February 27, 2015
In response to recent student protests, the Student Life office will host a forum to discuss sexual misconduct on campus today at 3:00 PM in the ballrooms.
Over 100 students attended a protest on campus this past Wednesday. The protest was originally organized by Jeffery Baker who, after creating the event, added Nicole Gibbs, Mary Grace Steigerwald, Katie Morgan, and Ashley Aytes to act as event hosts.
“The idea for the event was sparked by recent cases of drugging and sexual assault by students on campus,” Gibbs said. “I also believe the email sent by Chief Brown regarding preventative tips revealed problems in how administration handles such cases. People took their anger to Yik Yak and the idea was formed from there to host a protest on campus.”
Soon after the Facebook page for the event was formed several students banned together to better organize the groups efforts. The Facebook event, officially named “Southwestern, It’s On Us Gathering,” aimed to start a movement against all issues of sexual assault.
“We (a) seek justice for those affected recently, (b) start action to institute policy to prevent this in the future, and (c) promote awareness and stop the process of denying that it is occurring on campus.” – It’s On Us Facebook page.
To ensure that students at the protest could openly communicate with those around them, Dean of Students Jamie Woody worked with the Office of Civil Rights for the state of Texas to give the protest the designation of a “Take Back the Night” event. “Take Back the Night” is a national movement that started in the U.S. in the 1960’s and is committed to creating safe spaces and communities where awareness of sexual assault can be spread.
“As this event was unfolding, the concern was that people would be telling their stories and responsible employees of the school who are present would then be required by law to report those stories.” Woody said. After an Interfraternity Council meeting on Tuesday, all fraternities decided to close because of the protest. Those who attended the demonstration operated under a non-violence policy and did not target individuals. Starting outside of the Pi Kappa Alpha house the rally moved to each frat house, Bishops Lounge, the Mall, and President Burger’s house chanting phrases like “Our campus. Our bodies.”
When the protestors arrived at the President’s home, Burger gave a speech praising the group for rallying change and then stayed to listen to the student’s requests and concerns. At least six students gave personal testimonies in front of Burger, who then apologized to them on behalf of Southwestern.
SUPD was present to ensure everyone’s safety and shut down McKenzie Drive for the protest as students participated and live tweeted the event using the hashtag, “#SUonUS”.
During the event SUPD ordered a local reporter from bretbart.com named Sarah Rumph, who was invited by a student to come to campus to report on the event, to leave the premises.
“Some administrator told me that I would be arrested if I came back to campus,” Rumph said. “They told me that I would be considered trespassing and would be arrested if I stayed. I told the police officer that your president came out and said some cordial positive things that I’m going to report but now I’m also going to report that your administrator overreacted and kicked me out.”
The protest concluded when SUPD announced that the Georgetown community had made a noise complaint to local authorities resulting in the Georgetown Police Department coming to campus threatening to give issue tickets to students who continued to protest.
“I hope that the protest sends a message that cover-ups of sexual misconduct at the expense of the victim won’t be tolerated, and that victims of sexual violence require more comprehensive support from administration,” Sophomore Feminist Studies and English major Wilhelmina Watts said. “While I know only good things about Dean Woody’s actions regarding sexual misconduct, I have heard awful things about the committee tasked to handle those cases, and hope that it especially will be reevaluated in the aftermath of the protest and the following conversation.”
The allegations of sexual misconduct on campus that sparked the call for the protest include two reports of drugged drinks filed in recent weeks. Both the Student Life Office and SUPD investigated the instances but a suspect was never determined. One of the reports is still under investigation.
“The University received information that there had been two instances of alleged drugging,” Woody said. “This information started with a police report. The police began their investigations and I began my investigation. Because we had received two reports in a relatively short period of time Chief Brown sent out the timely warning via email. SUPD and I were then able to do more in depth investigations where I met with several students and I met with witnesses.”
