Students hold sit-in to support sexual abuse survivors and call for Title IX reform at Princeton University

More than 150 students at Princeton University gathered in front of Nassau Hall on Tuesday to support survivors of sexual assault and protest the school’s Title IX procedures. The students say the system for handling sexual assault cases at the school is broken.

The group submitted a list of 11 demands to university officials on Tuesday afternoon and is expecting a response to those demands today. About 60 students spent the day Tuesday camped out on the green in front of the main administration building working on the list of demands. Just before 5 p.m., half a dozen students submitted the list to the administration. Student Kiki Gilbert reported back to the group, saying the administration would review the demands but it was highly unlikely that the administration would respond by Wednesday. Students responded with boos and chants. In spite of the rain Tuesday night, students took turns sleeping on the steps of Nassau Hall as part of the sit-in.

Asked for comment about the sit-in and the students’ demands, Princeton University Spokesman Ben Chang said the school administration supports the rights of students to participate in the sit-in. “The university takes seriously its mission to support the free expression of all views, and we absolutely support and defend the right of students to participate in peaceful protest activities such as the sit-in outside Nassau Hall,” he said. “We remain committed to the values and standards we share to ensure everyone in the community is heard, respected, and cared for.”

Students are demanding more transparency about the Title IX process at university, and say the current system sometimes places blame on victims and protects varsity athletes and wealthy students who are accused of sexual assault. They want an external review of the university’s Title IX process. They are also calling for the firing of one administrator who handles Title IX matters at the school and the review of another top-level administrator.

“Princeton has tried silencing us with false promises and placation. Princeton has shown greater concern for its property and reputation than victims’ pain,” reads the introduction to the list of student demands. “Survivors’ voices have been silenced for too long, and our moment to be heard is long past due.”

Calling Title IX at Princeton an “opaque, victim-blaming, and traumatizing system,” the students are calling for greater transparency about the process. They want the university to provide a document to all students, faculty and staff that outlines every step of the process, the evidentiary standards for various offenses, and the consequences of a finding of responsibility.  The group also wants full access to statistics detailing the racial and socioeconomic makeup of both alleged and convicted perpetrators. “We want to ensure, as a community, perpetrators are being held accountable at the same rate – regardless of socioeconomic and racial background,” reads the group’s statement.

The group wants the school to hire social workers to help students navigate the Title IX system, create a fund for sexual assault victims who need mental health services, hire an international coordinator to support students who are assaulted while studying abroad, and make Title IX and sexual assault training mandatory for all university hires and student leaders. Students are also calling on the school to create a separate gender studies department.

Criticism of the way sexual assault cases are handled is not unfamiliar territory for Princeton University. In 2014, the U. S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights concluded an investigation of Title IX complaints against Princeton University that were filed in 2010 and 2011.The investigation found that Princeton University’s previous sexual assault policies violated federal law by not “promptly and equitably” responding to complaints of sexual assault. The university failed to end a “sexually hostile environment” in the case of one student, and the policies and procedures used by the university to investigate and respond to assaults and violence did not comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as it applies to sexual harassment and violence.

The university agreed to take numerous actions at the time to comply with Title IX. The school instituted a series of reforms to correct problems the department identified, including resolving cases of sexual assault using the “preponderance of evidence” standard. The university also agreed to  provide a comprehensive education and prevention program to students, to develop a public-awareness program promoting bystander intervention, and to improve communication with local law-enforcement officials.

Students who organized the sit-in Tuesday said that given the findings and agreement in 2014, it is “unacceptable that the Title IX system at Princeton is still broken.” Students said they tried previously to achieve reform at the university by working within the system, but were unsuccessful.

“Princeton does not uphold equal opportunity to education if it continues to indefinitely, or in any part, condone rape culture and re-traumatize those who have survived violence by subjecting them to grossly misrepresented and sub-par procedures,” reads the group’s statement. “We demand that the university begins to treat its students as citizens of this community and beyond, and handle all future Title IX cases with the lawful integrity, transparency for which it claims to advocate. The students of this coalition demand Princeton University takes responsibility for its current failures to uphold such values and make the changes listed above effective immediately.”

