On April 25, Michael Hayes ’14 published a open letter on his personal blog regarding the College’s response to the sexual assault of his sister, sophomore Chelsie Hayes. The post has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook, and has received thousands of views on his website. Media outlets like cleveland.com, Jezebel, and The Independent have reported on the letter and the College’s response to it. Chelsie has since transferred from the College. The Hayes are from Gambier, Ohio, and Michael is a legal assistant at Lambda Legal in New York City. He answered questions via email.
1) Are you surprised at all by the media response to your letter? How has the letter’s publicity affected you and your family?
I wasn’t anticipating that the letter would receive any media attention at all, honestly, and that was certainly not my initial intention. But while the scale of the attention has been shocking–the WordPress post alone has been viewed more than 50,000 times–the response itself does not surprise me. The people who have engaged with this story are almost uniformly outraged, and so different corners of the media are choosing to amplify our voices. The reason that my sister’s story has resonated in particular, I think, is because generations of alumni are seeing a spectacular failure by an institution in which they are often so personally invested, but also a failure that feels shamefully familiar, and they refuse to accept this college’s interpretation of justice for survivors of sexual violence on its campus.
The publicity has compelled current students, professors, alumni, their families, and complete strangers to reach out to our family to offer their support and their own stories. It has sparked a communal healing process, and my family and I are very appreciative of that.
2) Do you feel as if the forthcoming audit of the Title IX policy at Kenyon is sufficient?
At this point, it would be foolish for me to feel confidence in these measures, because the administration continues to express a level of public confidence that is not reflected in the outcomes of its procedures. It is possible that the policies do conform to the expectations of federal and local laws as written, but it isn’t possible to judge their efficacy if the procedures fail to adhere to Kenyon’s own definitions of consent, incapacitation, and nonconsensual sexual contact and intercourse. The documentation for my sister’s case illustrates this unequivocally, so if the audit fails to find the college at fault in any way, I believe the media will find much more to work with. I will not stand down until somebody is held accountable, and it really is that simple.
3) Has anyone from the College’s administration reached out to you? If so, what have they said?
No, they have not.
4) Anything else you’d like to add in an interview that will be published specifically for Kenyon students, faculty, and administrators?
A few people have pointed out that my letter only presents one side of the story–that it is biased and should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. I have never presented my letter to be a dispassionate and objective understanding of my sister’s story, and it is clearly a highly personal account that reaches as far back as my childhood. I have, however, read the other side of the story countless times–indeed, it is the side of the story that the college deferred to after finding that my sister experienced prolonged periods of memory loss that night. Nevertheless, his is not my story to tell, so I welcome the young man who sexually assaulted my sister to speak up and present his side of the story. He is, after all, the one who remains on campus to this day. If he believes his own story, then he can stand up for himself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.