Below is the email that the Assembly for Justice sent to President Skorton. The email includes an evaluation of each of our updated demands as well as an evaluation of the ways in which the administration has responded thus far. Begin message:
Dear President Skorton,
Below you will find an elaboration of our “list of demands.” We have included an evaluation of the steps the administration is taking and the current programs and services in place. We also provide concrete examples of ways in which these requests might be satisfied as well as suggested roles for students as we move forward in addressing the issues at hand. Rather than spend our precious meeting time on a verbal evaluation of each demand, we are prepared to offer and discuss a condensed set of simple, feasible initial actions which we find agreeable and which align with the ideals that you and the rest of the administration have put forward. We realize that we have previously worked in generalities, which the administration may find difficult to address. Since our last meeting, we have done research into the services Cornell offers, what projects are currently being undertaken, and steps that have been taken by peer institutions. It is our hope that we may find common ground and work together toward creating proactive solutions to address the campus climate and strengthen the relationship between the administration and students in regards to the issues we face as a community.
The Assembly for Justice
1. Implement a mandatory anti-sexual violence training for all incoming and current students that targets rape culture and does not victim-blame.
We are pleased to hear that work is being done to improve the freshman year experience by bringing attention to sexual assault for incoming students. At the community forum, we learned that staff are working to develop new orientation programming. We are concerned, however, about a breakdown in communication between staff and students. Several administrators claimed to be working with student groups such as Consent-Ed, PEGS, and the Women’s Resource Center. However, the President of Consent-Ed, Vice President of PEGS, several WRC board members, as well as a number of other representatives from relevant student organizations are active in Assembly for Justice and the forum was the first time we had heard of any new initiatives regarding sexual assault training or education for freshmen. We eagerly await engagement and consultation on the programs that are currently being developed and look forward to productive collaboration on these difficult issues. We would like to stress that we fully expect these programs to have a scope that includes a discussion of rape culture and the gendered systems of power that promote it. We also expect that any and all training continues beyond orientation and the first year, this might be achieved by an academic course or requirement, which we plan to develop with faculty.
2. Develop a policy statement and directive from the president that demonstrates recognition of sexual violence as a systematically persistent symptom of rape culture, a commitment to reduce its occurrence, and action steps for the campus community.
The statement that President Skorton sent out to the Cornell community on October 4th was much welcomed by the Assembly; however we did not find that it reflected our previous discussion about survivor-sensitive and empowering language. We found the following quotation to be indicative of a misrepresentation of the problem. By excluding any mention of systematic rape culture and prioritizing an irrelevant notion of personal security, the president places onus on the potential victim to protect him/herself.
“Some have said that advocating for personal responsibility in the context of a violent and biased culture is tantamount to blaming the victim. I disagree. There is no substitute for taking personal precautions and prudent planning, and I urge all to do so.”
It is not that we reject the value of personal safety initiatives in general, it is that the disproportionate emphasis on individual responsibility obscures the systems of power that facilitate sexual violence. It also fails to recognize that while we have faced a surge in public attacks on this campus, the vast majority of sexual assaults occur in familiar settings, by perpetrators who are known by their victims; this omission works to further conceal the hidden epidemic that is sexual violence. If we are to be told to take personal precautions, then we would like to see, in the same breath, an acknowledgement and understanding of the systemic and silenced nature of sexual assault. The statements put out by Amherst President Biddy Martin and their Board of Trustees may be seen as models of the tone, specificity, and action-oriented response that this issue deserves.
3. Establish a multidisciplinary task-force on campus to address sexual violence prevention and response services that includes high-level campus administration, academic leaders, student leaders, and community partnerships.
While the Incident Management Team program has potential, students have been excluded from this response. We request that the IMT make their process and meeting notes available to students in the interest in transparency. We would like to create a student liaison position for each team. These student volunteers would be responsible for reading meeting notes, updating students on the progress of each team, and meeting with team leaders to provide feedback. While we understand that the IMT program is temporary and has been charged with creating “short term deliverables” within a strict timeframe, we feel strongly that a liaison position will create a more transparent, trusting relationship between students and administration as we move toward “longer term action.” We hope that student involvement in the IMT program might lay the groundwork for long-term cooperation and collaboration in addressing issues of sexual assault and bias-related crimes.
4. Proactively acknowledge the ways in which sexual violence intersects with race, gender, and sexuality when creating policies and programming so that
a) Stereotypes about men of color are dismantled rather than reinforced
We would like to see the creation of a space for men of color to unpack the stereotypes and implications of guilt that are reinforced in the Crime Alert descriptions of perpetrators. This is an example of race intersecting sexual violence in such a way that causes pain, suspicion, and misinformation in the Cornell community.
b) Sexual violence in the LGBTQ community is not rendered invisible
We insist that gender neutral and non-heterosexist language be used whenever possible in conversations of sexual assault. We also request that the LGBT Resource Center and Haven be included in solution-oriented dialogue around the issue of sexual violence, just as the WRC has been considered.
c) Men are invested in the prevention of sexual violence, including those actions that dehumanize and objectify women.
We insist in the strongest terms that Cornell create a position for Assistant Dean of Men or a new Assistant Dean of Students to deal specifically with issues of masculinity, gender, race, sexuality, and sexual violence among male-identifying students. Dartmouth and Harvard have similar positions, such a job posting from Dartmouth can be found here. In the interim, we would like to see programs such as A Call to Men, Men Can Stop Rape or another nationally-recognized organization brought to Cornell. We request that training for all genders be highly publicized, mandated if possible (e.g. for all residents of campus housing, as a prerequisite for attending Slope Day, etc.), and supported by the University.
5. Provide comprehensive training on all aspects of sexual violence for campus administrators; campus
law enforcement; disciplinary boards; health and counseling services staff; faculty; staff; and student
leaders that includes the dynamics of sexual violence, access to care, victim response, federal/state
statutes, and rape culture
We insist on evaluating all relevant training programs, such as Respect@Cornell, and student services to determine whether they satisfy our concerns.
6. Develop a coordinated, seamless, survivor-centered response service between campus and community
resources that offers the options of:
• anonymous reporting
• law enforcement involvement
• judicial/disciplinary board actions
• forensic/medical care
• emergency contraception
• academic/housing accommodations
• follow-up counseling, support, and advocacy
We insist approval to anonymously engage in and to evaluate the sexual assault services currently offered for inclusivity, efficiency and fluidity. Additionally, once the work is completed to create a seamless, survivor-centered response, we demand approval by the administration to once again undergo the response system anonymously and provide constructive feedback.
7. Develop educational/outreach programming
We plan to work with faculty on this point and intend to do so in consideration of the demands from last semester, which were created in light of the Sigma Pi hate crime, so that we may operate from a broader anti-oppression framework that is inclusive of but expands beyond the issue of sexual violence.