This is just alarmist misandry.

    • A clinician who treats male and female perpetrators and victims of violence says:

      Women can rape. It happens far more than people think. I hope you have gotten the help you require. Did you report it?

  5. voice of dissent says:

    I find it interesting that people who have no clue about anything spend so much time on these things. Talk about going over the top. So I will bring up only 1 item, “1.Changing sanction language to state that the College expects the SGBM Hearing Board to expel students found in violation in all cases of SGBM” You understand that copping a feel is a violation of the SGBM policy, don’t you? Expel for that? Get real

    • Executive Editor says:

      Yeah! Why try and deter people from unwanted and nonconsensual touching? Boys will be boys, amirite?

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