A Call to End Sexual and Interpersonal Violence at Princeton

We are a coalition of University students working to end sexual and interpersonal violence at Princeton. This includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking. First and foremost, we emphasize that we share Princeton University’s stated values and commitment to ensuring that our community members can learn, work, and thrive in a safe, supportive and fair environment, free from sexual misconduct and all forms of discrimination. We share, with Princeton’s trustees, administration, and faculty, a desire that this community flourish as a place for learning, a space for growth, and an example of education for the common good. We recognize that an institution is only as strong as its people—and it is with that in heart and mind that we offer this appeal.

While the University commits to these values in theory, in practice we see ways in which people have been hurt by the failure to uphold them. Many of us have individually tried to pursue conversations for reform. Sadly, these attempts have not resulted in visible changes in the system. We call for the reform of Princeton’s procedures regarding sexual and interpersonal violence. We ask for more. Princeton is—and can be—better than this.

Title IX is a vital federal law that protects the civil rights of people of all genders and is the source of university processes to hold perpetrators of violence accountable. We are indebted to all of the people who worked tirelessly during the civil rights movement to pass this law, from which we all now benefit enormously. We seek to uphold the principles of this law, ensure Princeton complies with the law, and ensure Princeton takes additional measures to prevent and address violence.

In 2014, the Department of Education found that Princeton was not in compliance with this federal law. Five years later, Princeton’s Title IX system remains broken. The system is plagued by a lack of transparency regarding the Title IX process and related decision-making procedures. Administrators and investigators have not communicated effectively or compassionately with survivors and those involved in Title IX investigations. Outdated precedents jeopardize the fairness of the adjudication process. We have reason to believe that Princeton’s Title IX office has violated FERPA and Princeton’s own regulations listed in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities. And Title IX panels have not adequately collected and aggregated evidence and testimony regarding survivors’ experiences. This statement outlines concrete actions that can be easily and quickly implemented—and we urge the University to do so immediately.

We grieve the ways in which members of our community have felt unheard, unseen, and unacknowledged as they have suffered traumas that nobody should experience here. Students have felt silenced with false promises and placation. We lament that the values and convictions of this community have not been upheld, leaving our peers with a sense of isolation and marginalization. We appeal to you to hear them and to honor their stories. We exhort you to show greater concern for their welfare, their honor, and their dignity. We also note the tremendous desire to preserve the University’s reputation, and we point out that the failure to care adequately for community members directly and negatively affects the University’s reputation. Therefore, we ask that the University engage in dialogue regarding the systemic issues of sexual and interpersonal violence on its campus. We need a conversation.

This call is fully in keeping with Princeton tradition. We continue a vital legacy of students enacting change through prolonged demonstration, reflecting the precedents set by movements such as the 1978 protest against apartheid by the United Front on South Africa, and, most recently, the 2015-16 protests by the Black Justice League.

Even reforming Title IX implementation at Princeton will not solve the problem of sexual and interpersonal violence, particularly for survivors who are most vulnerable as a result of intersecting identities of race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability. Princeton’s efforts to end sexual and interpersonal violence must extend beyond reforming its Title IX procedures. Many of our requests are rooted in the recognition that our society as a whole needs holistic, proactive, and preventive measures to end violence. The list below is part of a broad, ongoing project of making our University the best it can be—a nonviolent, accountable, and people-centered space, in which all are included, all are heard, all are honored, and all are respected.

Executive Summary of Demands

WE CALL FOR:

  1. Transparency and consistency in Title IX processes.

  2. An external review of the implementation of Title IX at Princeton, along with a parallel and incorporated committee for student oversight.

  3. The establishment of an opt-in restorative justice track for survivors who wish to avoid the process of Title IX proceedings.

  4. The creation of a fully-staffed Office of Intersectional Violence Investigation, which can address compounded violations (including but not limited to racist, (cis)sexist, homophobic, ableist, and transphobic violence) under an intersectional framework.

  5. The hiring of full-time, professional social workers independent of the Title IX office, SHARE, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to help survivors considering navigating the Title IX system and to function as survivors’ first point of contact and their consistent advocates.