The full text of the students demands, provided to Planet Princeton by one of the sit-in organizers:

Protest Title IX. Reform Now.

We are a coalition of individual students from across the university who demand Title IX Reform. Individually, we have tried to pursue reform through bureaucratic processes and meetings with various administrators. This has not reformed the system. We demand more.

Princeton has tried silencing us with false promises and placation. Princeton has shown greater concern for its property and reputation than victims’ pain. Survivors’ voices have been silenced for too long, and our moment to be heard is long past due.

In 2014, the Department of Justice found that Princeton was inadequately implementing Title IX procedures. It is unacceptable that after such an indictment, Princeton’s Title IX system is still broken. This statement outlines concrete actionable demands that can and should be met immediately.

These demands are part of a broader ongoing and growing project of transforming the university into a nonviolent, non-carceral, accountable, people-centered space which includes all people who experience violence and all marginalized people.

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

1. We demand transparency and consistency in the Title IX processes, including a comprehensive document detailing the process which will be accessible to all community members.

Title IX is an opaque, victim-blaming, and traumatizing system. We demand transparency and consistency around every single aspect of this process. This must include a document that educates all Princeton community members on Title IX and how it is implemented at Princeton at every step, as well as a clear outline of evidentiary standards for various offenses and the consequences of a finding of responsibility.  As a part of this demand, we want full access to statistics relaying the racial and socioeconomic makeup of both alleged and convicted perpetrators. We want to ensure, as a community, perpetrators are being held accountable at the same rate – regardless of socioeconomic and racial background.

Inconsistency and opacity issues include the following:

  • Survivors are currently provided contradictory information by Title IX, SHARE, and Rights, Rules, Responsibilities (RRR).
  • The ways in which the SHARE and Title IX offices interact with each other is unclear and problematic (e.g. representatives of each office reference each other as close personal friends), as is the extent of administrative influence.
  • The process by which evidence is collected and used varies between cases and is not articulated to survivors. Students are not informed of what kinds of evidence they should collect when an assault occurs.
  • Contrary to the messaging of campus-facilitated consent education, alcohol consumption has been used to undermine the legitimacy of survivor accounts of assault in a number of Title IX cases.
  • Potential outcomes associated with particular findings are not available for survivors to use in the decision-making process, and there is no clarity regarding disciplinary action that follows a finding of responsibility.
  • The appeals process available to students following a Title IX case lacks clarity on the specific grounds upon which one can file an appeal of their case. This insufficient clarity allows the university to decide whether or not an appeal is legitimate and to avoid addressing specific grievances with the process.
  • It appears certain perpetrators, as a result of wealth or varsity sport affiliation are given unique opportunities to get away with lesser punishment, through access to lawyers or circumvention of the traditional Title IX process.

2. We demand that an external review be conducted of the Title IX system, with a parallel and incorporated committee for student oversight. We demand greater accountability.

There is no external mechanism for reporting feedback regarding Title IX and related systems, and student complaints have been regularly dismissed. The lack of oversight means that at various points in the process, administrators are not held accountable for their action or inaction as regards implementing various parts of the Title IX process. We demand that independent, external audits be conducted of Title IX (as at Texas A&M), taking into consideration student and alumni experiences including an initial list of Title IX failings that has been composed by survivors and welcomes continuous feedback. The university must contract an outside group to conduct a comprehensive audit on a regular basis (e.g. every 4 years), with the first beginning immediately. A student oversight committee will ensure full university compliance with the external recommendations. Furthermore, this outside group must ensure that the university receives and evaluates complaints about the proceedings of Title IX, SHARE, Directors of Student Life (DSLs), and related resources in the intermittent periods on a rolling basis.

PROCEDURAL CHANGES

3. We demand the establishment of an opt-in alternative restorative justice track for survivors who wish to avoid the traumatizing process of Title IX proceedings.

