A Response to Administrative Responses
In light of the on-going campus debate, lengthy press coverage, the publication of two honor cases in 2010 for sexual assault, and a record-breaking eleven reported sexual assaults this year, I found myself waiting and watching for the administration to chime in on the call and response. Following former Judicial Board member Isabel Manley’s letter to the community clarifying her reasons for resigning the post a semester early on February 11th, I kept refreshing the icon on my inbox, awaiting some choice and reassuring words in a memo from Dean of Students Michael Brody or President Colin Diver. I’m in my eighth semester at Reed, so I know the ropes, figuring we would be having an emergency forum hosted by Honor Council announced via the SB Info listserv. Stunningly, neither email came.
That’s why I was a bit confused by the February 24th “Open Letter from the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Assault”, written by Associate Dean of Student Services for Student and Campus Life, Pete Meagher, a freshman administrator who happens to have a background in sexual assault response and prevention. Meagher introduced the new committee’s work as evaluating Reed’s processes in comparison to “our peer institutions… [and the] best practices nationally”. Luckily for the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Assault, less than one month after the publication of Meagher’s “Open Letter”, Vice President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights released a coordinated effort on April 4th that “introduces guidance on legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual violence in schools”. Reed and every federally funded school in the nation received a 19-page-long “Dear Colleague” letter, which clarified in no uncertain terms the legal obligations of every college and informed schools of the resources such as their “technical assistance to help schools achieve voluntary compliance with the civil rights laws it enforces”. (Likewise, recent coverage from March 20th in The Chronicle of Higher Education states that Dickinson College received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice “to make prevention education mandatory for all new students”.) The timing of this expert guidance, updated regulations, and the availability of federal grants certainly come at a serendipitous moment for Reed’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Assault, effectively finishing their research for them.
Following the front-page piece that ran on April 3rd in The Oregonian entitled, “Reed College embroiled in debate about sexual assaults”, I again anticipated a response from the administration. Ten days later, Michael Brody spoke on “Think Out Loud” on OPB. He began with a defense that said article as well as a previous piece from the same journalist from June 19, 2010 entitled “Assaulted and Abandoned: Sexual assault survivors on campus are often victimized again by colleges” that were published in The Oregonian were “stories” which contained “assertions” and “factual errors” on “specific issues”. (The editors of The Oregonian responded by publishing a statement that they were “aware of no factual errors in the piece and Reed had not specified any when the piece was published [in June]”.)
Side-stepping the moderator’s direct question about how Reed handles sexual assault, he first insisted that Reed has a strong prevention program, but never responded to the original question. Brody went on to defend the highly unusual all-student-board approach by asserting that the Judicial Board receives adequate training by an expert, Pete Meagher. However, student Nelle Heffron cites in “A Response to Manley’s Open Resignation Letter” that the training in question began only in Spring 2010, but “lasted only a few hours and did not even touch on such issues as typical behavioral responses for victims or the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder”. I myself was involved with Reed’s Sexual Assault Task Force from 2008 through 2010, and I can say that the optional online training module offered to the current freshman class has only been offered since this fall. I wonder if the Class of 2014’s hour-long training module has likewise prepared them to investigate and adjudicate sexual assaults?
The words of Dean Brody rang in my ears as he defined survivors of sexual assault repeatedly as “accusers”, “alleged victims”, and “the person who has presented themself as a survivor”. This linguistic commonality with the GOP sent a shudder down my spine, making me wonder if survivors are guided to press ‘rape’ charges to J-Board but ‘forcible rape’ charges to the Portland Police? Pressed by caller Isabel Manley as to how the Reed administration was planning on responding to her article to the Reed community itself, and not just directly to the press, Brody said that he was considering waiting until “next fall”.
I can’t help but feel that the administrative responses have been utterly lacking. A refusal to integrate criticism into community policy demonstrates not only a disregard for mandated federal regulations, but also reflects poor intellectual ability. I also get the sense that the administration intends to delay having a community discussion until most of the vocal students involved have either graduated, lost momentum, or lost hope.
Students have spoken out on the issue of reporting and adjudicating sexual assault because they care about the quality of their community—Reedies, if nothing else, care about each other and they care about honor. If our bubble is not a safe place, then what do we have left to believe in? Laws and social standards change, progressing over time—why should this not apply to Reed?
Let Reed grow and change. Let’s turn “Love Reed” into “Evolve Reed.”