Swarthmore students rally against 'mishandling' of sexual assaults

Swarthmore students staged a sit-in on the college campus Tuesday morning in support of the #MeToo movement. Barabara Tayllor, center, and Will Marchese, right, lead chants. Between 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, hundreds of students protested on campus outside the Dean’s office in Parrish Hall saying the college has not adequately addressed the needs of #MeToo survivors on campus.

Shelby Dolch recounted a time when walking around Swarthmore College’s campus filled her with hope, the new feeling of a home where she could feel safe and open.

But that feeling didn’t last long for the freshman from Montana. She was sexually assaulted Nov. 17 at the school, she said Tuesday, speaking to a dense crowd of her peers that had packed into a hallway on the school’s tony campus with change on their minds.

“I am exhausted and in pain today,” Dolch said. “I relive my assault more often than I can put into words. I am reliving it now. I think about how Swarthmore failed me. I think about how members of the administration blew me off when I asked for help.”

Dolch’s testimony came during a formal protest rally spearheaded by Organizing for Survivors, a campus-based group advocating for the victims of sexual violence. The late-afternoon event, which drew dozens of students to the office of H. Elizabeth Braun, Swarthmore’s dean of students, echoed the group’s prevailing message: calling for Braun’s resignation, the banning of fraternity housing on campus, and a review of how the school investigates reports of sexual violence under the Title IX federal civil rights law.

Speakers at the protest complained of intimidation from students they accused of assault and of questions being “ignored” by investigators at Swarthmore assigned to their cases.

The group had issued its demands to Braun and other top college officials two months ago, and said Tuesday that none had been fully implemented. Hours before the rally, some members of the group staged a sit-in inside Braun’s office, professing to stay “indefinitely,” despite a warning in the late afternoon that they would be removed by campus security.

In a statement, Valerie Smith, Swarthmore’s president, said the school is “profoundly committed to improving our Title IX policies and procedures and to making sure that our students are heard and helped in the most sensitive, proactive, and effective ways possible.”

Smith referenced a letter she sent last week to Organizing for Survivors, wherein she pledged, among other things, to initiate training for faculty and “residential peer leaders” to help them support students who have experienced trauma and to create a “student transition committee” for the school’s incoming Title IX coordinator and violence prevention educator.

“Committee members are intentionally discussing student concerns with finalists and exploring with them how these issues would inform their work,” Smith wrote. “These key leadership positions will be central to our efforts to uphold and maintain an inclusive campus environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and harassment.”

The statement did little to soothe the concerns of the protesters, who said they were inspired to act after similar accusations were lobbied against the college in 2013, including a federal complaint.

As of Tuesday night, about 30 students were still inside the office. More were planning on remaining in the hallway outside, with some making ad hoc plans to sleep there overnight.

“The reason we’re here today is that we don’t want the administration to use summer or graduation to avoid responsibility,” said Priya Dieterich, a senior from New York City who helped organize Tuesday’s protest. “It’s especially frustrating to us that Swarthmore has failed to act in light of the nationwide attention being given to this issue.”