  6. The establishment of a fund to assist students with costs related to mental health services.

  7. The immediate departmentalization of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

  8. Improved, mandatory, and comprehensive sexual assault and Title IX training for all University hires and student leaders.

  9. The hiring of an International Interpersonal Coordinator to work as a direct resource on issues of sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence for Princeton students while they are abroad.

  10. Increased access to services for survivors of violence, and diverse representation within those services.

  11. The University to publicly maintain its commitment to protecting survivors’ rights as outlined in current Title IX policies, despite proposed national rollback efforts.

I. Transparency and Accountability

  1. We call for transparency and consistency in Title IX processes.

Princeton’s implementation of the Title IX process is opaque. It has placed undue burden on victims, in some cases compounding their pain and trauma. The University and its reputation are best served by transparency and consistency in every single aspect of this process.

Below is a list of failures in transparency and consistency, and ways in which they should be remedied:

  • The process by which evidence is collected and used varies between cases and is not articulated clearly to survivors. Students have not been informed of what kinds of evidence they should collect if an assault occurs. Students have received contradictory information from Director of Gender Equity and Title IX administration Regan Crotty, Directors of Student Life (DSLs), and staff at SHARE. We need a document that educates all Princeton community members on Title IX and how it is implemented at Princeton at every step.

  • Contrary to the messaging of campus-facilitated consent education, alcohol consumption has been used to undermine the legitimacy of survivor accounts of assault in a number of Title IX cases.

  • Only a list of all potential “penalties” exists, without clarity or elaboration about how exactly and in which cases such penalties might apply. This creates unnecessary confusion about whether to enter the Title IX process and fear about the fairness of said process. We need clear explanations of what evidence results in which consequences. This would allow the University to be consistent across cases and benefit all students involved in the process as they seek to navigate already difficult situations. This information should be available in writing.

  • The appeals process available to students following a Title IX case lacks clarity. The specific grounds upon which one can file an appeal of their case are ill-defined. Only general specifications are outlined. Greater clarity and specificity would again also benefit both the University and the members of the community.

  • Graduate students are particularly vulnerable to retaliation from faculty when pursuing Title IX proceedings and have been left unprotected by current Title IX processes. Furthermore, Title IX processes can be extremely time-consuming. Consequently, the University should extend graduate students’ funding beyond the standard five years when appropriate.

2. We call for an external review of the implementation of Title IX at Princeton, along with a parallel and incorporated committee for student oversight.

There is no external mechanism for reporting feedback regarding Title IX and related systems, and student complaints have been regularly dismissed. The lack of oversight means that at various points in the process, administrators are not held accountable for their actions or inaction. It is obvious that one cannot provide exhaustive constructive criticism of one’s own system.

We call for an independent, external review board which will (a) conduct regular, comprehensive audits of the implementation of Title IX at Princeton (as at Texas A&M) and (b) receive and evaluate complaints about the proceedings of Title IX, SHARE, Directors of Student Life (DSLs) and related resources on a rolling basis. This review board must be composed of individuals from a contracted outside group; a student oversight committee will ensure full University compliance with the external recommendations and take part in the hiring of external review board members. The first audit must begin immediately; particular areas for review will be suggested through an initial list of Title IX failings that has been composed by survivors. We also specifically request the annual external review of the current and future holders of the Title IX Coordinator and Title IX Chief Compliance Officer positions.

II. Procedural Changes

3. We call for the establishment of an opt-in restorative justice track for survivors who wish to avoid the process of Title IX proceedings.

Many survivors wish to pursue alternative pathways for healing and justice that fall outside the punitive system, so we call for the establishment of an optional restorative justice track that is separate from Title IX. Restorative justice (RJ) offers survivors an avenue to heal from the trauma of victimization, creates a space for offenders to be held accountable for their actions, and provides opportunities for non-punitive, rehabilitative outcomes.

