An Open Letter to President Jonathan Veitch
*This email has been blocked from being shared with students on the Occidental College listserv as of 5:00 PM on 3/6/2013, so please share widely.**Update: This email was sent to students as part of the “routinely aggregated” student digest at 5:30 PM on 3/6/2013. Thank you so much to ITS for clarifying this issue.**
An Open Letter to President Jonathan Veitch of Occidental College,
We write this letter with three goals: (1) To address your 3/5/13 open letter to the campus and your interview in the 3/6/13 edition of the Oxy Weekly; (2) to inform you and the campus community that we are filing a federal complaint about ongoing issues of sexual assault at Occidental College with the Office of Civil Rights; and (3) to inform you and the campus community that we are filing a Clery Act complaint in response to your administration’s reporting of sexual misconduct cases over the past several years, including a report of a sexual assault last week.
It pains us that we are at this point in a years-long struggle with you to take issues of sexual assault seriously at Oxy. When we presented Oxy-specific data to you in the fall of 2011, you pledged to make Oxy a campus leader in sexual assault prevention, but the only changes made were removal of “zero tolerance” from the policy and the introduction of a muddled definition of consent. In November, 2012, we came to you in good faith and believed you when you said that you agreed to the “reasonable” 12 demands developed by OSAC. These demands were developed in response to your administration’s refusal to treat rape as a crime, a number of seriously botched and mishandled sexual assault hearings wherein serial rapists have been invited back to our campus, and after two years of “conversation” with top administrators (including yourself, Dean Barbara Avery, Dean Erica O’Neal-Howard, Dean Jorge Gonzalez, among others) about campus sexual assault, policies, procedures, and national best practices.
Now you are telling us that you never agreed to these demands, and you have gone as far as publicly condemning a student who was raped on our campus for sharing her story with the media. In your open letter, you claim that Professor Danielle Dirks from the Sociology Department and Oxy student and rape survivor Carly Mee “actively sought to embarrass the college on the evening news.” To clarify, neither Dirks nor Mee sought out the press. A reporter came to Oxy to investigate two consecutive reports of a robbery and rape, the former which was reported on the campus-wide alert system, the latter which was not. The resulting local media attention is the only reason the campus was informed of the 2/24/13 rape report.
This brings up the concept of “continuing threat” that has been discussed by you, Dean Barbara Avery and Director of Communications James Tranquada. First, any student who has been reported for sexual assault is a potential continuing threat to the campus, unless he or she has been arrested and removed from campus. It is thus puzzling when you assert that “there was no ongoing danger of an unknown repeat offense” if the alleged perpetrator is still on campus. In your Weekly interview, you clarify that one reason to not include rape reports on the alert system is “because you can’t determine yet who is telling the truth.” Isn’t this the case for all reported crimes until someone has gone through the adjudication process? Why are you treating rape reports differently from reports of other crimes? There is great benefit in reporting all campus crimes because they inform students of their surroundings, signal what crimes the campus takes seriously, and may ultimately shift our campus culture away from silencing survivors.
Furthermore, this language of “truth-telling” reeks of the trope of not believing survivors who report rape, sending a deeply troubling message to other survivors on campus that they, too, will not be believed if they are brave enough to report. Also, you promised the campus you would include rapes in the Oxy Alert System back in November of 2012, which is why OSAC gave you examples from national leaders such as Yale, Harvard, etc. No one is asking for names or details other than that a report has been made.
You and your staff publicly agreed to the 12 Demands put forward by the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, with only two demands up for further discussion (where the Title IX coordinator would be located and the definition of “consent”). We even marched and celebrated to honor that agreement on 11/13/12. In the 11/28/12 edition of the Oxy Weekly titled “President Veitch Agrees to Sexual Assault Policy Changes,” you stated, “OSAC was right to challenge us to do better.” If you did not agree to any of these demands, why have you and your staff already announced and implemented three of them (i.e., removal of automatic appeals, notification of policy changes, and establishment of a task force)?
You also promised in a 11/8/12 phone call with Professor Caroline Heldman of the Politics Department that you would immediately set up a task force that would be trained on sexual assault issues (from POV and NCHERM), implement the 12 Demands (with debate on two of them), and conduct a review of sexual conduct cases from the past three years. The task force finally met in late February, but is not POV/NCHERM trained or conducting a three-year review or implementing the 12 Demands. In other words, you broke your promises, now claiming that “what I committed to was a conversation with them.” No, sir, we did not switch our day of action on 11/13/12 from a protest to a celebration of your administration for commitment to a conversation. Had you been honest about your intentions from the start, we would have continued with our protest plans.
In your open letter, you called for more discussion on this subject in the best Oxy tradition of talking real problems under the table, waiting for passionate students to graduate and faculty to grow weary. The problem is, we have been having this conversation since the Politics Department filed a formal complaint with the Faculty Council about the sexual assault process at Oxy in 2009. You personally promised Heldman and Professor Lisa Wade reform in the fall of 2011. You personally promised OSAC reform in 2012. We met with your staff on many occasions in the past two years to gather and share information, and were oftentimes stonewalled. OSAC has conducted extensive research on campus sexual assault and best practices, and produced many Oxy-specific recommendations. Your staff even asked us to revise your “strong” sexual assault policy last summer, which we did, but our suggested revisions have been ignored. Promises alone can no longer sustain us, especially when they are broken so easily and in such a public way.
In your letter, you stated that the 3/1/13 protest was “counterproductive with regard to our shared aims,” as though nearly 300 students taking to the quad to express their outrage was the work of a handful of militant women. The anger over continued mishandling of sexual assaults on this campus goes well beyond OSAC, as evidenced by over 1,000 signatures on this on-line petition and over 100 posts on the Dear Oxy Tumblr. Also, support is pouring in from alums, parents, students, and faculty for the OSAC Divest in Oxy campaign. How many more voices will it take to stop conversing and take action based on readily available research on best practices? How many more students on our campus will be sexually assaulted before real action is taken?
After hearing from scores of survivors in the last few years about their experience with the process, and your administration’s slow pace of “reform” and public retaliation against those who speak up, we cannot idly stand by while Oxy students are in danger and face an inequitable learning environment. OSAC is compiling survivor experiences pertaining to rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender harassment to submit a Title IX claim with the Office of Civil Rights, and we encourage students, faculty, staff, and alums with information to contact us at https://oxysexualassaultcoalition.wordpress.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, whether they want to report anonymously or not. We will also be submitting a Clery Act complaint for discrepancies in sexual misconduct statistics and the reported rape last week since the college is “required by law to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees.”
As we move forward on these actions, OSAC will continue to have conversations with you through representatives on the task force and in any other way you would like. Perhaps the best strategy for you and your administration is not to malign survivors, shame those who speak up, disregard years of research and effort on the issue, and question OSAC’s unwavering commitment to the safety of the students on this campus. This is our community, too, and our efforts will not cease until Oxy provides a safe and equitable learning environment for every student.