I'm Ashamed to Attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges After Reading the New York Times Sexual Assault Expose

If, as my college president stated in his letter, we have no tolerance for sexual misconduct, why did nothing happen to the perpetrators?

Jul 15, 2014 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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This weekend, my college's president Mark Gearan sent me and every other student an email that made an already damning situation worse.

It read:

Dear Members of the HWS Community,
Earlier today the New York Times published a story about a sexual misconduct case at Hobart and William Smith that led to a complaint being filed by a student with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The article reports on one student’s experience and the issues of sexual misconduct hearings in an academic community. This is a difficult article to read and for any student to be left with this perspective is disheartening. It is clear to me that even though we believe we handled the circumstances fairly and within the constraints of the law, and that we made decisions based on the evidence, there is no sense of satisfaction other than the knowledge that we treated everyone with compassion, kindness and respect. Our primary concern is to provide the student with the opportunities and support she needs to have a successful experience when she returns to our campus this fall.
... In response to inquiries, HWS officials met with the Times reporter for two lengthy interviews and answered numerous questions via e-mail and phone, all in an effort to fully explain our approach and philosophy regarding sexual assault cases. Regrettably, these responses were either ignored or downplayed in the article. We sought to provide him with as much information as possible within the constraints placed upon us by law as well as the limits we felt best to protect the privacy and dignity of those involved. As you can appreciate, we declined to share specific details of the case believing that to do so would be morally reprehensible and would violate federal law. We did not share the transcripts of the hearings with the reporter, which were quoted out of context in the article, again because to do so would violate the law.
I can well appreciate the concerns and outrage of those reading this article regarding our system, processes and approaches. These are complex issues facing every college and university. Sexual assault and all acts of violence undermine the ideals of dignity and respect we hold dear. The result is heartbreaking. Nothing is more important than working collaboratively to find solutions that will ensure the safety and wellbeing of students...

In his letter to the campus community, the president of my college, Mark Gearan, stated that he was "disheartened" to hear such a jaundiced perspective of our illustrious school. Disheartened! The poor man.

I was a lot more than "disheartened" when I realized that my college let three football players commit atrocious rape; I was furious.

I became even angrier when I realized that thanks to my school, they got away with it.

I am a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, less than a year away from graduating, and now I cannot imagine receiving my diploma with pride, or even grudging acceptance. I am disgusted with what has happened.

For those of you who haven't read the front page Times investigation, here's a brief synopsis: Boys meet girl. Boys scare girl. Girl is drunk, boys realize it. Boys sexually assault girl, first in a fraternity bedroom, and then again in a public venue, with 6 or 7 people watching. Despite clear forensic evidence, the male students accused of sexually assaulting Anna, the female student, were cleared of all charges.

I doubt the accused even sweated the allegations.

Why? Because HWS is a school of privilege and wealth. It's where the one-per-centers who didn't make it into the Ivies go to party and occasionally to educate themselves. Hobart and William Smith is my school, home to me for three years now, but I feel no guilt in saying this: It's no surprise to me that my school cleared the perpetrators of damning allegations -- because there are simply so many damning allegations about my school to make.

Anorexia and bulimia are frighteningly popular among the female population; the bars in town are heavy with animosity between the townspeople and the wealthy students; and of course, drug use is so rampant that it's more surprising to meet someone who actually isn't coked out on top-quality Venezuelan cocaine. And as Anna's case so sadly shows, our school also suffers an epidemic of sexual assault -- and the mishandling of sexual assault.

As soon as the rumors died down about Anna's case, we as students collectively forgot and moved on -- and so we are complicit as well. Anna was gone; the school was telling the truth. It was just another drunken he-said, she-said, right? Unfortunately for HWS, as the Times article neatly demonstrates, clearing the male perpetrators of blame did not make the problem go away.

Although the students at school stopped caring, the New York Times and the federal government did not.

In this case, HWS could not ignore its problems or pretend to address them with a smattering of half-hearted rape seminars led by students who clearly wanted to be anywhere else. With Anna's interview featured in the Times, the school is now damned. But Anna did not damn the school with her allegations. She damned them with her truth: she was sexually assaulted by three male students and the school let them walk free without any consequence.

The school deserves every bit of damnation it can get, considering that in essence, the school decided for Anna that she wasn't sexually assaulted.

Yet if, as my college president stated in his letter, we have no tolerance for sexual misconduct, why did nothing happen to the perpetrators?

They graduated HWS without a single mark on their transcripts. They graduated without facing a single consequence.

Thus, I am forced to conclude that sexually assaulting a freshman student multiple times does not constitute sexual misconduct.

I must have missed that day in class.