Under guidelines from the Department of Education, at least 65 colleges and universities—including Brown University and Stanford University—have implemented some form of restorative justice programming. PRISM at Skidmore University offers opt-in restorative justice conferences, support circles, and administrative hearings for all members of the University community. A full administrative staff is dedicated to the implementation of RJ, many of whom specialize in sexual and intimate partner violence advocacy and prevention. They offer numerous restorative trainings, including a training in restorative conferencing for cases of sexual harm. The examples provided by other universities underscore that reformative justice at Princeton is not just a possibility, but an imperative.

To counter the culture of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus, we call for restorative interventions that establish appropriate standards of sexual conduct, reduce fear, and preserve the agency of survivors. Full-time, professional practitioners of restorative justice—trained specifically in matters of interpersonal violence—will help all parties involved develop mutual action plans, choose how, if at all, to participate in moderated dialogue, and empower rather than retraumatize survivors. This track could be housed in the Ombuds Office, or constitute another independent office, but regardless it is essential that it is facilitated by experts in the field.

4. We call for the University to create a fully-staffed Office of Intersectional Violence Investigation which can address compounded violations (including but not limited to racist, (cis)sexist, homophobic, ableist, transphobic violence) under an intersectional framework.

The University consistently refuses to fully and fairly investigate cases that deal with intersecting identities. Survivors are forced to split up compounded violence into two separate cases in (i) the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and (ii) Title IX. Each case is barred from informing the other, a situation which undermines the survivor’s experience and weakens the case. For example, racist language in an instance of sexual assault cannot be used as evidence in the Title IX case, despite the inextricable link between the racism and interpersonal violence. We call for the creation of a new office—the Office of Intersectional Violence Investigation—which will investigate issues of discrimination and violence within a civil rights framework, operating from Title II, Title VI, and Title IX (covering disability, race, origin, and sex). This office will have a similar investigative structure and sanction authority as Title IX proceedings and will be rooted in the same civil rights framework as Title IX that investigates cases which impact an individual’s ability to stay in school and feel safe. This new office will consider cases holistically, rather than split them up along a false dichotomy into the OIED and Title IX offices. All evidence of bigotry and identity-based violence must be considered relevant across hearings seeking to adjudicate on-campus violence.

This office will provide a separate path for survivors who have faced violence in multiple and/or intersecting forms. Cases that proceed through the Office of Intersectional Violence Investigation will not be pursued by the Title IX office.

5. We call for the hiring of full-time, professional social workers independent of the Title IX office, SHARE, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), to help survivors considering navigating the Title IX system, and to function as their consistent advocates if they choose to go forward as complainants.

The burden of navigating the Title IX system currently falls entirely on the survivor. It is unreasonable to expect survivors to independently compile evidence and build a case for their own Title IX investigation, while simultaneously having to manage their mental health, academics, and daily lives. During the investigation process, survivors are allowed one ally, yet the lack of transparency around Title IX procedures means it is difficult to find an ally knowledgeable of its basics, let alone its intricacies. The process of constructing a case is incredibly painful and a large source of secondary trauma. At other universities, such as University of Michigan and Marquette University, students are not expected to navigate these systems alone. At both of these institutions, survivor advocates are separate from counseling services and Title IX.

We call for the University to hire at least ten social workers. Students should have access to social workers who are specifically trained to support students of color, trans and gender non-conforming students, and first generation/low-income (FLI) students. These social workers must help survivors understand the nuances of a confusing system and provide the kind of survivor-centered advice that does not exist in Title IX or SHARE in their current forms. These social workers will also assist survivors in navigating other University systems that might be impacted by sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence, including the financial aid dependency override process, particularly for students of color, FLI students, and LGBTQIA+ students. These social workers will serve as survivors’ direct advocates, mediating potentially triggering conversations with DSLs, Title IX administrators, and other administrators, so that survivors are supported and informed at every step of the process.

While there are currently “Title IX Advisers,” they are not permitted to serve as advocates, and helping claimants is not their full-time job. The social workers we propose should have the legal training and background necessary to reasonably advocate for those engaged in the Title IX process. This will be their full-time job.

