If you are interested in these events, here is something you can do to get answers. You needn’t be a Carnegie Mellon affiliate to contact them about this set of events; in fact, the more diverse the interest, the more pressure there is to not ignore the situation. Especially if peer universities are watching.
Over the summer, I had several meetings with CMU’s Title IX director/the Vice Provost of Education and the Dean of Student Life. Support for my future time at CMU is in place; and, to the extent possible, issues in the past have been corrected. Discussions based on what had gone procedurally wrong, such as that everyone I’d talked to during the last year assumed I was still in contact with Student Life despite that not being the case, are in process to fix those kinds of cracks so that similar events don’t happen again.
Prior to these discussions, I had not known for certain whether the assault I’d reported was indeed viewed as an assault by the administration–I’d never gotten clear confirmation of that. Sure, I could interpret that this was implied–which was what I’d done in the email of May 2nd mentioned below–but that’s a hazardous thing to do, hence wanting an actual statement on the matter. I now know that it is viewed as assault by the university. Legally, I’m not entitled to know what happened to the person who assaulted me as I had originally thought; that was a misinterpretation of the language in the “Dear Colleague” letter on my part.
The incident with CMUPD during my friend’s suicidal episode, wherein I was accused of being a “waste of time” and “making it all up”, is being internally handled.
I also know that what my roommate and other friend did is still not viewed as harassment by CMU. The rationale I was given for this is that they are not the people who assaulted me; had my assaulter done the same behaviors they did, that would be called harassment. This seems rather odd, given that it’s the behavior that’s the problem, that has the detrimental effect, not who does it. Certainly who engages in it makes it worse, but that’s akin to saying that you’d be more devastated if a family member threatened you than if a random stranger did it–you’re still shaken, there’s just the extra degree of betrayal with the former as opposed to the latter.
As stated in my previous post, the fact that their behavior isn’t viewed as harassment is a dangerous standard, both for general harassment cases and especially in the context of trying to get people to report sexual misconduct so that the victims can get the help they need. “Ignoring” such behavior doesn’t stop it.
This is the email detailing the above, minus the suicide event as that was handled separately and minus the rationale behind the lack of recognition for the harassment which had been discussed in one of the meetings:
I posted the email above because it was the one of primary interest in resolving the problems from last year. It’s the current status of my case; I’ve gotten support, and I’ve gotten details on the administration.
In the time between then and now, many more cases similar to my own–in that a sexual crime was shushed by a campus administration–have surfaced. There have been many before mine, as well. There will be more after this.
This isn’t only about “fixing” what can still be fixed. This is about what goes on behind the curtain. This is about what’s promised to you, the student and their family, when you mail in your acceptance letter to a college. In making that commitment, you promise to them that you’ll appear in the fall to take your place in class, that you will pay whatever balance on tuition that is owed, that you’ll be an asset to the school. In turn, they promise to you supportive services: some kind of campus PD, tutor services, housing help, protection from other students causing harm, etc.
You take their support for granted, that they will be there and will be helpful should they be needed.
It’s a lie. And if you do wrestle support out of them, don’t expect it to be what was originally promised.
Take CMU’s final statement as an example. This is the message thread leading up to it. Again, I was always quite clear in saying I simply wanted what had been said to be written down. Apparently this was a difficult task. I don’t know why; writing down what was said simply means that conversation can be cited, removing disputes about what was said. Should be a good thing.
Each of the points on the first page, in my first reply, are what was stated by CMU in those meetings I had with them during the summer:
- They repeatedly told me that they considered last year’s events to be sexual assault.
- They repeatedly said that what the two harassers did was not considered harassment by CMU under any of its policies, nor under any federal policies. They were quite willing to state that this is purely because those people weren’t the person who assaulted me, and that if my assaulter had done such things it would be considered harassment.
- I was informed that I hadn’t done enough to inform the administration that I was in need of help. Therefore, I asked for details of what more I ought to have done in the previous three semesters because that is useful information both for me and for other students, to prevent this disastrous situation from happening again.
