I’m Done Waiting for Dickinson to Take Sexual Assault Seriously

On October 30, 2017, I was sexually assaulted by another student.

It was a Monday night. It was in an Allison Hall choir room. He was my friend and a self-described feminist. Everyone involved was completely sober. I definitely didn’t anticipate it. It was violent. It left me physically injured, confused, sobbing, and convinced it was my fault.

It broke me.

In the days that followed, I was terrified of everything and I struggled with basic things like eating and going to class. Yet somehow, I worked up the courage to report my assault to Dickinson on December 6th.

They asked if I wanted to start a Title IX investigation. I was shaky and scared but said yes. Dickinson said they wanted to help, and I trusted them. 

For the first time since I was assaulted, I had a glimmer of hope. I’d done what I was supposed to do. I reported it. Dickinson knows what they’re doing. This is their job. They will help me.  Right?

Wrong. What followed was the most traumatic year of my life and it is entirely Dickinson’s fault.

The investigation began the next day. I was frustrated with myself for being so devastated by what happened. But now I know that’s normal when recovering from the trauma of sexual assault, especially when you have to continue living in the same community as your attacker. That’s really hard. That’s why federal Title IX guidelines require schools to complete investigations in a timely manner.

At the time, federal guidelines stated a “typical investigation” should take 60 days. Dickinson’s Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy also stated 60 days was the timeframe and any delay would be accompanied by notification and explanation. 

I thought, “60 days. I can handle 60 days. I can do this.” 

My investigation lasted 7 months. 209 days to be exact.

Never once was I given an explanation or a notification of  delay. I was completely left in the dark. I’d go months hearing nothing from the Title IX Office despite repeated requests. They kept reassuring “the investigation will be done in X number of weeks”. Then X weeks passed and I’d be given a new deadline, over and over again.

I began to struggle as my investigation dragged on.  I spent everyday thinking about this process. How could I not? I had to do interviews, send documents, respond to documents, provide witnesses, and constantly re-tell the story of my assault. All while navigating a community my attacker is still a part of.

I withdrew from social groups. We had too many mutual friends. I stopped participating in extracurriculars. He was a part of those too. I stopped eating regularly because I’d always see him in the cafeteria. Just seeing him was enough to send me into an overwhelming panic. Even when I didn’t run into him, I had to be constantly on guard everywhere on campus, even in my own dorm. I stopped sleeping. I became depressed and suicidal.

Meanwhile, I had to manage my classes. Title IX requires that students receive academic accommodations during an investigation. Most of my professors understood. But notably, after telling one professor what happened and meeting to discuss accommodations, she told me I just needed to “get over it”.

Having someone in a position of power say you shouldn’t be feeling what you’re feeling, while you’re desperately trying to overcome your own fears and doubts so you can advocate for yourself, that’s devastating.

As time went on, accommodations were not enough. The stress was too much for too long. I was forced to drop all my classes except two, barely enough to remain enrolled. Life was impossible for a long time. 

Finally, in June, the review panel unanimously found my attacker guilty of sexual assault.

I was relieved. I felt hopeful again. I waited for the review panel to decide his punishment.

A month later, they decided. My attacker would be given no punishment other than probation for one semester. To put that in perspective, that’s the same punishment the college gives for underage drinking or smoking weed. 

I was punished more by Dickinson’s process. My entire academic career was upended. My mental health and safety were put in jeopardy. All for the man who violently sexually assaulted me to be given a slap on the wrist.

That’s when I took action. After doing my own research and speaking with a Title IX lawyer, I learned how truly awful Dickinson treated me. How they violated their own procedures and even broke the law.

In addition to the violation regarding investigation length, Dickinson operated without a Title IX Coordinator for seven years. All cases from 2011 to 2018, including mine, were overseen by a former Dean of Students who acted as the “interim” Title IX Coordinator. Despite the fact that Title IX guidelines state a Dean of Students should never act as Title IX Coordinator due to conflicts of interest.

Then there’s the Clery Act. It requires Dickinson to release campus crime statistics annually, including sexual assault. However, Dickinson reported zero sexual assaults fitting my description in their annual report that year.

Whether due to incompetence or an attempt to preserve their reputation, this is concerning and calls into question every report Dickinson has published under the Clery Act. Manipulating those statistics is illegal and wrong. If they did it once, who knows how many times they’ve done it before.

Besides illegality, some of Dickinson’s other actions were just plain unethical. 

You may be surprised to know that participants in a Title IX case are not allowed to keep their own investigation report. Dickinson only allowed me to read my report in a secure room where phones were not allowed. The report was riddled with factual errors, misspellings, and typos. Then I was denied access to it ever again.

I can’t use the evidence Dickinson’s investigation collected to press legal charges against my attacker because I’m not allowed to have the report of that evidence. They denied me the report that proved I was assaulted.

Dickinson also edits investigation reports. They only include sections of transcripts from interviews with the complainant, respondent, and witnesses. Full transcripts were never shown to the review panel that decided my complaint. They only saw Dickinson’s edited report. 

Dickinson did not accurately portray what I said during these interviews. But, since I can’t access the full transcripts, I had no way of challenging their report.

In the most bizarre twist, in the same letter Dickinson said my attacker was guilty and would be returning to campus, the college rescinded the No Contact Order between me and my attacker.

The No Contact Order protected me from my attacker. Without any warning or explanation, Dickinson removed that protection AFTER my attacker was found guilty. I now had no guarantee of protection from him on campus.

Lastly, the worst thing Dickinson did wasn’t just to me. As my investigation dragged on for 7 months, our community was vulnerable. Dickinson took no precautions to prevent my attacker from assaulting more students. So that’s what he did. 

Two more people were assaulted by my attacker several months after I reported him to the college and began my investigation.

I want to make it clear that those assaults are Dickinson’s fault. Lives were forever changed because Dickinson failed to follow its own rules, federal law, and common sense.

In the end, because my attacker received no punishment, his sexual assault was not entered on his record. That summer, he transferred to another college. His new college had no way of knowing he was a sexual predator. Because of Dickinson’s failures, another college welcomed a sexual predator who assaulted three women in seven months.

I’m still very much affected by what Dickinson did to me. I was forced to stay at Dickinson for a fifth year to make up for the credits I lost during this investigation. The only reason I’m still here is because of what Dickinson did to me.

I’m haunted by the fact that so many other students are going through the same broken process, but Dickinson won’t let me help them. I asked in writing several times for Dickinson to review their policies and procedures. They refused.

But, I’ve done what I can. I recently reported Dickinson to both the federal Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This is a step in the right direction but our school has a problem and government accountability takes too long.

 Dickinson is already under investigation by the OCR for a different Title IX violation that took place in 2017.

We can’t wait. We can’t ignore this problem until it happens to us or someone we care about. We must take action now.

I ask every member of the Dickinson community to speak out. Let the administration know their behavior is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated.

No one should live through what I lived through. Yet, despite the trauma Dickinson inflicted upon me, I’d do the whole thing over again. Every assault survivor on campus should know they are not alone, and despite how awful Dickinson makes reporting assaults, speaking up is the only way to hold attackers accountable. Dickinson and sexual predators are the problem, not us.

To Dickinson faculty, staff, and especially the administration, I hope you are deeply embarrassed and ashamed. And more than anything, I hope you find the empathy, integrity, and sense of urgency needed to do what’s right and make changes that matter.

Survivors have been begging Dickinson to change for a decade. Time’s up. We deserve better. Now.