Brown Sexual Assault Series: Alumni Letter to Christina Paxson

Trigger Warning: This article includes testimony of sexual assault, violence and trauma.

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.

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

brown sexual assault series

May 16, 2014

Dear President Paxson

We are writing as Brown graduates and founding members of its Sexual Assault Task Force to express our dismay over Brown’s failure to live up to its promise to provide a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault.

During our time at Brown, we worked closely with the administration and the office of Vice President Klawunn to craft changes to the disciplinary code aimed at ensuring more just penalties for perpetrators of sexual assault. Together, we broke the definition of sexual misconduct into tiers, defining Offense IIIb as “sexual misconduct that includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force or injury” and specifying that “violations of Offense IIIb will result in more severe sanctions from the University, separation being the standard.” (Emphasis added.)

To us, “separation” means that a student found responsible for sexually assaulting another student should be expelled from Brown. Until this is actually the case, you cannot legitimately claim — as you did in a recent letter to the Student Task Force — that you “agree that there should be no tolerance of sexual assault or sexual harassment at Brown.”

It was chilling to hear Lena Sclove reading aloud the language we crafted together with Brown administrators in the hopes of facilitating justice. Instead of improving Brown’s response to sexual assault, as we had hoped, that language has become public proof of Brown’s hypocrisy. That proof has gone viral on the Internet. Thousands are watching Brown in outrage.

Lena’s sexual assault has left her with lasting physical and emotional damage. It’s difficult to imagine a case that more obviously meets the definition of Offense IIIb, as it involved all three of the stipulated criteria — violent physical force, penetration and an enduring injury. Clearly, the disciplinary panel that presided over this case agreed. By failing to expel Lena Sclove’s rapist, Brown flouted the standard enshrined in its own disciplinary code.

While we were students, we also worked with the administration to ensure that cases of sexual misconduct were adjudicated by a three-person panel, instead of in a forum chosen by the accused, most often by a single dean. But it seems a kill switch was built into the system we worked so hard to craft together. How is it possible a dean was able to singlehandedly reduce the sentence recommended by the disciplinary panel? What’s the point of having a disciplinary proceeding at all, if a dean can throw away its recommendations and disregard the standard penalties agreed upon by the Brown community? This power must be taken away from individual administrators, particularly those who have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of judgment, as Dean Ward has both on this occasion as well as during our time at Brown. Back then, he imposed a penalty of deferred suspension with no transcript entry in a case where a student admitted to repeated acts of intimate partner violence against another Brown student.

In our view, separation from the university does not mean a year’s suspension. Separation does not mean a survivor gets just one semester of relief before she again faces the living nightmare of seeing her rapist on campus. Separation does not mean awarding a Brown University diploma to someone who raped and strangled a fellow student. Separation does not mean allowing a confirmed rapist to go on a “semester abroad” or take a brief “leave of absence” as his punishment. It does not mean putting students at Brown at risk of being assaulted by someone who — according to a study co-authored by Paul M. Miller of Brown’s own medical school — will very likely rape again.

A victim of sexual assault should not have to hold a press conference in order to have her rapist removed from campus. She should not have to speak out publicly in order to feel safe. The rapist in question has elected not to return to Brown, but the movement for change on this issue has just begun. This time, Brown cannot simply wait for the storm to blow over. A sea change on the issue of campus sexual assault has arrived. The call for change is now coming from across the country, even from the White House.

We are watching closely to see if you, President Paxson, will make change on this issue part of your legacy.

So far, we have been disappointed by your response. Your recent letter to the Brown community missed the point. You stated, “To be clear, sexual assault at Brown is not tolerated.” But by allowing a rapist to return to campus after what is effectively a one-semester suspension, Brown is not only tolerating such behavior, it is condoning it. If he had not been forced by public pressure to change his plans, the student in question would have received a Brown University diploma, despite consensus by a university panel that he had raped another member of the Brown community. How exactly does that demonstrate a lack of tolerance for his behavior?

You also mentioned drugs and alcohol as a “common factor in many of these cases.” While alcohol may be used as a tool by rapists, it doesn’t cause rape. Education on alcohol and drugs will not prevent rape at Brown. Only expelling rapists will do that.

The specific changes you outlined in your letter to the Student Task Force are a promising start, but our past experiences have shown us they will amount to little if Brown does not commit to change the underlying culture of impunity for rapists.

This case coincides with the 250th anniversary of Brown. As we are bombarded with fundraising appeals, we have been joining with other alumni to boycott donations and the upcoming reunion. We hope Brown will yield to the call of thousands to make the campus safe for all survivors, present and future.

We would welcome the opportunity to work with you on crafting meaningful changes that will ensure Brown actually does stop tolerating sexual assault. This issue will be a lasting part of your legacy, President Paxson. The question is whether you will be applauded for shepherding in true change, or further shamed for failing to take meaningful action.

Sincerely,

Amy Littlefield ’09

Allison Pappas ’08

Amelia Plant ’10

Madeline Ray ’10

Lily Shield ’09

 

Works Cited

David Lisak and Paul M. Miller, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” Violence and Victims, 17, No.1 (2002): 78.

 

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