“This is Not About Me. This is About Us” Students Occupy HUB to Demand Title IX Reform

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“This is Not About Me. This is About Us” Students Occupy HUB to Demand Title IX Reform

By The Editorial Board

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College Administration has agreed to nine of 17 student demands regarding reforms to College Title IX policy following a multi-day student sit-in at the HUB. The reforms were personally approved by President Margee Ensign in consultation with a student run organization founded by Rose McAvoy ’20. 

Some of the demands agreed to by administration dealt with the time frames governing Title IX investigations, governing interactions between respondents and complainants in Title IX cases, and penalties when respondents are found responsible. A full list of demands can be found on page two. The student outcry has been picked up by several media organizations, including but not limited to The Carlisle Sentinel, CBS23, ABC27, FOX43, Penn Live, WHIP and WGAL. A Change.org petition calling on the college to adopt the demands had 1,153 signatures as of print time. 

Administrators approved the demands in two stages. The first set were approved on Monday, Feb. 3, and a second set were approved on Tuesday, Feb. 4. In an email to the college community announcing acceptance of the first set of demands, Ensign wrote “what Rose experienced on our campus should never have happened to her or anyone. I am so sorry about what she has had to endure and the length of time it took us to resolve her case. We will do better.”

The demands were presented at 10 a.m., when a sit-in at the HUB organized by the student led organization Dickinson College Title IX Reform. The organization formed following the publication of an editorial in the Jan. 30 edition of The Dickinsonian titled “I’m Done Waiting for Dickinson to Take Sexual Assault Seriously” written by Rose McAvoy ’20, in which McAvoy detailed perceived shortcomings in the college’s Title IX investigation into a sexual assault suffered by McAvoy in 2017. 

McAvoy to created the student-led organization, which has no formal affiliation with the college, to call for reform of Title IX policy. Following its publication, Dickinson College Title IX Reform organized a student meeting for Friday, Jan. 31 in Kaufman Hall. News of the meeting quickly spread through campus, as students posted the flyer on Instagram. The Friday meeting caught the attention of local news outlets WGAL and Penn Live. However, they were barred from entering into the building with their camera crews by administration. Reporters from both organizations attended the meeting as private citizens. Around 300 students attended the meeting inside Kaufman 179. Attendees also stood in the hallway and listened as the room far-exceeded maximum capacity. 

McAvoy was greeted with applause from all audience members. McAvoy first discussed her grievances with Title IX policies at Dickinson and then introduced her first five demands. The meeting then opened up as students voiced their opinions and suggestions for reform. Most students gave ideas for demands they thought should be met, but others offered McAvoy words of encouragement and shared that they had had similar experiences with Title IX at Dickinson.

The meeting, intended for only students, was also attended by Brenda Bretz, vice president for institutional effectiveness and inclusivity, John Jones ’77, chair of the board of trustees, Donna Bickford, director of the women’s and gender resource center, Ruth Ferguson ’92, board of trustees member, and Associate Professor of Psychology and Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies, Megan Yost. 

Bretz voiced her support for McAvoy’s cause, but then clarified that new Title IX policies were written to include details of McAvoy’s proposed demands. McAvoy and other students voiced their frustrations of Bretz’s editorial article, “We do listen. We do make changes. We welcome your input,” published by The Dickinsonian on Friday, Jan. 31. The article was written in response to McAvoy’s Jan. 30 article. 

Jones then addressed McAvoy and congratulated her on her activism for reform. Jones also mentioned that he attended the meeting on behalf of college President Margee Ensign, who was out of the area recovering from knee surgery. 

Title IX Peer Educators Areya Campbell-Rosen ’22 and Nhi Ly ’22 also attended the meeting and took notes for Title IX Coordinator Kat Matic. 

The meeting featured back and forth dialogue between McAvoy and other students. According to McAvoy, she felt that Bretz’s input did not help make the meeting more productive. “I feel like we weren’t able to have the meeting that we were there to have because she was being very defensive, so we also had to be defensive,” McAvoy said. 

McAvoy concluded the meeting with information on the planned sit-in protest, scheduled to begin on Monday Feb. 3. McAvoy was met with a standing ovation by attendees. “I was very surprised by the turnout, so that was pretty exciting,” McAvoy said about the meeting. 

In an interview with WGAL following the Friday meeting, Chair of the Board of Trustees John Jones ’77 said, “it is a very complex thing, Title IX. I think Dickinson College has made substantial improvements in the last few years.” Jones added that Title IX is a “hot button issue. I don’t think there is a university in the United States that does not find this to be a fraught issue.”

“I knew [Jones] was going to be there. He approached me the night before and voiced a lot of support for the article and the movement. I was very surprised when he came to the meeting and was kind of negative,” said McAvoy about Jones’ presence at the meeting. 

The sit-in itself began with a speech by McAvoy announcing her demands and requesting support from fellow students. About 90 students were at the start of the protest at 10:00 a.m. The number of students quickly expanded by 11:00 a.m. when around 200 students were at the protest. 

“Many of you have told me how brave I was for speaking out, and I appreciate what you’ve said to me […] but I just really want to be clear with all of you that this is not about me, this is about us, and this is about Dickinson College,” said McAvoy while addressing students gathered in the HUB, “Dickinson College has failed us. Their inaction has resulted in untold suffering.”

