Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Editorial: Does Emerson College care about victims and survivors?

Rachel Choi
Illustration by Rachel Choi.

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice.

Have you ever had sex with someone and hated it?

Well, you’re going to see them in the DH.

Have you ever had a weird roommate that you had to ditch? You will share the famous one-foot-by-one-foot Walker elevators with them on the way to every class. 

The Emerson campus, with its 5,000 some-odd students, is far too small and vertical for you to escape your opps.

However much of a mild inconvenience this may seem like, it becomes a serious issue when you’ve had a traumatizing interaction with someone and even after filing a No Contact Order, it seems as though you can’t escape them. 

This was my experience last year. I tried to ignore the uncomfortable comments and the fact that I could practically feel his breath on my neck whenever we were in the same room. When it got to the point where at least once a day I was in an elevator alone with him, or he seemed to aimlessly wander the halls on the floors where I happened to have class. I had to take action.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of this school’s size, both he and the administration hid this covert stalking behind the veil of “it’s just a small school, you’re going to run into people.” This made me spiral—was I just misreading this whole experience? Did I really have to see him on every corner, despite having an administrative restraining order?

Upon opening up to others in the Berkeley Beacon newsroom, I learned that many other people in our newsroom shared this experience, validating my initial concerns. Moreover, I had witnesses to almost every uncomfortable interaction I had with this man. Despite that, there was still ambiguity when dealing with administration as to whether they actually intended to take action against him.

Three years have passed since Emerson College modified its PBIV policy following complaints from students and survivors. They criticized the Title IX office for being ineffective and slow, particularly after the 2019 incident where a list naming over a dozen students accused of sexual misconduct was posted on the scaffolding of the Little Building.

The students who initially advocated for the college to review its Title IX policies were expressing their dissatisfaction with a report containing recommendations released by the Title IX office.

It was stated that any reported cases including conduct violations that fall under both the Emerson policy and the federal guidelines are called “hybrid reports.” 

During these “hybrid reports” the Title IX coordinator may still implement a no-contact order or push to remove two parties from the same class—at any time during an investigation. But under the new federal policy, these supportive measures cannot put an undue burden, or have a “substantial impact,” on the responding party. If the responding party feels the orders are unfair, they may urge the coordinator to reconsider the action on the basis that it hinders their educational experience. 

The problem with these school-based restraining orders, or No Contact Orders, is that it’s made very clear to both parties that this is not meant to be a punitive measure. Meaning, if a party wants to break the no contact order, very little can be done except for an amicable facilitated discussion between both parties to set respectful boundaries, and other HR bullshit hullabaloo I was fed when inquiring about this.

To make this painstaking process even worse, the small bodied, highly saturated nature of the microcosm that is the student body made this “drama” even more inescapable. Everywhere I turned, if he wasn’t there, people were certainly gossiping about the situation. Even when most of the jokes were pointed at the offender, it still wasn’t necessarily comforting that this, frankly, traumatizing situation was the “Hot New Gossip Of The Month” for my peers and counterparts.

Because so many people had similar interactions with him, it spread like wildfire. Soon I had more people in my corner willing to take action. However, people who weren’t directly impacted by the situation had no problem bringing it up in casual conversation—whether that be in newsrooms across campus or in the communal bathroom on a Thursday night when I’m trying to brush my goddamn teeth and go to bed. 

Even though the severity of my situation didn’t seem extreme, the grueling work  of attempting to have my experience validated by administration was exhausting enough. The countless Zoom calls, documents, transcripts, meetings and crying I did in those months was all the talk I needed. What I didn’t need was to be met with it in casual conversation with my peers when all I want to do is put it behind me.

I had an investigator look me dead in the eye and tell me this man refused to refer to me by my name, only as “the girl in the skimpy clothes”. Laugh all you want about the off-putting things he posts on discussion boards, but I wasn’t laughing when it was just me left to defend myself in meetings during this investigation.

The social atmosphere here is truly that of a high school. Just the fact that there are roughly 1,000 freshmen who all live in the same building is enough to make “big drama” inescapable. 

When drama escalates into harassment, the administration’s ability to intervene is constrained, akin to hands bound tightly, limiting their reach.

You might say it’s just the nature of the beast. But I’m not satisfied with that solution. And neither are countless Emerson students who have had similar experiences. In fact, I’ve talked to some other students who felt as though taking action and reporting these incidents is simply not worth the effort because of the historic lack of response from the school.

One student described a freshman year encounter with a fellow classmate. She had gone over to his off-campus apartment under the impression that the two of them were just going to “hang out for a bit.” He proceeded to convince her that they were in a safe environment to smoke weed, and she did not have to worry because “he won’t bite.” Well, he did. And she could not have consented because she was intoxicated.

After the encounter, she went back to her LB dorm and vomited. She felt disgusted. She thought maybe she was gay. Maybe she felt this way because she wasn’t attracted to men. She tried to convince herself that it was just a hookup with a slimy, not-her-type guy and eventually talked herself out of filing any sort of report or even describing the encounter as assault. She revealed the “hookup” to a mutual friend and distinctly remembers him asking her “are you sure that was consensual?” It had to be, she told herself. Why report it when it was her fault for trusting him? 

I get that no one can control me running into my ex in the Max on a Saturday night. But we can’t just accept that if you are a victim or survivor, you must be okay with seeing your offender on every left corner. Some victims may have the luxury of their abuser transferring or graduating, but that’s not the case for everyone. It’s emotionally grating and doesn’t make this school feel like any safer of an environment.

There’s a peculiar and sinister symbolism in a campus being small enough to make day-to-day, often mundane interactions slightly awkward or uncomfortable, yet the reach of what our administration can do to help us remains limited, unable to stretch wide enough.

Emerson’s Title IX office and its own harassment policies are allegedly put into place to protect the student body’s right to safety and comfortability. But the failures and blindspots of these policies at an institution as small as Emerson contribute to a culture of victim-blaming that does very little to hold the offending party accountable, ultimately further ostracizing the offended. How can I feel safe at an institution that seems to protect the offender more than the offended?

Throughout my investigation, I felt that the Office of Equal Opportunity bent over backwards to make it clear to both me and my offender that no punitive action was being taken against him, and that none was intended to. Repeatedly, it was expressed to me that their goal was to protect both of us, and two facilitate a solution that catered toward both of our needs. They even went as far as to defend him, saying he just wanted to make friends and didn’t understand he was making me uncomfortable.

It became clear to me throughout this process that it was up to me to make this an environment that feels safer and more comfortable — something I should be entitled to. Something the school isn’t prioritizing because they’re afraid of my offender taking action against them.

So I carry pepper spray. I don’t go anywhere alone. I loudly tell off men who make unwanted advances on me, I cover my drinks, I scan every room I walk into, and I hope for the best.

That’s all I can do.

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