Brown Sexual Assault Series: “An Open Letter to President Paxson & the Brown Administration”

In light of the Justice for Lena & Survivors of Sexual Assault Everywhere campaign, fronted by the brave Lena Sclove, Bluestockings Magazine will run an inaugural Brown Sexual Assault Series. We will be publishing various forms of testimonies about sexual violence, trauma and rape culture at Brown University. The series is an ongoing project to amplify the voices of survivors on-campus, provide them with a platform to recount their experiences, and to end the silence that stymies action and change. Please note that these testimonies may be triggering.

If you would like to add your voice to the dialogue, please email bluestockingsmagazine@gmail.comWe guarantee anonymity.

brown sexual assault series

An open letter to President Paxson and the Brown administration,

I am a survivor of sexual assault on this campus. I decided not to pursue a hearing with Brown for reasons I will outline. There are days that I regret this, and days that I feel lucky. Today I am again relieved that I did not take action. This is not because I feel happy with the choice that I made, but because it is clear to me, once again, that ‘taking action’ with Brown would have stripped me of the little agency, control and self that I had left.

There are many valuable accounts of sexual assault. For me, it is no longer productive to dwell on the night in question. I was sober – before someone feels the need to ask that question. And no, it is not a necessary question to ask. The university was meant to be checking that he was fit to be at school here – healthy for himself and for those around him. Brown failed in that duty of care. And I was the collateral damage. I remember how much stronger he was than me.

Why didn’t I use the system you purportedly have in place? If I think about this answer like a pie chart, my personal reasons for deciding not to take action are certainly present. As pie charts go however, that is probably the smallest segment. And it’s a segment I’m entitled to. The others segments were not my choices, but decided for me by the system in place.

I hate to blame Brown. I love it here, despite my freshman spring. I love the people, this vibrant community, my wonderful friends without whom I would not be here, would not have got through it. The frustration, disappointment and anger I feel is towards Brown as a system, the administration, and the policies that took away my agency.

Agency, agency, agency – it is crucial in the wake of an assault. Being stripped of control, of agency was devastating. Continuing to feel this way during my attempts at healing is still more damaging. And it is this that I call Brown out for.

A huge segment of my pie chart for choosing not to testify was watching a friend and ally go through the process. It was public, it was interrogating. I was emotionally exhausted from the sidelines and knew I could not handle it for myself. It must be better; it must seek to protect the victim, not only in terms of safety, but emotionally. Often an assault will happen within a friendship group. With this in mind, the current process is too divisive and public, as it forces friends to testify and ‘choose sides.’ The fear of betrayal, of judgment, and of potentially having friends speak against me was overwhelming.

I recently emailed a Dean who knows of my situation to request a faculty note, as I am getting sick again with the stress of the anniversary of my leaving campus. The Dean did not reply. I eventually called their office enquiring as to the status of my email, and a few days later finally received a response. In their reply they questioned why I would need a faculty note if my grades were ok. The fact that I wanted to be respectful of my professors and their trust as they granted me extensions for a vague unknown reason was apparently not sufficient. Is that not what the system is in place for? This Dean has since stopped replying to my emails again. I was forced to write an email explaining my situation to a male professor of mine. It is inappropriate and unspeakably frustrating that I was put in this position. Where is my support network? Literally who can I turn to?

I emailed Bita, but she was busy and could not offer me support until the next week. This is not her fault – she works very long hours and does what she can. This is clearly a job for more than one individual. She suggested Psychological Services in the meantime, but I know that spending the entirety of a session going over what happened to me will be the most unproductive thing I could do. Reliving everything to a stranger in Psych Services who does not know my situation will set me back and exhaust me. All my energy is spent on trying to get through the day and get through moments in which I am triggered on campus.

I am left with nowhere to turn to for support. Brown failed in its duty of care the night I was assaulted. And months later, it continues to fail me.

I believe in Brown, I believe in the student body and I am incredibly proud of us speaking out. A friend from abroad commented that given the publicity, we are making Brown seem ‘worse’ than other peer institutions. That’s a temporary price I’m willing to pay for my beloved school, to force the change that has to happen. I am proud of the student body standing up to the administration.

Professors, Deans, even you President Paxson have said that their favorite thing about Brown is the students. You are failing us right now. We cannot be creating the Brown that everyone loves, when we are scared, alone and without your support.

It is time to change the precedent. The point of enough is enough came and went long ago. It came and went with the first silenced victim.

Your email informing us that the rapist involved in Lena Sclove’s well-publicized case has chosen not to return is not comforting. He was still given that choice – taking away agency from the victim once more. And please, be cautious when ascribing alcohol and drug use as a “common factor” in assault cases. This falls in the victim-blaming realm. As I said, I was sober, and as I said – that should not be a factor in consideration.

Hear us: this is life-defining, life-changing for too many of us on this campus and beyond. We deserve to be heard.

Please do not hesitate to reply to me if you would like to discuss this further, I am also happy to meet with you. I really do hope you took the time to read this, despite the influx you must be receiving right now. This is of utmost importance to me, and so many others. Hear us.



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