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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mishandled sexual harrassment bias case

Please note that this post contains references to sexual assault.
We received the following email from an alum, testifying to a grievance from Fall 2014 when the Office of Student Life handled cases of “bias.” 

       “My main grievance is actually about a bias incident. A group of drunk (I think drunk?) kids tried to break into my dorm one night.  I had locked my door bc it was a weekend night and all, so I was physically safe.  But they basically wrote a rape threat on my door. To report the bias incident I needed a photo, so I took a photo once it was safe to leave my dorm and I reported the incident.  Until the incident was addressed, I kept a file of the photo. Unfortunately, administration "lost" my bias report for a month, meaning I had to keep that terrifying photo for a month.  The neglect and having to keep the picture of the threat for so long honestly messed me up a lot...since the administration was so late in responding the only thing they offered as help was to change my dorm location, which didn’t really address the issue at hand.”

What does this tell us? The Office of Student Life grossly mishandled this bias case, they recommended a room change as the solution for gender-based harassment. 

  • Since this was one of many such cases, concerned students started asking why the Office of Student Life handled bias cases at all. Why weren’t bias cases instead assigned to people explicitly trained in issues of power and difference, discrimination, structural inequities, and harassment? Such a question was asked numerous times even by concerned folks at the Women’s Center and the LGBTQ Center, amongst others.

The College has never had separate senior diversity officer in Fanning. The Dean of the College in 2014, Carolyn Denard, was doing double duty as senior diversity officer. 

She resigned (understandably) just prior to this incident. President Katherine Bergeron (by her own admission at the March 31, 2015 open forum) publicly stated that she forgot to appoint an interim in the year after Denard's resignation

Further, President Bergeron ignored a mass faculty memo (signed by 60 faculty members) asking her to reconsider the job description for the new permanent senior diversity officer which would have resulted in hiring a more qualified person for the job.
That this student’s bias file was lost was indicative of larger problems. The President needed to be told over and over again for a whole year that bias, discrimination, and harassment are not to be handled by whoever happens to be around. Further, forgetting to appoint an administrator trained with expertise in structural inequities was not comforting.

The President’s decisions, or more precisely inability to make decisions, forgetfulness about decisions, and negligence affects everyday experiences of students - not just in banal ways but in potentially threatening and violent ways.

It was precisely because of campus wide discontent that we demanded a new Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. As we have learned now, this person is being coerced and silenced by the Office of Communications. 
Instead of providing us a DIEI with adequate training and institutional power, President Bergeron has appointed two new Deans in the Student Life division who will start next semester. So instead of adequate handling of sexual harassment, all we can look forward to is a far more efficient room change process.


  1. I am not sure what policy regarding sexual harassment was in 2014, but I know that such cases are not currently under the purview of the Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. In fact, there exists an entirely separate process. This is obviously a case of administrative incompetence, but it is simply not accurate to suggest that the lack of a senior diversity officer was the source of this failure.

    You guys are really digging deep with this campaign, but would do it more justice by seeking actual explanations for actions -- regardless of whether you find such explanations to be justified.

    To start, you should ask the current DIEI, David Canton, how he thinks his office as a senior "diversity" officer would have been involved in such a case. You should also reach out to Darcie Folsom, the director of sexual violence and prevention advocacy, to ask a related question as to how her office might have been involved.

    Most importantly, you must ask President Bergeron about this, as speculation about her motives is counterfactual. Once you have heard her comments on this you may criticize them, but you must engage in a fact-finding mission.

    Whether or not you had conversations with President Bergeron or other involved actors is not made clear here; the fact that comments (or simply "no comment") from these people were not included is a journalistic failure and to the detriment of your supposed cause of revealing institutional failures AND subsequently educating the community.

    1. +1.

      I'm with you guys on the importance of this, but this blog has an opportunity to be a place where facts can be disseminated and productive conversation can take place, or it can continue down its current path of snarkily hurling low-ball accusations of interpreted (and poorly-understood) motive and incompetence.

      I understand that in saying this I'm playing into the traditional role of the white moderate, and I am trying hard to put aside my feelings that poor decisions have been made on both sides - including that of the protesters - and that polite discourse must take place, because I have learned that that is less likely to make change.

      However, failing to do your own due diligence and report more deeply-researched facts is undermining your campaign, especially among our peers here at the college who are some of the most important to win over right now.

      I wish you all good luck, and I hope that you continue to be able to pull in important stories like this one to enhance the conversation!

  2. Thank you for your comment. You raise several good points that we are revisiting in the continuing development of this story.

    We would like to re-iterate that since we began to occupy Fanning on Thursday, we have requested to meet with Katherine Bergeron and other members of the senior administration about these concerns. We maintain, however, that it is not our responsibility as students to teach the administration how to do their jobs. As students, we are here to learn, not to educate those in power what their responsibilities are. As long as such responsibilities are not met, we need to continue to expose such inadequacy and demand explanations for it. We would argue, furthermore, that we have not made an undue speculation on Katherine Bergeron's failure in this incident; Bergeron openly admitted her own inability to appoint a new diversity officer at the all-campus forum last March.

    As of now, Katherine Bergeron and her administration have ignored our presence and our desire to engage face-to-face. You are absolutely correct that students deserve explanations for failure and incompetence. Should the administrators honor our desire for such explanation, this will be featured prominently as part of our campaign.