Two days after an alumnus publicly accused Kenyon of mishandling his sister’s campus sexual assault case this year, President Sean Decatur announced via a Student-Info email that the College would hire an independent firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of its sexual misconduct policy and compliance with Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
“Over the past two days, some have raised serious questions about our policies and practices,” Decatur wrote in his email Wednesday. “These questions must be addressed, and I believe that the best way to respond is with an honest, independent and thorough assessment.”
Decatur said the audit would gather information from all campus constituencies, evaluate Kenyon’s procedures for handling Title IX cases, as well as their training and education methods. The administration will also “examine cases and other related data,” Decatur wrote. The College will share the findings from this review with alumni and the Kenyon community at the end of the process.
In a post on his personal blog Monday, which he published with his sister’s consent and also shared on his Facebook page, the alumnus, Michael Hayes ’14, wrote that his sister, Chelsie Hayes ’18, was raped on Nov. 7, 2015 in a residence hall on campus. Hayes said his sister fell asleep after taking her prescribed medication and drinking a bottle of wine and a few beers at the Cove and was assaulted “by a boy who insisted to her and to others that she was ‘too cute to be a lesbian,’” Hayes wrote. “Despite her documented injuries, a bed stained with her own blood, her sexual orientation, and the combination of that much alcohol and prescription medication in her body, the college concluded — both initially and on appeal — that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that it was more likely than not that the college’s policy on sexual assault had been broken at all.”
Hayes did not immediately respond to Facebook messages Monday seeking comment.
Decatur sent an initial campuswide email Tuesday afternoon after alumni and students reacted to Hayes’s post, which, as of 2 a.m. Thursday, had been shared 879 times on Facebook. Mic, an online news site, and Teen Vogue picked up the story, publishing articles about the letter on Tuesday and Wednesday night, respectively.
“Over the past 24 hours, the Kenyon community has been made sensitive to issues regarding sexual misconduct,” Decatur wrote Tuesday. “I and no other College administrator can comment on any student conduct case of any type. To do so violates the rights of privacy, and would, in turn, multiply the pain felt by everyone involved. This may seem to some that the College is hiding behind the law, but I believe that this is simply the right thing to do.”
Mark Ellis, associate vice president for communications, sent an email Wednesday informing parents of the recent sensitivity to the College’s Title IX policy, and included links to Decatur’s two letters in the email.
“I think that we have a really valuable opportunity here to work with the administration to fix some of the issues that we face,” Christina Franzino ’16, a student leader of the Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs), said. “I think there are deeper issues of the legislation being broken … and needing to be more survivor-centric and needing to acknowledge the realities of trauma on a college campus in ways that it doesn’t currently.”
On Monday night, students found copies of Hayes’s letter taped to professors’ office doors in Ascension Hall.
After reading the letter, first years Jackie Dicks and Hannah Farr organized a meeting Tuesday morning with Civil Rights Coordinator Andrea Goldblum, asking her to respond. A Collegian reporter accompanied them to the meeting, but Goldblum asked that the conversation not be recorded. Goldblum explained the Title IX policy in detail, and assured them both the process was designed to be fair and equitable.
Dicks and Farr appreciated Goldblum met with them, but were not fully satisfied with her responses.
“I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” Dicks said. “We expressed a lot of concerns, and I don’t necessarily feel like all of those were met.”
Farr and Dicks both said they do not feel safe on campus under the current policy and that Hayes’s post disturbed them.
“Some of the details really hit close to home, so I was just kind of in shock,” Farr said. “Also reading some of the evidence, the details within it, I was just like, ‘How did this happen?’”
Decatur said in an interview with the Collegian he has “a great deal of confidence” in the system which Kenyon adopted last year, though he stressed that he can’t comment on any specific case.
SPORTS, a band comprised of current and former Kenyon students, tweeted Monday they were “disappointed in @KenyonCollege today.” After Decatur’s email to students and alumni on Tuesday, SPORTS wrote another tweet that they were “feeling unsatisfied” with Decatur’s response, tagging Decatur’s handle.
Nathan Durham ’17, a sexual misconduct advisor (SMA), commented on Hayes’s post, writing that he has yet to witness justice for survivors of sexual assault at Kenyon.
“As an SMA, I’ve never seen a just outcome for a survivor handed down by this administration. Not once,” Durham wrote. “This is heartbreaking.”
Decatur, the Council of Social Justice and Diversity (CSJD) and students have scheduled events in the wake of Hayes’s letter and Decatur’s response.
CSJD organized a Title IX discussion Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the Horn Gallery. Around 50 students attended. Audrey Neubauer ’19, said the talk helped her think more clearly about Title IX, but the general confusion about the policy concerned her.
“This is a dialogue that requires a lot more time and involvement,” Neubauer said. “I think this is a conversation that everyone should want to be a part of, and, because that isn’t necessarily realistic, something every Kenyon student should be required to be a part of.”
A “Sit-in in Support of Survivors of Sexual Assault” has been organized by sophomores Cayla Anderson, Rachel Arens, Hannah Levy, Grace Riley and Hayley Yussman. The sit-in is scheduled for today from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Old Side of Peirce Hall, according to the Facebook event. Yussman said they originally planned to hold the event in the atrium of Peirce, but changed the location to Old Side per a request from the SMAs, who wanted to minimize the possibility of triggering survivors going to Peirce for lunch.
“In my opinion, the administration has not responded in a supportive, uplifting way to these survivors, but rather has attempted to sweep these issues under the rug, letting the perpetrators go free with very few repercussions,” Arens wrote in an email to the Collegian.
The sit-in is not associated with any particular campus group.
Franzino said the SMAs have taken a neutral stance on the sit-in and any further organized demonstration due to their status as a third-party resource for anyone affected by sexual misconduct on campus. She added SMAs will be on hand at the sit-in to speak with anyone who may feel triggered or otherwise want to talk.
With the Board of Trustees meeting starting today, and its members lunching in Peirce, Yussman said sit-in organizers will try to direct board members and administrators into Old Side to see the demonstration.
“I think a big issue on Kenyon is sort of a complacency with political issues. Nobody really does anything,” Yussman said. “They might complain about it and then not have any larger dialogues. With Sendoff, when everyone came together to have more discourse, something happened.”