We recognize that some survivors may want to pursue alternative pathways for healing and justice that fall outside the punitive system, so we demand the establishment of a restorative justice track that is separate from Title IX. Restorative justice is “a method of bringing together all stakeholders in an undominated dialogue about the consequences of an injustice and what is to be done to put them right.” This will require the hiring of full-time, professional practitioners of restorative justice who are trained specifically in matters of interpersonal violence.

Currently, similar programs exist at colleges and universities including Skidmore University, The College of New Jersey, Brown University, and the University of Kentucky.

4. We demand that Title IX cases that deal with compounded violations (including but not limited to racist/ (cis)sexist/ homophobic/ ableist/ transphobic violence) be considered with an intersectional framework, not in two separate offices.

The university consistently refuses to fully and fairly investigate cases that deal with intersecting identities. Survivors are forced to split up compounded violence into two separate cases in (i) the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and (ii) Title IX. Each case is barred from informing the other, which undermines the survivor’s experience and weakens the case. (For example, racist language in an instance of sexual assault cannot be used as evidence in the Title IX case, despite the inextricable link between the racism and interpersonal violence.) We demand that cases be considered holistically, rather than split along a false dichotomy into the OID office and the Title IX office. All evidence of bigotry and identity-based violence must be considered viable across hearings seeking to adjudicate on-campus violence. The university must revise its policy to allow for the proper adjudication of instances of interpersonal violence that include compounding violations – this includes a comprehensive approach to investigative and disciplinary procedures such that these violences are not split across different offices nor are their intersecting effects dismantled and isolated.

5. We demand a group of full time, professional social workers independent of the Title IX office, SHARE, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to help survivors navigate the Title IX system along with other resources, functioning as survivors’ first point of contact and their consistent advocates.

The burden of navigating the Title IX system currently falls entirely on the survivor. It is unreasonable to expect survivors to independently compile evidence and build a case for their own Title IX investigation, while simultaneously having to manage their mental health, academics, and daily lives. During the investigation process, survivors are allowed one ally, yet the lack of transparency around Title IX procedures means it is difficult to find an ally knowledgeable of its basics, let alone its intricacies. This process is incredibly painful and a large source of secondary trauma. At other universities, such as University of Michigan and Marquette University, students are not expected to navigate these systems alone. At both these institutions, survivor advocates are separate from counseling services and Title IX, and focus specifically on holistically assisting survivors in navigating medical, housing, academic, and legal structures.

We demand that the university hire at least five social workers to help survivors navigate the Title IX system. Students should have access to social workers who are specifically trained to support students of color, trans and gender non-conforming students, and first generation/low-income (FLI) students. These social workers should be able to help survivors understand the nuances of a confusing system, and provide the kind of survivor-centered advice that does not exist in Title IX or SHARE in their current forms. These social workers would also assist survivors in navigating other university systems that might be impacted by sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence, including the financial aid dependency override process, particularly for students of color, FLI students, and LGBTQ+ students. These social workers would serve as survivors’ direct advocates, mediating potentially triggering conversations with DSLs, Title IX administrators, and other administrators, so that survivors are supported and informed at every step of the process. These social workers need to be equipped with legal training specific to the Title IX process, so they can specifically assist students with understanding all facets of the system.

6. We demand that a fund be set up to assist students with costs related to mental health services.

Far too often, survivors are pushed to pursue off campus resources for therapy and other mental health resources, due to CPS’s inabilities to support these students adequately. This poses a problem, particularly for FLI students who lack the financial means to pay for these services. We want a fund to be created that would offer full financial assistance for paying for therapy, psychiatric appointments, medications, transportation, and other expenses, for any students who express difficulty in covering these costs. This should be made available to all students, regardless of survivor status and regardless of if they are pursuing a Title IX case.