It took the exchange of another six emails over ten days to finally extract a written statement of their position on the above issues. Unfortunately, the fact that CMU wouldn’t give that to me upon first asking for it is quite troublesome. Kind of makes you think that what they say and what they do are two different things, or that a lot of what the administration says behind closed doors isn’t acceptable behavior.
But hey, nobody will call them out on it, right? Because the students in this kind of position usually have no options left, and will take whatever they can to either make the mess go away or to just get out. Because, if you’re arguing with an administration, they can hold your enrollment over you. That’s a powerful bargaining chip. And with the knowledge you’ve already nearly been kicked out because of other people, it’s not paranoid to think there’d be another reason conjured up to revoke enrollment should you speak out again. You know, the whole “don’t poke the bully, you’re asking for it”.
Let’s dissect the word art in CMU’s replies.
CMU repeatedly says they’re committed to being helpful in the future. You know, like they claim they’ll be helpful in the brochures. In their policies. I have zero reason to believe that, given that they won’t even acknowledge what was said in all those meetings we had. Their final statement doesn’t even acknowledge that an assault occurred; all it says is that I reported one, that it was investigated, and the investigation was closed. There’s nothing there about the conclusion, and I’ve never gotten any written, explicit statement acknowledging that. I’ve gotten plenty of spoken statements to that effect, but not yet a written one.
I find that interesting.
In the first update on this post, I said that I know they consider this to be assault. They did say it. So what’s the issue with explicitly writing it down? That little thing has been avoided since last year. It’s been a year and a half. Is there a problem with acknowledging that an assault happened? Or is the problem that we’ve acknowledged there was no support where there should have been, and documenting the assault means CMU screwed up?
It’s worth noting that CMU doesn’t acknowledge their statement about harassment; it’s reduced to being “disputes”. As for why the “who” mattered so much in determining if it was harassment, CMU never could–or would–say. It was always along the lines of, “We understand your objections, but this is how the policy is.” This, even after they full well knew that I was perfectly functional in fall 2011, until my harassers showed up again. Which was the end of being functional until this semester. *Edit: I probably ought to add in the following irony: research taught and done at CMU backs the exact opposite approach to bullying and supporting harassed students than what the administration has taken. Namely, that it is not a “simple dispute”, especially given that this case is layered over an assault.*
To cap it all off, they pull a complete 180 with their statement on the previous semesters: from “it’s your fault you didn’t get help” to “greater coordinated support could have been provided.” Nice to know. Are they actually doing anything to fix that for the students who will need that this year? Or is that phrase just more pretty word art? After all, they’d not have made that 180 had I not kept pushing for a written summary of our meetings. They’d pinned the lack of support on my supposed unsatisfactory indication that I needed assistance. Yet they didn’t want to give me that summary…
I don’t trust the administration. Remember, this has happened here before, has happened elsewhere, and will keep happening.
This isn’t just about my story. You’re part of this too. Friends in college? Family? You?
Do you trust your administration to be there when they said they would be, to keep their promises?
This is the working list of items I’d like to see in place in the administration:
- Just as freshmen are required to take an alcohol and drug education module, a sexual harrasment module should also be required. CMU has already created that module, and already offers it to students on a volunteer basis. The language is currently geared more towards faculty; to fix it would be touching up parts of the examples. If the module isn’t suitable as an educational tool, it could be edited. Perhaps the whole school could take it when it is first implemented; after that only the freshmen would need to take it, as it is with the alcohol program.
- reddit thing, a very rough idea based on the reddit.com forum.
- “rehab lessons” for perpetrators. Work in progress, ought to look up what’s been used in research. Could have them take the harassment module again.
- If it’s not already included, sensitivity training for PD on assault and suicide response. Refresher courses, as this is easy to forget and easy to bungle when it’s not often used.
- Have more options than “immediately committed” for suicidal cases. I don’t know if that’s a law more than school policy; it’s one reason why people are afraid to ask for help.
If anyone wants to contribute or modify ideas, comment here or email me.