“You can really see the commitment in some people, like both of us have suitcases, and other people have huge backpacks, they have pillows, it really shows that we’re willing to stay this for a while,” said Cecilia Lamancusa ’20, a participant in the sit-in.

On Monday, Feb. 3 at around 5:30 p.m., the first negotiations began and administrators approved of three demands and approved parts of another demand. They approved demand two, which states that “Title IX investigations must be completed within 60 days,” and outlined what would happen if the investigation took more than 60 days. Next, they approved demand seven, which states that “The removal of a No Contact Directive must require written permission from both parties. No Contact Directives against respondents found responsible in a sexual assault case can only be lifted with the written consent of both parties involved and the President of the College.” The last demand they approved on Monday was demand nine, which states that “Minimum sanctions for someone found responsible for rape must be raised to expulsion.” 

In an email regarding her acceptance of the first set of demands, Ensign noted “We have begun to make those changes and will be updating our policies, the student handbook and our website. We are reviewing all requests and look forward to continuing to work with Rose to resolve all of these issues and improve the way we respond.”

Administrators agreed to six additional demands on Tuesday following a meeting between students and administrators. These six demands include “The Title IX Office must establish set punishments for violating a No Contact Directive,” “A Campus Climate Survey must be conducted annually,” and “The Title IX Office must develop a standard punishment range for Intimate Partner Violence/Dating Violence.”

Students stayed overnight in the HUB to continue the protest into the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 4. At around 12:00 a.m. there were about 50 students still in the HUB. As of print time on Tuesday, Feb. 4 about 100 students were still occupying the HUB, planning to stay through the night again.  Students participating in the sit-in spoke in support of McAvoy. 

“I think that the school’s response should be quicker, and when someone is found guilty, it should be harsher. Just hearing about how little was done when Rose’s attacker was found guilty, is just ridiculous to me” added Mohala Kaliebe ’22, “I think the protest is great to see how many people are showing up and turning out, it’s kind of crazy to see the news attention too.”

Student Senate President Kevin Ssonko ’20 praised the sit in saying “actions of civil disobedience such as this don’t just raise awareness around an issue, but create the context in which this community can more authentically reflect the values it professes,” in an email to the student body.

“I would’ve withdrawn my early decision application if I knew this was happening on campus” said Stephanie Henderson ’23.

Professors also attended the sit-in. “I think that the student demands are things that should be moved through with members or leaders of administration on campus and so students seem organized and I’m proud to see this kind of solidarity among people who have experienced this sexual violence on college campuses” said Assisstant Professor of Philosophy Amy McKiernan, “I think it’s a systemic problem too, though across the country and we organized take back the night rallies when I was in college 15 years ago.”

A faculty meeting, which was scheduled for 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 3, was changed into an open forum where students and faculty could speak to administrators about Title IX. 

Addressing the assembled faculty, McAvoy stated that “[t]hese changes [made the previous evening] that have been done are not enough […] They partially met three of our demands.” 

During the open forum, a student request for faculty to stand if they had canceled classes, made class optional, participated in the sit-in or otherwise expressed support regarding the student protests was met with a majority of faculty standing. Students expressed frustration with administrators and faculty viewing the Title IX issue as being secondary to education. 

Ellie Mariani ’23 said, “This is more than just about missing classes. My assaulter was in one of my classes, and I had to push myself to go to my classes […] You want me to relive my trauma through multiple investigations […] my assaulter didn’t get punishment, I see him on campus daily, and I never want someone else on this campus” to go through what she did. 

An email sent out to faculty from Neil Weissman, Provost and Dean of the College, said “At this stage, faculty should respect students’ choice to protest, without waiving an expectation that they make up missed work. Given our responsibility to the students who wish to continue their classes, it is our expectation that classes continue.” 

At the meeting, the issue of canceling and making classes optional came up, and faculty expressed their concerns with Weissman’s comment on his expectation to continue to hold classes. Some faculty also raised concerns about how the college involves them in the Title IX process. Professor of Theatre and Dance Sherry Harper-McCombs raised a question regarding how faculty are informed about their students going through the process, stating that “in many cases, it seems like we’re not” informed. 

“If it’s possible to make arrangements to separate students, we will,” responded Weissman. If arrangements cannot be made, such as moving a student to a different section of the class, “we would let the faculty members know on a confidential basis.” 

In an email to the College community, Ensign announced that she had accepted further demands from the student protestors. These demands concerned suspension and expulsion as minimum sanctions, completing Title IX investigations in 60 days, changes to Dickinson College’s sexual harassment and misconduct policy requires approval from students, producing an annual report of Dickinson College Title IX cases, among others. 

“Many of these recommendations and demands will require additional resources,” added Ensign during the Tuesday meeting. 

When asked when the process of reforming the college’s Title IX process will resolve, Ensign responded “I take responsibility for any of these issues. Secondly, this process never stops. We are waiting for the new regulations for the department of education, and we will have to respond to those […] we will continue this dialogue.” 

“Change starts with us. If we aren’t the ones to stand up and demand that Dickinson do everything it can to prevent its students, who pay thousands of dollars a year to attend, from being sexually assaulted on its campus, who will?” said Jackie Logsted ’22.

“Listening without action is unacceptable,” said McAvoy in her opening speech at the sit-in on Monday.