CAMPUS CULTURE

7. We demand the immediate departmentalization of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Problems of cis-heteropatriarchy are rampant on Princeton’s campus, a place that is deeply lacking in intersectional feminist analysis. The immediate departmentalization of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies is a key step in challenging dominant paradigms of toxic masculinity, homophobia, transphobia, and gender-based violence on campus. Among the many contributions of gender and sexuality studies are the foundational lenses and analyses it has provided through which issues such as interpersonal violence have come to be understood as political, policy, and legal problems in need of redress rather than as social realities and states of nature that must simply be accepted and endured.  Intersectional scholarship originating in black feminism has likewise been central to understanding the imbrication of misogyny and heterosexism with racism and other forms of oppression and to understanding that we cannot police or incarcerate our way out of gendered and sexual violence. Furthermore, GSS is the academic home of LGBT/Queer Studies. While Princeton has some extraordinary strengths in this field, the lack of institutional presence makes it hard for students to see and benefit from those strengths.

Princeton University is the only Ivy League institution to lack a Gender and Sexuality Studies major. Likewise, Princeton is anomalous compared to leading liberal arts colleges, as well as top public research universities. Further, several Ivies (e.g. Harvard, Columbia, Yale) are also embarking on Ph.D. programs in GSS, which will leave Princeton even further behind. Our GSS program recently lost its post-doctoral program, as another indication that Princeton is unwilling to invest in GSS. As a program, GSS at Princeton does not have the authority to initiate faculty hires.  This means, that, unlike departments, GSS has no ability to chart its own intellectual course or to work toward stabilizing — much less expanding and diversifying — its curriculum.  This structural constraint also puts GSS in a very precarious position. Not only is Princeton currently at risk of losing several core GSS faculty, for example, but if they leave, they are unlikely to be replaced.

Last, as a 2014 article showed, among the eight Ivy League universities and the 20 biggest four-year universities, Princeton ranked lowest in the proportion of women faculty (30%).  Princeton’s own data suggest that those numbers might actually be worse: in 2015-16, 72% of its tenured and tenure-track faculty were men (and 28% were women).  Also of note was that these numbers that year were quite similar for post-docs, of whom 71% were men and 29% women, but that they were notably different for non-tenure-track faculty, among whom only 54% were men and 46% were women.

Increasing the representation with and deepening the institutionalization of the GSS program would correspond to the university’s pre-existing promise to add a “diversity requirement” beginnto the undergraduate distribution requirements in line with other peer universities listed in Princeton’s 2016 Task Force Report on General Education. GSS courses would be able to substantiate the proposed diversity requirement if and only if they were to apply an intersectional approach to learning and teaching about the sexist, classist, and racist axes of sexual violence, and the history of activism around this issue. Additionally, as we prepare to build two new residential colleges and increase the university population by 10% in the coming years — plans that, as the university has stated, seek to “admit more talented students who will […] enhance the diversity and vitality of the campus community” — it is imperative to demand more institutional resources for the existing GSS program following the precedent set by the African American Studies Department, which was approved as an undergraduate concentration in 2015.

8. We demand mandatory and comprehensive sexual assault and Title IX training for all university hires and student leaders, including Community Action (CA), Outdoor Action (OA), Dialogue and Difference in Action (DDA), and International Orientation (IO) leaders.

CA, OA, DDA, and IO leaders are the first point of contact to many students entering the university and are important mentor figures throughout the semester. Without this important training leaders on campus are unable to act as appropriate resources to survivors on campus.

RCAs, PAAs, DAs, and other student leaders, especially the officers of eating clubs, should also continuously undergo mandatory re-training throughout the year, including returning seniors who are not currently required to be fully re-trained in Title IX competence.  At first glance, this might appear redundant — however, these student leaders are as fallible as any other student without sufficient sexual assault prevention, awareness and intervention education, not to mention the RCA selection process cannot fully screen for unconscious biases and predatory behavior. We cannot take for granted that student leaders are perfect community members, but must constantly re-emphasize the standards they are meant to uphold.