6. We call for a fund to assist students with costs related to mental health services.

Far too often, survivors are pushed to pursue off-campus resources for mental health resources as a result of CPS’s inabilities to support these students adequately. This situation poses a problem, particularly for FLI students who lack the financial means to pay for these services. A fund should be created that would offer full financial assistance for therapy, psychiatric appointments, medications, transportation, in-patient care, and other expenses, for any students who express difficulty in covering these costs. This fund should be made available to all students, whether or not they are pursuing a Title IX case and regardless of survivor status.

III. Campus Culture

7. We call for the immediate departmentalization of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

The immediate departmentalization of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) is a key step in challenging dominant paradigms of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and transphobia that contribute to sexual and interpersonal harassment and violence on campus. GSS provides a foundational lens through which to understand interpersonal violence as a product of legal and political structures, rather than a social reality that must simply be accepted and endured. Intersectional scholarship originating in Black Feminism has likewise been central to understanding the intertwined nature of sexism and homophobia with racism and other forms of oppression.

Princeton University is the only Ivy League institution without a Gender and Sexuality Studies major. In this regard, Princeton is also anomalous compared to leading liberal arts colleges, as well as top public research universities. Furthermore, several Ivies (e.g. Harvard, Columbia, Yale) are also embarking on Ph.D. programs in GSS, a development which will leave Princeton even further behind. Princeton is currently at risk of losing several core GSS faculty and, should they leave, they are unlikely to be replaced.

Lastly, as a 2015 article showed, among the eight Ivy League universities and the twenty largest four-year universities, Princeton ranked lowest in the proportion of women faculty (30%). In the preceding years, the number has hovered around an average of 31%. Furthermore, only 7% of faculty are Black or Hispanic; data are unavailable on women faculty of color, but given these data, they are clearly vastly underrepresented. Also of note, the numbers that year were similar for post-docs, of whom 71% were men and 29% women, but that they were notably different for non-tenure-track faculty, among whom only 54% were men and 46% were women.

Princeton, the number one University in the country, should not be “catching up”—it should be pioneering.

We request that alongside the GSS Department, the University initiate a comprehensive research project that “examines the individual, interpersonal, and structural (cultural, community, and institutional) factors that shape sexual health and sexual violence for undergraduates,” as was implemented at Columbia University. Through holistic evidence-based research, the project would produce specific recommendations on approaches to preventing sexual assault and promoting sexual health at Princeton University.

8. We call for improved, mandatory, and comprehensive sexual assault and Title IX training for all University hires and student leaders.

Student leaders, such as CA, OA, DDA, and IO leaders, and FSI RCAs and fellows are the first points of contact for many students entering the University and are important mentor figures. Without this important training, leaders on campus are unable to act as appropriate resources to survivors on campus.

RCAs, PAAs, DAs, SIFP Head Fellows, and other student leaders, especially the officers of eating clubs, should also continuously undergo mandatory re-training throughout the year, including returning seniors who are not currently required to be fully re-trained in Title IX competence. At first glance, this might appear redundant; however, these student leaders are as fallible as any other student without sufficient sexual assault prevention, awareness and intervention education. Moreover, no student leader selection process can fully screen for unconscious biases and predatory behavior.

Test-based examinations—such as the multiple choice tests offered as part of the “Not Anymore” training program—are not sufficient for changing the culture and discourse around sexual assault in a college setting. We call for a more comprehensive form of sexual assault training to be implemented at several points throughout every student leader’s career.

We need an improved baseline training and ideally, for all students that acknowledges the listener as a potential perpetrator, not just a potential bystander, and incorporates holistic exercises in healthy sexual, platonic, and romantic relationships. The justification for this change is as follows:

  • Training up until this point has always assumed the listener is innocent, either a potential victim of assault or witness to assault. However, we must acknowledge that members of our  community can perpetrate sexual violence. All students must unlearn their problematic preconceptions and relinquish their assumptions that they will never be the ones who are in the wrong.

  • Although sexual violence is an epidemic on college campuses, many behaviors fall short of Title IX violations but nonetheless perpetuate destructive norms. When a person’s borderline abusive behavior goes unchecked, their actions may escalate in the future. Members of the student body must set new campus norms and hold each other accountable for dismantling “rape culture.”