The recent criminal reports alleging the drugging of drinks claim that the crime occurred at the Pi Kappa Alpha house during a registered party the first weekend in February. Several protestors claim that the fraternity is notorious for allegations of sexual misconduct by its members or in its house.
“I can say that individual students’ discipline is handled individually,” Woody said. “If the University becomes aware of a climate that exists somewhere, be it a residence hall, athletic team, or student organization, that encourages sexual misconduct then we will investigate that climate. There would potentially be sanctions or measures that are implemented to then create a climate shift. I would not be able to speak to an ongoing investigation of Pi Kappa Alpha.”
Pi Kappa Alpha maintains the stance that they do not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind and are unaware of any crimes perpetrated by its members. The fraternity responded to the questioning of the organization’s views toward sexual assault by emphasizing its involvement in prevention and anti sexual assault events on campus.
“Pike will be sponsoring all the events within the Sexual Assault Risk Reduction Week that has been planned by Student Congress through IFC,” Pi Kappa Alpha Vice-President Amir Hessabi said. “All members will be in attendance of the activities of the week. On a separate note, we are the only Fraternity who has had a extensive three hour Bystander Intervention sexual assault risk reduction training provided throughout International Fraternity. Every member has engaged in the conversation and is well educated.
The chapter is organizing a presentation with a speaker for the campus in the near future.”
The event sparked a campus wide debate surrounding the question of if the location and organization of the event was effective or not.
“Generalizing and targeting an entire group of people is ridiculous and even immoral,” Sophomore Biology student Caitlin Stanyard said. “I understand that sexual assault is a problem on college campuses but I think that socially condemning a whole fraternity is unfair and detrimental, especially considering all of the innocent people that become collateral damage. I agree that the issue should be discussed more here at Southwestern and we must take action but the way that people are going about this issue only tears apart our community instead of building it up to fulfill a common goal.”
Co-host of the event, Katie Morgan said that her overall goal for the event is to show those going through the process of a hearing after being sexually assaulted that they are not alone.
“My hope for this event is that the student body will take note that this does happen at Southwestern,” Morgan said. “I hope that a discussion regarding sexual misconduct starts and continues through this protest. I hope for a better justice system through the school that allows the accuser more transparency and protection in the reporting process.”
Pi Kappa Alpha President Ryan Fees said that he has no knowledge of the investigation of any of the fraternity members in his organization.
“If we knew that any member was drugging and/or raping women, we would have alerted SUPD and the administration immediately, as well as removed this individual from the chapter,” Fees said. “I have never seen any of these alleged drugs in our house, and neither has any other active member. I stand for my fraternity, and every member, when I say that we are not druggists and/or rapists. Pike is full of members that actively engage within the Southwestern community and we stand with you in wishing to see sexual assault on this campus eradicated as quickly as possible. I look forward to working with everyone in the upcoming weeks. May this be a time to unite as a community and work to solve a very pressing problem.”
The forum today will be facilitated by a set of faculty and students. The event will open with a statement made by Woody on the current state of affairs and on some clarification. Students will then have the opportunity to speak about their concerns. The administration plans to use the forum to begin a string of conversations on how to address the issue of sexual misconduct on campus.
“I hope that voices that want to be heard will speak,” Woody said. “Starting next week I am allocating one hour a day where students can come and ask me questions or get clarification.”
The hours available for those interested in meeting with Dean Woody are Monday from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM, Tuesday 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM, Wednesday 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM, Thursday 11:00 AM-12:00 PM and Friday 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Student Congress will be hosting another forum on Tuesday from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM in Bishops Lounge continue the conversation had at the forum today.
“I have been asked for the University’s response [to the protest] and it is simple,” Woody said. “Southwestern University will not tolerate any form of sexual misconduct on our campus or involving any members of our community. We are repulsed by rape and sexual assault, of course, but also other forms of sexual misconduct including harassment and the use of drugs, or alcohol as part of a scheme to engage in sexual misconduct. We also applaud the right and value of students demonstrating to bring attention to the need for positive behavioral change.”