Williams Is the Latest College Accused of Mishandling Rape
Williams College is not one of the 55 colleges currently under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault, but its administration is clearly worried it will be next.
Williams College is not one of the 55 colleges currently under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault, but its administration appears to be nervous it could be next. Lexie Brackenridge, currently a Columbia student who transferred out of Williams after she was raped there in 2012, wrote an op-ed for The Williams Record this month detailing her unsatisfactory experience dealing with Williams administration and the harassment she faced from other students after reporting her assault.
In the Record, Brackenridge writes:
My focus over the past 18 months has been on rebuilding my life. Between the harassment and administrative failures that occurred last spring, it became explicitly clear that Williams would not be a safe place for me. ... it has become increasingly evident that the College had, and currently has, every intention of trying to sweep my assault under the rug. For my own conscience and for the safety of every other student on campus, I cannot and will not allow that to happen.
Brackenridge writes that when she was a 17-year-old freshman at Williams, she was raped by a 21-year-old hockey player at the school. He was ultimately found guilty of sexual assault by an administrative panel and suspended for three semesters. Williams will likely allow him to come back to campus this fall. In light of this, Brackenridge questions the advice Williams deans gave her when she first reported the assault to the administration. She says that the deans "explicitly encouraged me not to seek legal action, asserting that it would be a bureaucratic nightmare and that they, as the College, had my best interests in mind."
In addition to facing her attackers re-admittance, Brackenridge says she suffered severe harassment from other hockey players on campus, which she says the administration ignored: "In one instance, they surrounded me, threw full beer cans at my head and chanted that I should have kept my mouth shut. When I spoke to the deans about the incident, I was told that everyone was 'exhausted' from dealing with the case and that perhaps it would be better if we all just 'took a little break.' Members of the men’s hockey team and my rapist’s friends continued to harass me for months on campus. I received no 'break.'"
Brackenridge started a Change.org petition to encourage Williams to change its sexual assault policy so that perpetrators are expelled, not just suspended. More than 800 Williams community members have signed, including many alumni. Marjorie Duffield of New York wrote, "As a member of the class of 1985, I know a number of classmates who suffered under the school's sexual assault policy. 30 years it too long. Zero tolerance is the only acceptable policy." Stephen Haggett of Winchester, Massachusetts simply wrote, "Embarrassed alumni."
In an email to petition signers, dean Sarah Bolton responded to Brackenridge's petition point-by-point, explaining that the school already does some of the things she's asking for. "The actions the petition seeks are ones that either we already do or would certainly adopt if we believed they would reduce the number of assaults or increase the safety and support of survivors and the accessibility of disciplinary and legal processes," she writes.
Brackenridge is just the latest survivor to speak up about sexual assault on campus. Over the past year, countless women have come forward not only to warn of danger on campus but to criticize administrations for doing little or nothing about rampant sexual assault. Over the weekend, the #YesAllWomen hashtag created after the UCSB shooting collected many responses from women who constantly feel unsafe on campus. As awareness continues to grow, colleges and universities feel pressure to update their policies before they're the subject of a federal investigation.
Brackenridge, at least, seems confident that the college can change. She writes,
Both of my parents attended Williams, in addition to my grandfathers, aunts, uncles and numerous other relatives. I will never forget the day my mom and I ran around my house, screaming and crying with joy after receiving my acceptance letter. I still hold Williams dear to my heart and would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the incredible support I received last year. I do not believe that the actions of a few individuals encapsulate the identity of an entire team or an entire college. To those members of the Williams community who have supported and continue to support me, I cannot thank you enough. I can honestly say that many of you have saved my life.
Photo by Olesia Bilkei via Shutterstock.