THE BLOG

Brown Honors Graduates, Fails Survivors

05/25/2014 09:14 am ET | Updated Jul 25, 2014
Nancy R. Cohen via Getty Images

This weekend, students, alumni and their families will gather at Brown University to celebrate commencement, reunions and the university's 250th anniversary. On this occasion, while we reflect on what our school has given us, we must also acknowledge where it has failed -- and where it should improve.

Many of you have likely heard my story by now. Last August, just before the second semester of my junior year, I was raped and strangled by a fellow Brown student. I won't repeat the details of my assault here -- they've been well documented elsewhere in the media. What I want to explain is how, through its neglect of the safety of students on this campus and the trauma I experienced, Brown compounded my sense of hopelessness and isolation.

When I filed a report with Brown administrators, my rapist received a slap on the wrist. Despite finding my abuser responsible for all four student misconduct violations he had been charged with -- including "non-consensual sexual misconduct involving penetration, violent physical force, or injury" -- the University decided to allow him back on campus within a year.

His punishment -- a one-year suspension -- is the penalty for plagiarism at other elite academic institutions. This sanction not only failed to ensure my safety, but also the safety of other students. In fact, a study co-authored by one of Brown's own researchers found that nearly two out of every three college rapists is a repeat offender.

If it were up to Brown, my rapist and I would once again attend classes together. He would again walk across the Main Green. He would study next to you in the SciLi, sit next to you at the Ratty and walk through the Van Wickle Gates at commencement. However, his attorney announced that he made the choice not to return in the fall.

Brown failed me. Now, I want to make sure that it doesn't fail the next generation of students.

In the past two weeks, I have filed Title IX and Clery Act complaints against Brown University, asking the Federal Department of Education to add our institution to the list of 55 schools currently under investigation for potentially inadequate responses to sexual assault on campus. Together, I hope these inquiries prompt the Department of Education to work with Brown to ensure that students are protected by effective, fair disciplinary systems on campus and across the country.

In an email sent to the Brown community on April 26th, President Paxson stated that "sexual assault at Brown is not tolerated" and pledged to launch a Task Force on Sexual Assault to improve the university's response. We must confront rape, however, with action, not mere words. The administration must follow up on these promises by developing and implementing effective policies that will actually keep students safe.

Brown is often upheld as a representative of liberal, progressive education. If we want to be true to that reputation, we must become anti-rape -- and that can only be achieved through persistent, deliberate action. We must also acknowledge the roles that racism, classism and homophobia play in all aspects of sexual assault and demand equitable solutions.

While my story is deeply personal, my experience is not unique, as we've seen through other high profile cases in recent weeks at Columbia University, Tufts University and Amherst College, among countless others. For more than two decades, Brown has been publicly criticized for mishandling sexual assault. Now, Brown must seize this opportunity to face these issues head-on and become a leader in sexual assault prevention and response. The University must introduce new systems and policies that protect all students, including people of color and those who identify as male, female, LGBTQ and low-income.

Every school needs a fair and helpful process to deal with sexual assault, and it takes the attention and support of students, administrators and the community to make that process successful. I won't be able to return to campus this fall, but we cannot allow the issue of sexual assault on campus to be forgotten.

Students and alumni, as you come together on College Hill this weekend, I ask you to continue to hold Brown accountable, to make it not only a center of academic excellence but also a place where all students are safe -- a place that we are all proud to call our alma mater.