In late December, Amelia Boyle wrote a letter to me addressing her rape on campus during her freshman year. Presented with such a heavy piece, as a publication we felt the need to investigate and explore the University’s policies regarding issues concerning sexual assault. Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, administrators, or anyone involved, could not answer any questions regarding Amelia’s case specifically. However, I believe it is important to applaud and admire the bravery this piece wields, and the voice it gives to those who feel they have none.
Jonathan Garcia, Editor-in-Chief
[Editor’s Note: Char Burgess, Vice President & Dean of Student Life, issued a response here.]
What you’re about to read may not be easy to hear. I was raped by a student on campus my freshman year. After a student conduct investigation, he was found guilty but not expelled. This was in 2014, before we had Title IX coordinators or a conduct officer. At that point in time, I had no advocate. No rulebook. Just Ruben Robles, Dean of Student Life, and myself in his office, navigating policy that I was unfamiliar with and did not have access to.
The worst of the sanctions against my rapist were: conduct probation for the length of his time at the university, a no-contact directive, a three-page research paper on systematic rape, and eight sessions of therapy.
My consequences: hundreds of dollars worth of therapy and medications, a year-long gap in my education and employment, and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. A disability I will battle for the rest of my life.
At that time, I did not have the right to appeal the decision; in fact the only one who had the right to appeal the decision was the respondent. Title IX is a living document; it is understood that sexual assault is an issue whose investigation by universities must continue to improve in order to keep pace with the changing politics. As of now, both parties have the right to appeal as long as it is stated within seven days of the sanction being made. As of now, each party has the right to an advocate who can advise and help them through the exhausting and traumatic process of reporting and participating in an investigation of sexual assault. As of now, the university has a minimum one year suspension for students found guilty of sexual misconduct. Things are getting better.
But what about the people who were unlucky enough to have been assaulted before these changes? What happens to us?
This is what happens if you are me. You spend a year in Student Life trying to find any way to reopen your case. You have it looked at again and again, making complaints of “little mistakes” made by Ruben Robles that resulted in further trauma. You take a year off from school because of your disability. You go to the police. You call every lawyer you can find. You get stuck again. You are finally heard in the Fall of 2015 and are suggested to Human Resources that then conducts a Title IX investigation. You go to the meetings. You hear the day before Thanksgiving that you will meet the head of the General Counsel (the university’s lawyer) who proceeds to tell you, sorry, but expelling your rapist isn’t possible. They tell you, we understand it’s a difficulty for you and no one is satisfied that this had to be the decision and the university will do everything in its power to help you succeed at this school…except expel your rapist.
Instead, my rapist and I will be tracked and scheduled and micromanaged to make the best of a bad situation. Yet we will still see each other; endangering my physical and mental safety and the safety of others. For my rapist, these sanctions are a mere difficulty, or more accurately, an inconvenience. For me, it is like putting a Band-Aid over a gushing wound.
There’s a huge part of me that is crushed by this experience—hopeless and lost. I have spent a year trying to get my rapist expelled. To have it all end so anticlimactically is more than disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. I am writing this the week before the spring semester, which will mark the end of my year long leave of absence. I am doing everything in my power to prepare for this return, but when the first day of classes comes around, no matter how much preparation I have done, it will be a grueling fight of making a place for myself at this university again.
There is the possibility that if this becomes too difficult for me that I will have to transfer. But leaving is not an option for my heart and my pride. I pray that I have the fight necessary to finish my degree here, even without the promise of justice I have been working towards. My heart continues to insist the fight is not over, but the justice system is not made to serve me.
But what about social justice? It is my goal for us to be honest about the injustices that take place on this campus every day. I want people to get informed. I want us as a university to provide services, foster community, and stand up for survivors, because sexual violence is all around us; 1 in 5 women at every American university experiences sexual assault during their time in college. Because universities are a business, and so often prioritize lawsuits over students’ safety. Because reporting sexual violence is often too much for a victim to bear. Because in too many cases, the victim receives worse consequences than the rapist. I don’t want this taboo subject to continue to isolate survivors. I want our voices to be heard, and change to be prioritized.
Please help by sharing your stories, your frustration, your ideas, and your questions. My narrative will only be powerful if it encourages us all to take responsibility for supporting victims and addressing the injustice caused by both the perpetrators of sexual violence and those of us who turn a blind-eye to its damage. To the victims reading this, I hope you see that you are not alone. You are more than a victim. You are a survivor.
Below are resources that I have found useful to my recovery.