Anna at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia University. Sarah Butters at James Madison University. In the past year, several survivors of sexual assault have come forward and spoken about the mishandling of their complaints by their respective universities. In particular, Emma Sulkowicz gained a lot of media attention earlier this school year for “Carry That Weight,” a performance art piece that involved carrying around her dorm room mattress (the location in which she was raped two years before). Emma began the piece after her alleged rapist was found innocent and allowed to stay at Columbia, saying that she would continue until he was removed from campus.
Emma’s parents, Sandra Leong and Kerry J. Sulkowicz, have come forward with an opinion piece, published in The Columbia Spectator, detailing the numerous administrative blunders that led to Emma’s perpetrator’s acquittal. Take a look, and get ready for your blood to boil…
But really, the number of alleged mishaps throughout the adjudication process is infuriating. Some of the highlights from the opinion piece include the administration recommending that Emma be advised by the Director of Student Services rather than an outside attorney. This administrator proceeded to advise Emma to stay silent when her perpetrator lied about a video that he claimed to be “evidence” that she lied about rape, when in reality the video had nothing to do with sexual assault. Therefore, the panel used his claim as evidence without hearing Emma’s side of the story. Great advice, right?
Another gem: the timing of her report of the rape was also used against her, although Emma has stated that she was too emotionally distraught to tell anyone, not even her best friend or her parents. Her administrator once again refused to let Emma explain the seven-month delay. Of course, this suspicion regarding the delay doesn’t take into account the personal trauma and shame that survivors feel after sexual assault that prevents them from coming forward.
There are several other examples of administrative mess ups during the case mentioned in the opinion piece, and each one, in addition to the alleged mistakes of other administrations at other universities, makes me cringe. If this is what sexual assault survivors have to look forward to if they file a complaint with the university, why would anyone ever come forward? As Emma’s parents said:
If Columbia remains passive in the face of Emma’s suffering, and does not attempt to rectify the injustice done to her, survivors at Columbia will feel discouraged from entrusting themselves to the system that Columbia has recently worked so hard at putting into place.
Their opinion piece is a call to action for Columbia’s president and administration to fix these flaws in the system and create a safe space for survivors to come forward and receive the justice they deserve. I can’t help but think of JMU’s own alleged mishandling of Sarah Butters’ case…what does this say about our own administration and survivors on our campus?
One thing is clear: administrations all over the country need to do better. For survivors, for future victims, for humanity. Just…do better.