TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses instances of sexual assault.
When I say I’m not safe on campus, I’m not trying to put that reality on anyone else. I don’t want to create a sense of fear on this campus, but at the same time, I want my anxious, panicky reality to be known. I’m a victim. Someone cussed me out, made threats and angry comments to the people I was with, as well as random strangers. When I got back to my room, hours after leaving that less than pleasant social interaction behind, I found him waiting there for me. He tried to force his way into my room to “fight” with me and wouldn’t leave. He wouldn’t leave when I called security. He only left when he realized there was someone else in the room with me—when he realized I wasn’t alone.
What triggered this reaction? I cock-blocked him. My friend had texted me to come over with an emergency: To get her out of an interaction with a guy. So, I ran over and started hysterically crying about my love life, and we left the party. But this guy could not handle being told no, so he tried to physically and mentally intimidate me. It worked. That night, I lay awake in my girlfriend’s bed (security advised me to stay out of my own dorm), wondering how he know where I lived. How long was he waiting for me there? Would he go after my friend? Would he come back for me? Was he only unstable when he was drunk? What would have happened if I hadn’t locked my door fast enough?
I ended up taking the case to an Interpersonal Violence Panel (IVP) because he had tried scaring two other women I knew in similar ways and figured Vassar would not tolerate this pattern of intimidating behavior. This person and I appeared before the IVP to figure out if he was responsible for breaking Vassar’s policy on stalking, attempted assault and disruptive conduct. I had four witnesses come forward to contribute to the investigation’s notes, and they clearly supported my claim that this person intended to harm me out of anger. The panel only found him responsible for disruptive conduct. I was thankful, because it meant sanctions were put in place, notably a severe Do Not Contact order. It required him to move out of my dorm, to remove himself from any public space where he found himself in my presence and to not make eye or verbal contact with me.
This last measure was put in place because I found myself getting panic attacks in his presence. I was told to report any violations of the Do Not Contact order to security; that way, if I ever chose to follow up on the incidents, I would have documented events to support my case. By finding this person responsible solely for disruptive conduct and not stalking or attempted assault, Vassar’s statistics at the end of the year do not reflect the issue of gender-based violence on this campus. This verdict was a way of giving me sanctions without the administration needing to address larger issues on campus.
My real problems arose when the Do Not Contact order was broken four times. I was informed that the incidents were going to another IVP, because the school had to follow up on reports of a Do Not Contact order that had been broken so many times. I protested, because I knew if this time a panel found him “not responsible” of these violations, there would be no incentive for him to continue upholding the Do Not Contact order since he would suffer no consequences. I was already dealing with harassment and intimidation not only from him, but also from his sports team. I was told that I didn’t need to go to the IVP, but that if I didn’t show up to represent myself, he would almost certainly be found “not responsible.” So, last week, I showed up to the most emotionally invalidating experience of my life. It lasted six hours. I was placed within five feet of individuals from his team—individuals who had intentionally intimidated me—as they testified on his behalf. A different witness then spoke how this person had clearly seen me in a public space and still didn’t leave. This alone should have been enough to find him responsible for failing to comply with the Do Not Contact order. The Title IX investigator, Rich Horowitz, spoke to the IVP at the end of it all, making it clear that after looking at the evidence and Title IX investigation texts, he had found the person responsible for several violations of Vassar policy. Still, the panel found him not responsible.
The IVP did not uphold Title IX standards. The process causes me extreme stress, and invalidates my struggles. If the Do Not Contact Order is broken (which it will be, because this person feels entitled to my space and faces no consequences for intimidating me with his presence), I don’t feel like I can call security because I could be forced through another IVP. The Do Not Contact order is supposed to restore my sense of safety on this campus. Instead, the IVP process has undermined any sense of empowerment or safety I might have gained from my first IVP.
You may think this is a huge overreaction on my part. I disagree, on both an individual and institutional level. In both my cases, I had ample evidence and support from reliable witnesses. If I can’t get recognized with plenty of evidence to back me up, how will someone who has experienced more intimate or isolated trauma ever be able to reclaim Vassar as a safe space? I am invisible and unsupported on this campus. I’m a victim of gender-based violence and harassment, but I’m also a victim of the system. I’m not the only person that feels this way; my experience with the IVP is not the exception. But it doesn’t need to be this way. We as a campus need to offer self-identified victims and survivors more rights. A victim should get to decide if their issue goes before an IVP. A victim should have the right to a qualified panel. A victim should have the right to not be blamed for their situation. We have the right to feeling safe on this campus. I don’t believe these rights are currently a reality on this campus.
The first step in fixing this process is to have more intensive training for those that sit on the panel. Currently, the sole person responsible for the entire IVP process is D.B. Brown, the Dean of Students. In addition to engaging in victim blaming and micro-aggressions with me, D.B. Brown is the only person responsible for the training of the IVP. I propose to have the training of the IVP members be the responsibility of a panel, one that includes the real life realities of stalking, sexual assault and gender-based violence (instead of sticking to the handbook), and thus creating a panel that can actually ensure us a safer space on this campus. As members of this campus, we need to ensure that victims have the right to appear before a highly qualified panel; otherwise, these hearings cause more harm and emotional trauma than necessary, as well as are ineffective at keeping Vassar a safe space. We need to have panels that call sexual assault by its real name, not so-called “disruptive conduct.” We deserve to be on a campus that doesn’t intentionally render victims invisible and voiceless.
I also want to note that if you or a friend are experiencing an issue of sexual assault, harassment, intimidation, stalking or fear on this campus, there are some incredible resources here on campus. CARES is really helpful. Elizabeth Schrock is a compassionate advocate that knows all sorts of resources. Kelly Grab and Rich Horowitz are really dedicated Title IX investigators. All members of security that I have met have responded with experience and dedication.
This article is my last leg, though. I have used up all of my campus resources. I am turning to the student body to help fix this important issue, so no one else on this campus has to feel this helpless in the future. It is clear where we have to start to fix this issue. We can make this campus better.
—The VSA will be hosting a forum on the Interpersonal Violence Panel system on April 17.