An Open Letter to the Reed Community
I am writing this letter to you because I want to explain why I am resigning from the Judicial Board and, more importantly, because I want our community to start thinking critically about the relation between sexual assault, the honor process, and the Judicial Board. During my three semesters as a J-Board member, my highest priority has been (as I believe is the case for all J-Board members) serving our community, and I feel a huge degree of responsibility towards all the people I’ve worked with through the board. For this reason, out of respect for my peers, fellow Judicial Board members, the honor principle – and especially anyone who has ever participated as a complainant or respondent in an honor case – nothing I write in this article should be read as a reflection on anything that could fall under the umbrella of confidentiality. However, I will take the liberty of reflecting on my own experience of internal discussions within the board -with various board members, our J-Board chairs and, in the context of Judicial Board training, with advising staff and faculty (including Colin, Mike, Pete, our advisors Nora and Keith and Reed’s lawyer Ed). In this regard, I have made efforts to consult the J-Board chairs about the content of this letter. I invite Luke, Hannah and any other J-Board member (past and present) to share their perspective if they so wish.
As I understand it, Colin Diver advocates free speech as an integral right and responsibility of the honor principle. Thus, this letter is the result of my belief that, under the honor principle, I should express the following concerns to my community in the interests of opening productive, and respectful, dialogue. In these remarks, I do not intend to discount the honor process or discourage any Reedie from participating in it; in many ways, I think the our judicial process is an amazing and unique resource, but I also think it needs some improvement (for example, reforming a hearing process that currently leaves survivors little option other than spending hours in the same room as their alleged assailant, as both parties recount the alleged assault). Due to the extremely sensitive and serious nature of sexual assault, I sincerely hope all emerging discussions will be kind, considerate and uphold confidentiality. I think we can do better than we’ve done in the past.
I will not be serving on the Judicial Board this semester (cutting short my second year-long appointment) because, last November, the current Judicial Board chairs asked that I not serve as a hearing board member or procedural aide for cases involving possible incidences of sexual assault or harassment, citing comments from a former J-Board chair about my supposed ‘strong emotional attachment’ and alleged ‘high-profile’ interest on campus in regard to the subject of sexual assault (after asking for further clarification about these statements, I have not received an explanation that a) gives a comprehensive account of the reasoning behind these claims or b) states why, if true, these qualities would compromise my judicial objectivity). I appreciate the time and thought Hannah and Luke devoted to discussing this issue with me, after which they rescinded their request but still expressed reservations about my ability to serve on sexual assault cases. However, as a result of these conversations, I have chosen to leave the Judicial Board because I would neither feel comfortable complying with concerns I do not feel are credible, or serving without the full confidence and trust of my chairs. Moreover, I feel that I would be condoning an institutional approach to sexual assault and justice – one which largely discounts or ignores reliable studies and expert opinion, and has not made any significant progress in adapting judicial procedure to the specificities of sexual assault – which I have come to believe is unethical and unjust.
This article is not about me, but about our Judicial Board and the reality of sexual assault on our campus. I am not an expert on sexual assault, but here are some things I think I do know: I don’t think the Judicial Board has sufficient understanding or training regarding sexual assault or PTSD to make truly informed decisions; I don’t think the Judicial Board has enough information to judge consent in varying and diverse situations; sexual assault cases potentially place a huge emotional burden on J-Board members, which I can only imagine is more difficult for other case participants; and finally, the Judicial Board Code currently sets out a hearing procedure that, in the instance of a sexual assault case, could be not only unduly stressful but even (re)traumatizing or triggering for the people involved.
