As an institution, Vassar has prided itself on its sensitivity and victim-centered approach to sexual assault. However, when Elizabeth Schrock, the former Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) Coordinator, left her position in July, Vassar failed to make decisions in line with either of these ideals. As SAVP coordinator, Schrock counseled and advocated for victims and survivors of sexual abuse. She guided people through victimizing bureaucratic processes like Title IX investigations and organized preventative programs, such as bystander intervention training, in hopes of fostering a safer, more responsible community here at Vassar.
The hiring process to replace Schrock began in July, when she notified the school that she would not be returning to the position in the fall. While we can understand why the position has remained vacant since the beginning of August, as it is of vital importance that the search for a new SAVP Coordinator be conducted with as much thoroughness as possible, the lack of transparency during the transition has had victimizing effects on students trying to report assault.
This institutional irresponsibility indicates a fundamental lack of comprehension for the importance of this position to the entire student body. It also forces us to question how student-focused institutional resources are being deployed.
So far this semester, we have received several emails from both Dean Roellke and Dean Brown about unsafe situations on and off campus. These emails are, overwhelmingly, about threats posed by “intruders.”
However, we have yet to receive an email addressing Schrock’s departure and the current vacancy of the SAVP Coordinator position. Additionally, our deans have not publicly acknowledged or addressed threats and violence when our safety is threatened by our own sexually-violent Vassar students.
The student body was not notified that Schrock left her position during the summer, nor were we told that the position would be taken up by Renee Pabst, the Director of the Office of Health Education.
We were also not told that the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) would continue to be available to students during the interim. As a result, students are unaware of whom to approach for help and resources. Furthermore, the resources that are available, such as the SAVP Process for Reporting page online, are not accurate or up to date. Student survivors of sexual violence have been left floundering, and many have chosen to seek advice from peers who are not necessarily trained or equipped to responsibly advocate.
Pabst is an administrator who is already in a full-time position. The decision to give her the responsibilities of another full-time job is unfair to her, and it inappropriately suggests that such a job can be done without one’s full attention. SART, a group of faculty and staff that works in conjunction with the SAVP coordinator, has also been forced to assume the responsibilities of the position, even though they are only trained as first responders who also have full-time jobs. Why did our administration fail to hire an interim SAVP coordinator and/or adequately publicize that Pabst was doing both jobs until the position could be filled long-term?
This is not the first time that the administration has failed to notify the campus regarding vacancies in positions important to vulnerable members of the student body. When the former Director of the ALANA Center left, his departure and the replacement process were not adequately reported, and other administrative figures as well as students were forced to take up the role in the meantime. The parallels between the SAVP Coordinator and ALANA Center Director hiring situations show that the school doesn’t feel the need to be transparent regarding positions whose services are integral to supporting already marginalized communities on campus.
As of now, a new SAVP Coordinator has been hired, and will start on Dec. 1. The position is at-will, which means it has no job security. It is a coordinator position, which is one of the least powerful positions in our administration, and it comes with an entry-level salary that is not guaranteed for a full year.
This has already adversely affected the search, as three of the top nine candidates dropped out because of the low salary. The next SAVP coordinator is the only staff member at the school paid specifically work to support survivors of sexual violence.
This person is a first responder and an educator and works alongside SART, Residential Life, CARES and The Office of Health Education, serving as a resource for this community, and will be responsible for counseling and advocating for up to 28 percent of the student body. The role is vital in adhering to federal mandates to create a space that takes sexual violence seriously and understands that we are all responsible for ending sexual violence.
While we are relieved that the position has finally been filled and have faith in the recent hire, we wish that the administration had been more thoughtful and concerned about the vacancy, the hiring process and the resources available to the students in the meantime. We hope that, in the future, the school will take the initiative to improve the deficits mentioned above as a demonstration that they are committed to the lives and livelihoods of survivors of sexual violence.