Op-Ed: Emerson put my sexual assaulter before me

By Piper Clark

The Beacon reviewed documentation and email correspondence around this case to verify its results and timeline. Click here to find further reading about the current state of Title IX at Emerson and our ongoing coverage of the topic.

Two of Emerson’s core values are moral courage and ethical engagement—we don’t uphold them. I was sexually assaulted by another student in the fall semester of my freshman year. It took me two years of self loathing and shame to start to process what happened that night. I filed a report with the Office of Title IX in September 2016. It was one of the hardest things that I will ever do.

The investigation went on for one hundred sixteen days. One hundred sixteen days of interrogation. One hundred sixteen days of, “How much did you drink? … Are you sure? … Did he give you the drink? … How big was the cup? … Were you drunk? … Were you slurring? … Are you sure? … Where did he touch you? … Are you sure? … Did you tell anyone? … What kind of alcohol was it? … Are you sure … Try to remember…” One hundred sixteen days of barricading my door every night only to relive the assault. I set alarms on my phone daily to remind myself to eat. I thought it would end after he was found responsible. It didn’t.

After countless meetings, he was found responsible for four violations under Emerson’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and one under the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy. The sanctions panel decided his consequences would consist of dismissal from campus housing, disciplinary probation, a substance abuse assessment, and prohibition from participating in senior week activities.

However, he was still going to be allowed to attend commencement. I spent months leading up to the ceremony agonizing over being in the same room as my assaulter. Graduation is supposed to be a day to feel proud of your accomplishments. I didn’t feel proud. I felt disgusted by the school’s leniency. Just days before the event, I received notice that he would no longer be attending, not because the administrators realized their mistake, but because he had violated one of his sanctions. They hid the details of his violation from me even though it was my case. I was told that they were protecting his privacy and that they did not think my safety was at risk. Again, the school placed his needs and rights above mine.

The Emerson College administration was prepared to quite literally applaud someone found responsible for sexual misconduct. The school made it very clear to me that my needs are to be ignored. I was merely a nuisance to them, one that they occasionally tried to placate. The school’s leniency sends a message to him and anyone else who perpetrates similar crimes that they won’t be truly held accountable. The school will still protect them, and thereby neglect and fail the survivors. Emerson prides itself on inclusion, but by including him in the Emerson community, I am forced out.

My experience is not unique. Twenty three percent of female undergraduate students experience sexual assault, and that’s only a fraction of the instances of sexual assault and rape on college campuses in the U.S. So many survivors are unable to file Title IX reports out of shame, a lack of trust in the system, a lack of resources, or simply because it hurts too much.

Emerson College administrators seem to think that what I went through was not painful enough. Maybe if he left marks around my neck when he had me in a headlock, or maybe if someone saw it happen, they would have acted differently. But this should not be about trying to quantify the amount of suffering someone has endured.

These are the facts: He was found responsible for four violations under Emerson College’s sexual misconduct policy. Sexual assault is a violent crime and should be treated as such. Emerson College failed me.

For those of you who have had similar experiences, know that I will forever support you and carry this weight with you. Know that you are not alone. Know that it was not your fault. Know that you are strong, even on those days where it feels like the world is crushing you. Know that I see you, and I feel you with every word I write. Know that they cannot take away our voices. We will be heard.