I would say that the Judicial Board and the faculty and staff we work with are very aware and rightly concerned about the particular challenges that can arise if a potential sexual assault case is brought to the J-Board. However, I am discouraged because – despite numerous internal conversations, suggestions for procedural improvements and alternate resources, and concerns voiced both on campus and in the local press- I don’t really think I’ve seen concerted institutional efforts to implement the concrete changes that could give participants in a sexual assault case more potential options and adequate support in such an undoubtedly difficult situation. Logistically speaking, the considerable stress and time commitment involved in being both a J-Board member and Reed student severely limits the attention the board can itself devote to substantial and complex projects of this nature. I’ve felt that some of the various staff and faculty members who council the board are only receptive to certain kinds of questions and critiques, even if they reflect perspectives prevalent in the Student Body. Personally, I’ve noticed that as a girl and self-identified feminist my questions and comments have been given less consideration and weight than those of my (self-identified) male fellow board members. This impression is exacerbated by the fact that, after being appointed to the board, I was told I would have to choose between serving on the Judicial Board and signating the Feminist Student Union, as it was alleged that involvement in a feminist group could lead to bias-related concerns about my ‘neutrality’ in regards to the issue of sexual assault.
Essentially, even though our community is making productive efforts to address sexual assault and educate ourselves about consent, I don’t trust that – with no open lines of communication between the J-Board and the Sexual Assault Task force – Reed will engage current concerns surrounding the Judicial Board’s relation to sexual assault as quickly or thoroughly as is necessary. A 2005 National Institute of Justice Report entitled “Sexual Assault on Campus” reports that over an average five-year college career, 1 in 5 college women experience rape. A 2010 investigative series entitled “Seeking Justice for Campus Rapes”, conducted by NPR in conjunction with The Centre for Public Integrity, similarly assesses the scope and scale of the problem (like any good Reedie, I’ve followed my letter with a bibliography). I believe that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is an issue of human rights – the equal right of survivors to receive an education free from the fear or threat of violence. As so many rapes go unreported I don’t know if these statistics hold true in our community, but I do know that Reed is not as much of a bubble as we sometimes like to think.
And yet, because we are granted the privileges of the Honor Principle and self-governance, we (you) have the opportunity to both make our voices heard and act in the name of change and justice if we see fit – for the benefit of survivors, our community and those (justly or unjustly) accused of sexual assault. My manifesto would be as follows:
i) Establish/ hold a forum in which the community can express thoughts and concerns relating to sexual assault.
ii) Conduct an anonymous, campus-wide survey in an attempt to find comprehensive information and statistics about sexual assault at Reed.
iii) The Judicial Board and their advisors should implement the procedural adjustments for cases concerning potential sexual assault or harassment that have been suggested and deemed appropriate, and make the necessary resources available. This could take the form of a document, detailing the possible resources and options available to participants in a sexual assault case (for example, hearings that take place through video conferencing* or written correspondence, on/ off campus resources for care and safety available to all parties and witnesses involved in a case etc.). This document should be added as an appendix to the document “Rights and Responsibilities of Participants in a Judicial Board Case”.
iv) An effort must be made not only to take educational and preventative measures against sexual assault on our campus, but fully review on campus procedures for seeking justice and resolution in the event of a potential sexual assault. We could begin by forming a working group–compromised of current/ former J-Board and SATF members, as well as Student Services staff –to assess what work needs to be done, decide who should do it, and take concrete steps to ensure that dialogue and action can start to happen.
iv) For you, and the whole Reed community, to start thinking and communicating about how to respond to the reality of sexual assault on our campus
Now it’s your turn, Reed. I still want to believe in you.
Sincerely, and with love,
* Hannah and Luke wanted me to mention that, as far as they have been told, Reed does not have sufficient technological resources for the J-Board to conduct a hearing over video conference (Apparently, the necessary equipment would cost around $2000, if anyone would like to source or donate this amount).
National Institute of Justice Report. “Sexual Assault on Campus: What Colleges and
Universities are Doing About it”.
National Public Radio. “Seeking Justice for Campus Rapes”
The Centre for Public Integrity. “Sexual Assault on Campus. A Frustrating Search for Justice”. http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/campus_assault/
The Judicial Board Code.
Sexual Assault Policy.
Oregonian Article about Reed. “Assaulted and Abandoned: Sexual assault survivors on campus are often victimized again by colleges”. http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/06/assaulted_and_abandoned_on_cam.html
Mike Brody’s Response in the Oregonian. “Editorial Response: Sexual Assault Carries Weight, is addressed at Reed College”