Community ‘listens in’ to experiences of violence

Written by Jake Bleich and Kiernan Somers

“You will not know what it feels like until it happens to you…but I hope you can try,” said Mattie Wyndham ’19, as she recounted her experiences to members of the Colby community who gathered to listen to the experiences detailed by ten different students. Sponsored by the Oak Student Committee—of the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights—the Listen-In was organized to provide a safe space for victims of violence at Colby to share their experiences in the presence of senior administrators and faculty.

Held in Page Commons, the Listen-In was attended by multiple senior administrators, faculty members, and staff. The following senior staff attended: Provost and Dean of Faculty Lori G. Kletzer; Senior As- sociate Dean of Students Jed Wartman; Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Affairs Jim Terhune; Vice President for College and Student Advancement Daniel G. Lugo; Harold Alfond Director of Athletic Tim W. Wheaton; and Director of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Program and Associate Director of the Pugh Center Emily Schusterbauer. Schusterbauer provided administrative support for the event and is the coordinator for the sexual violence prevention program.

Ironically, though President Greene’s public address was the impetus for the event, Greene was absent from the event—a result of a scheduling conflict, according to members of the Oak Student Committee. Additionally, there was a noticeable lack of attendance by male students at the event, with only a handful scattered across the room.

Members of the Counseling Services staff and members involved in the reporting process attended and participated in follow-up group discussions about practical changes. However, multiple Deans of the College, who were invited by the Oak Student Committee, declined to attend.

The Listen-In was part of the series of events sponsored by the Oak Institute centered around the theme of “Reclaiming Sex.” Co-chairs of the Oak Student Committee, Sarah Peck ’17 and Anognya Parthasarathy ’16, opened the event by addressing the audience discussing the driving force behind the listen-in. “Many of us discussed our feelings of frustration and anger with the way that assault often times plays out at Colby, and felt like our efforts could be the most effective if we chose a specific aspect of the problem,” said Peck. She continued by saying, “we realized…that there was a gap when it came to how the school handles situations once they’ve already occurred. As a committee, we came to believe that we could make the most change if we addressed the complicated process of reporting assault to the administration.”

Ten stories were shared at the event, each representing a unique perspective on the reporting process; however, many themes resonated throughout the event. While sexual assault stories made up the majority of the talks—seven students discussed issues they had encountered when reporting sexual misconduct—students also expressed the powerlessness they felt when reporting instances of dorm damage, mental health issues, and harassment. Most were reported anonymously, although, two students—one who would like to stay anonymous for this article and Wyndham—shared their personal encounters with reporting issues of violence to the Administration.

As each new story was spoken, patterns began to emerge. Some of the individuals chastised their inability to consult friends and faculty without their trauma being officially reported. Others held contempt for what they see as an antiquated definition of consent. During one story, a student voiced her disgust that the College’s official report on her assault determined that “the absence of a ‘no’ is a ‘yes.’” When it came to issues surrounding mental illness, students spoke of their exasperation with the Administration’s inaction. After a friend attempted to take their life twice in two years, one respondent wrote that the stress had taken “a severe toll on [her own] mental health.” Another student wrote about their experiences with their severely depressed roommate. Though the student reached out to the Administration after finding their roommate self-harming themselves, the Administration could only act if the roommate was caught in the act, which would mean the roommate have to take time off. This led to a cycle of isolation that only exacerbated the self-harm, explained the student in her narrative.

More than anything else, the students who chose to tell their stories spoke of their distrust for the Administration. This distrust was epitomized best by one student’s experience: despite directing many of their friends to the reporting process after their friends had been assaulted, they declined to report their own assault. “Those closest to the process do not trust it,” the student wrote.

The reporting process at Colby is largely shaped by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. According to Title IX, educational programs that receive federal funds must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “some key issue areas in which re- cipients have Title IX obligations are: recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment…discipline; single-sex education; and employment.”

The reporting process at Colby has undergone changes in the past couple years; however online reporting is unavailable and survivors are required to approach one of two Title IX Coordinators on campus. Cora Clukey, the Director of Recruitment and Equal Employment Opportunity, and Bradley are the Title IX Coordinators for Colby.

As part of the current reporting process, students will be contacted by the Title IX Coordinator, following submitting a report, to discuss the multiple options available to students moving forward. These options are detailed online on the Colby website.

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