It should be noted that test-based examinations — such as the multiple choice tests offered as part of “Not Anymore” — are not sufficient for changing the culture and discourse around sexual assault in a college setting; after all,  students are adept standardized test-takers. We demand a more comprehensive form of sexual assault training to be implemented at several points throughout every student leader’s career.

We suggest as a baseline training that 1) acknowledges the listener as a potential perpetrator, not just a potential bystander and 2) incorporates holistic exercises in healthy sexual, platonic, and romantic relationships. The justification for this is as follows: 1) training up until this point has always assumed the listener is innocent, either a potential victim of assault or witness to assault. But there are members of our community doing the assaulting. We must force students to un-learn not only their problematic preconceptions, but force them to let go of the sense of entitlement that they will never be the ones who are in the wrong. 2) although sexual crimes occur on an epidemic scale on campus, many behaviors fall short of Title IX violations but nonetheless perpetuate destructive norms. When a person engages in unchecked borderline abusive behavior, they may escalate in the future. We need to force the student body to constantly re-consider how they treat others and set new campus norms around sex and interpersonal relationships.

We demand that study abroad professors and outside program staff be trained and educated on university resources, and that all students be informed of their resources while abroad.

  • Princeton needs to be in dialogue with outside study abroad programs and establish a clear protocol for how it expects cases of gender-based violence to be handled.
  • Outside study abroad programs must provide on-site points of contact for every student abroad to report to, as well as additional list of sources available back on campus.
  • Study abroad/any international programs should provide educational material to students specifically for how to report inappropriate acts from guest speakers/non-university faculty.
  • This must be survivor-centered

9. We demand that an International Interpersonal Coordinator be immediately hired to work between the SHARE office and the Office of International programs.

Numerous students have been sexually assaulted and harassed on international programs of all kinds, ranging from Bridge Year to IIP to Princeton In programs to university-approved outside programs. Students are never adequately informed of their resources and how to handle these incidents, and OIP staff have handled disclosures unprofessionally, dismissively, and without follow through.

The International Interpersonal Coordinator will:

  • Ensure that a clear, centralized, and culturally informed discussion of risk factors, gender dynamics, resources, and applicable university policies is presented to students before departure;
  • Coordinate the extensive training of all international programs professors and staff on how to prevent, handle, and discuss interpersonal violence and how to provide students with resources and trauma-informed support, including applicable university policies and standards;
  • Conduct a formalized assessment of the capacity of all internal and external professors, staff, and program leaders to adequately respond to student needs before they are approved for and throughout their affiliation with Princeton;
  • Ensure that non-university participants on university international programs receive educational materials on applicable university policies.; and
  • Solicit and formally respond to student feedback and consistently re-evaluate programs on their handling of interpersonal violence.

10. We demand increased representation and accessibility within survivor-oriented spaces, as well as in educational materials addressing sexual harassment and assault.

There should be a commitment to diversity within SHARE as an institution, including amongst SHARE peers, as well as in spaces that tend to the needs and trauma of survivors. To make the SHARE Peer position more accessible to low-income students, and consequently students of color, we demand that the SHARE Peer position carries more material benefits. We want this diversity to carry over into Counseling and Psychological Services as well, with increased access to diverse mental health care representatives off-campus.

11. We demand the immediate dismissal of Regan Crotty as the Title IX coordinator, and the review of Michelle Minter.

Crotty has engaged in behavior that has directly undermined and violated not only university policy, but also the statutes outlined by Title IX that she is mandated to protect.  There are obvious conflicts of interest with her holding this position.

Concluding Statement

Princeton does not uphold equal opportunity to education if it continues to indefinitely, or in any part, condone rape culture and re-traumatize those who have survived violence by subjecting them to grossly misrepresented and sub-par procedures. We demand that the university begins to treat its students as citizens of this community and beyond, and handle all future Title IX cases with the lawful integrity, transparency for which it claims to advocate. The students of this coalition demand Princeton University takes responsibility for its current failures to uphold such values and make the changes listed above effective immediately.

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