Davidson, all of us, must take sexual assault seriously

This open letter was submitted by recent Davidson alumnae Elizabeth G. Court, Jennifer R. Estill, Alanna N. Ford, Jessica C. Malordy, Alice M. Phillips, Jessica K. Reese and Elizabeth A. Rollins.

Recently, a Davidson College student published an article highlighting the difficulty she faced on campus while pursuing justice and protection as a survivor of sexual assault. Not only did she feel inadequately supported while navigating the complicated sexual misconduct system, she also felt denied safety when her assailant was found responsible and yet allowed to remain on campus. His penalty was a mere 20 hours of counseling and a sanction essentially prohibiting him from attending on-campus parties.

This young woman’s experience is difficult to reconcile with the mission of a community that nurtures brilliant young minds and thoughtful citizens of a global world. We know her story to be one among many. We know this is a serious issue, not only at Davidson, but on campuses across the country. We would like to proclaim our support for this brave woman and for a greater movement to initiate reform on our beloved campus.

The Davidson College we love is continually on the forefront of change. Our community thrives through its ability to face diverse challenges with brave acts of self-assessment, supported by deep roots of integrity. When we discuss sexual assault, we must recall those values. We must honor the basic principles that we champion in the classroom. Accounts of sexual assault must be acknowledged and pursued with care, gravity and the same measure of accountability we apply in upholding our Honor Code, the cornerstone of our community.

Davidson has recently revised and improved its Sexual Misconduct Policy, demonstrating genuine concern for student welfare. We appreciate those efforts, and we are heartened to know that those efforts reflect a national conversation about campus sexual assault, which has even reached the White House. But there is more work to do. We believe that as an institution determined to foster lives of leadership and service, Davidson can do more than keep pace with national reform; Davidson can and should lead the way in reshaping how institutions of higher learning handle sexual assault.

Current Davidson students have outlined clear steps the administration can take to deepen accountability. For example, the college’s written policy on sexual misconduct should explicitly define terms such as rape and sexual assault. Those terms should be used in case hearings. The college should also improve assistance for victims. The Sexual Misconduct Panel must be required to provide written justification for its sanctions. And suspension for students found responsible for sexual assault ought to be mandatory. We strongly believe there is no justification for letting a student remain on campus after being found guilty of rape. These amendments are in keeping with Davidson’s values of justice and responsibility and would offer tangible improvements to the current system.

We urge Davidson to pursue a cultural shift in addition to policy revisions. We believe a significant portion of sexual offenses committed on campus could be prevented through a re-oriented approach to communication and sex. First-year orientation, including programs such as Davidson 101, would be excellent venues for new programming that would introduce students to Davidson’s diversity and create safe spaces for authentic dialogue. Intentionally facilitated small groups could create platforms for all students to participate in difficult and important conversations about a variety of topics, including sexual violence. We perceive this as a moment of tremendous opportunity for the school, and hope that, in addition to policy changes, existing organizations like the Residence Life Office and Patterson Court Council will use their central positions in student life to advocate for collective and individual accountability regarding sex culture on campus.

As alumni, we stand in awe and appreciation of those students who honor our community by demonstrating the need for change. We call on the administration, faculty, staff, and students of Davidson College to continue to pursue reform. As alumni, we are committed to contributing to developments on campus and staying engaged as members of the Davidson community. We urge fellow supporters to sign the petition calling for reform on Davidson’s campus.

Thursday, students on campus marched in a Safe Walk for respect, dignity and support. They are passionate. They seek to expand this dialogue. They desire change, and they deserve it.