Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A new complaint and activist connections across colleges

The last year plus has been a watershed one in terms of the attention to and awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. It is difficult--and likely unnecessary--to figure out which set of complaints, which campus activism set off the firestorm. And new complaints are emerging at a fairly steady pace. Erin wrote about the group of complainants that came forward at UConn just this week. We can also add Emerson College to the list of schools dealing with complaints. A student came forward this fall stating in a complaint that the school had taken a long time to investigate her claim of sexual assault against a fellow student in the fall of 2012 and that during that time he assaulted her again. The college responded to Sarah Tedesco's inquiries about the process by telling her to stop making such a big deal out of it even as she continued having to live in the same residence hall and when she began receiving anonymous threats. They encouraged her to handle the matter the internally and not involve local police. The school eventually found the accused not responsible. Tedesco is joined in the complaint by other Emerson students who also recount some serious mishandling of cases and some pretty heinous judicial processes.
Tedesco, like many other women and men who have been part of the complaint process nationwide, have joined others across the country to raise awareness not just of their respective schools, but of the problems institutions of higher education seem to have with informing their own staff about how to handle cases of sexual assault and harassment and creating a non-hostile environment on their campuses.
This solidarity has been quite productive and, I would imagine, quite healing for survivors. One of these women, Angela Epifano, a former Amherst College student who came forward with her story of sexual assault and the subsequent mishandling of her case, spoke about the new community that has emerged in just the past year around activism  to fight sexual violence on campuses. "I never thought it would go viral" she said of her account in the school paper. But the visibility of her case created greater visibility for others. One of the women who is part of the complaint at University of North Carolina, Annie Clark, has been part of the rapidly growing community of activists who have been communicating through various channels for less than a year.
"Before this movement, I had never even heard of Occidental College. Now, I've helped them write their own complaint, and I now have best friends there. The connections have been amazing."
While it is hard to enjoy the growth of the movement because it means so many people have been victims, it is  encouraging to see effective activism at work.