Trainings should be made more survivor-friendly, and trauma-informed mental health staff must be on hand to help participants with a potentially triggering experience.

9. We call for an International Interpersonal Coordinator to be immediately hired to work as a direct resource on issues of sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence for Princeton students while they are abroad.

Sexual assault is an issue that extends beyond national borders. Students have consistently experienced issues of sexual misconduct while participating in international programs including Bridge Year, IIPs, music tours, Global Seminars, and University-approved study abroad programs. Students are never adequately informed of their resources and how to handle these incidents, and Office of International Programs (OIP) staff must also be subjected to review by an external entity.

The International Interpersonal Coordinator will:

  • Coordinate the extensive training of all professors and staff affiliated with international programs on how to prevent, handle, and discuss interpersonal violence and provide all students abroad with resources and trauma-informed support.

  • Conduct a formalized assessment of the capacity of all internal and external professors, staff, and program leaders to adequately respond to student needs before they are approved for and throughout their affiliation with Princeton.

  • Ensure that non-University participants in international programs including, but not limited to, non-Princeton students, guest speakers, instructors, coaches, conductors, tour guides, etc.) undergo an informational process on applicable University policies.

  • Solicit and formally respond to student feedback and consistently re-evaluate programs on their response to and prevention of interpersonal violence.

10. We call for increased access to services for survivors of violence, and diverse representation within those services.

Survivors need access to resources that represent and understand their experiences. The lack of diversity in currently available services renders them less accessible to survivors of marginalized experiences across the axes of ability, gender identity, race, sex identity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. The University must make a commitment to diversity in Counseling and Psychological Services, the SHARE peer program, and in spaces that tend to the needs and trauma of survivors. Furthermore, educational materials that are distributed to the campus about sexual and interpersonal violence must be representative of all backgrounds and experiences.

To improve this representation, SHARE peers must be compensated for their work. If SHARE peers were to be paid, without undergoing additional training, they would become mandatory reporters. To maintain their current standard of privacy while making the SHARE Peer position more accessible to low-income students and students of color, the position must carry material benefits (e.g. a stipend, Paw Points, meal swipes, or other material benefits that would not conflict with their status as non-mandatory reporters).

11. We call for the University to publicly maintain its commitment to protecting survivors’ rights as outlined in current Title IX policies, in spite of proposed national rollback efforts.

We call for the University to refuse to abide by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s proposed overhaul of Title IX which would modify regulation around cross-examination policies, evidentiary standards, and definitions of a “hostile environment.” DeVos’s major new rules, if implemented, will have devastating consequences for students, faculty, and staff by drastically impacting how sexual assault is dealt with at Princeton. This exacerbates the already dire climate of gender and sexual violence, and compromises equity across campus. We, as concerned members of the Princeton community, refuse to retraumatize survivors, invalidate claims of sexual misconduct, and close our hearts to the needs of our peers, friends, and colleagues. We ask the University to do the same. We call for the University to protect the currently existing rights, set in place by Title IX, of students, staff, and faculty alike.

Concluding Statement

We share with the trustees, administration, and faculty a desire for Princeton to fulfill its vision of being a vibrant, safe learning environment for all. An institution is only as strong as its people are—and we exhort the University to continue to honor the dignity of its students by handling all Title IX cases with lawful integrity, greater transparency, and equity for students, staff, and faculty.

The members of this coalition urge Princeton University to demonstrate its compliance with Title IX regulations by initiating third-party performance reviews and investigations. We ask the University do everything within its power to ensure that survivors are supported, acknowledged, and honored. We must equip survivors with full-time professional social workers, provide students and faculty abroad with easily accessible professional support, and create alternative avenues through which survivors can choose to seek accountability, healing, and rehabilitation. The University must pursue proactive measures to address sexual and interpersonal violence through academic inquiry, student leader training, and institutional resources for grappling with intersectional marginalization and violence. We insist on these changes to uphold the integrity of our institution and reaffirm the rights of survivors.