Dear ResLife and members of the Wesleyan community,
We are Students for Consent and Communication, an on-campus group that strives to promote healthy and consensual relationships throughout the Wesleyan community. Naturally, our goal is to protect and support all survivors of sexual assault and to take swift action in any situation that puts them at risk. We are writing today to express our deep concern about ResLife’s recent action (or rather, inaction) in regard to sexual assault.
In choosing to give alleged perpetrators the “benefit of the doubt” rather than actively taking any and every precaution necessary to protect those asserting themselves as survivors of a violent, traumatizing crime, ResLife is establishing itself as a rape-enabling, perpetrator-protecting, victim-disempowering, and sexual violence-supporting institution.
ResLife’s job is to protect students, yet based on its history of employee management and punishment allotment, it seems that there is a frightening prioritization of minor drug and alcohol violations over violent assault. When student staff have been dismissed for suspicion of intoxication, it seems absurd that students with histories of misconduct concerning women would not be dismissed for allegations of sexual assault.
ResLife has continually struggled with supporting staff members who were assaulted while working and survivors who had to further deal with perpetrators. Staff should not have to petition for adequate support and protection from harassment, assault, and abuse: it should be a given. When multiple ResLife student staff members, especially women of color (who already bear the heaviest burden in the neoliberal university), come forth and express discomfort at the patriarchal safeguarding of perpetrators, it is ResLife’s job to make a stand. When economically disadvantaged RAs, especially those who are also survivors, are forced to choose between continuing to work for an institution that supports assault or striking and potentially losing the job that’s just barely keeping them financially afloat, it is ResLife’s job to make a stand.
When RAs are tasked with keeping their residents safe yet feel unsafe themselves, it is ResLife’s job to make a stand. ResLife has the power to help push a culture shift that prioritizes believing and protecting survivors over catering to “potentially innocent” perpetrators. It is necessary that institutions stop operating with the overly cautious, overtly misogynistic and entirely baseless mindset that those who report are potentially vengeful liars, willing to falsely accuse innocent people of rape to destroy their lives, reputations, and futures. The fact is that rape is already a grossly underreported crime, which has undoubtedly been even more true on Wesleyan’s campus recently as a result of the news that a former administrator who handled Title IX cases was, in fact, a perpetrator himself.
Considering the historical institutional inclination to silence survivors in avoidance of lawsuits and public defamation, it is all the more vital to act in the interest of those few survivors who bravely choose to officially report and risk further trauma, shame, and misogyny. There is a baseless stereotype that campus sexual assault is more often than not the accidental result of miscommunication. However, sexual assault is a crime, perpetrated through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion. By failing time and time again to support survivors, ResLife is blindly choosing the side of the oppressor and essentially endorsing violent crime. Furthermore, ResLife is undermining the debilitating trauma of sexual assault, ignoring the bravery it takes to report, and, most importantly, contributing to the campus culture of fear that hushes survivors and encourages perpetrators every day. We write in hopes that this behavior is recognized and counteracted.