A B-Line News Addition released on July 14 detailed 12 actions Binghamton University will take to address sexual assault policies, which included the creation of a council to discuss cases, the addition of a new sexual violence counselor and two investigators specializing in sexual violence cases, anonymous reporting, repercussions for organizations and more.
In the B-Line, BU President Harvey Stenger acknowledged that systems dealing with sexual assault at BU have not done enough to support sexual assault survivors in the past, citing data from the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) Sexual Assault Campus Climate (SACC) survey conducted during the spring 2020 semester. The survey showed that 18 percent of female students have experienced sexual assault by a male student during their time at BU and 23 percent of all students reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact or comments during their time at BU.
Stenger’s statement comes after an Instagram account called @shareyourstorybing began posting several accounts of sexual assault within the BU community, submitted anonymously by students. Since its creation on June 27, the account has published over 500 posts.
“This is unacceptable and we are acting immediately to work to change the culture at our campus through education and training for students, faculty and staff,” Stenger wrote. “We also are making changes to make it easier for victims of sexual assault and harassment to report their experiences so the University can better address them.”
Stenger then listed the 12 actions BU would take to address sexual assault, the first being a Title IX council that will meet biweekly to discuss cases. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in educational institutions on the basis of sex. Members of the council will include the Title IX officer, a representative of Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD), the dean of students, the director of health and counseling, the director of the Consultation, Advocacy, Referral and Education (CARE) Team, the director of student conduct, the associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, the director of Residential Life and the director of Health Promotion and Prevention Services (HPPS).
Members of the council, such as the director of student conduct and the director of Residential Life, have been named in some posts on @shareyourstorybing for silencing students who came forward with their accounts of sexual assault. Rachel DiSibio, ‘20, said their inclusion in the council will further silence survivors and discourage them from coming forward.
“These people have been repeatedly cited [on @shareyourstorybing] as silencing survivors and protecting perpetrators,” DiSibio wrote. “Giving them more power as they sit on this council doesn’t feel like a solution. These people have made it much more difficult for survivors who did seek to report and bring their perpetrators to some type of justice in the past. How can we expect different behavior now?”
In addition, Nicolette Cavallaro, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience, stated that the allegations made against these directors and other faculty members at BU have not been addressed in Stenger’s statement.
“They completely ignored the multiple accusations against staff members, [resident assistants] and other people under the jurisdiction,” Cavallaro wrote.
Kristen Seward, a first-year graduate student studying business administration, wrote in an email that the biweekly meetings of this council should include students and meeting minutes should be made public so the whole BU community can be included in their discussions.
“While this is a useful and necessary first step, there MUST be a group of diverse students present at these biweekly meetings,” Seward wrote. “You can not aim to fix an issue without listening to the people that it is affecting.”
Stenger also wrote that he will hire counselors and investigators to help with the aftermaths of sexual assault. A new sexual violence counselor and two existing counselors will be assigned to work with survivors of sexual assault and two sexual violence investigators will work to identify perpetrators.
DiSibio said that the hiring of a single new counselor is not enough to help the hundreds of survivors that have come forward so far, especially when there are already waitlists for counseling at BU.
“The fact that the [University Counseling Center] even has a waitlist is inadequate,” DiSibio said. “The fact that the University plans to hire one more counselor is a step in the right direction, but are three counselors trained to deal with sexual assault enough to address this huge disparity?”
Over the years, there have been complaints from the student body regarding the inadequacy of the UCC, due to their low amount of counselors and a lack of funding. Seward wrote that steps in how these policies and programs would be funded and implemented are not featured in the statement.
“There are no timelines!” Seward wrote. “There are no numbers! Show us funding to go toward these programs. Tell us when you must enact these changes. This change won’t only allow the student body to hold you accountable, but it will enable the University … to hold itself accountable.”
An online reporting site has been made on the BU website where students can anonymously report a case of a sexual assault that they have witnessed or experienced. In addition to this, Stenger announced that Greek life organizations accused of being connected to sexual assault would be immediately suspended at the time the assault is reported and would face permanent removal following an investigation.
Cavallaro voiced concerns on how investigations will affect organizations and survivors by creating an unsafe environment for them to come forward, even anonymously.
“By threatening to remove organizations that are tied to sexual assault allegations, they are creating a toxic and unsafe environment for reports,” Cavallaro wrote. “People, especially women in sororities, are going to be scared to report because they don’t want to be blamed for the [organizations] getting removed from campus. It’s going to keep victims silent.”
Chris Yang, a sophomore majoring in computer engineering, however, thinks that organizations like fraternities could be held accountable with suspensions and expulsions.
“Suspending Greek life organizations connected to sexual assault could change things dramatically because [BU] is very heavy on Greek life and parties.” Yang wrote. “Accountability I think will help reduce cases of sexual assault significantly, but only if they carry out their actions according to the statement and not diverge.”
Isabella McGinniss, a junior double-majoring in political science and English, agreed with the suspension of organizations connected to sexual assault but questioned why these policies weren’t already in place.
“I’m confused on why it took an Instagram page with over 500 stories shared about the staff and students for them to allegedly be starting to take sexual assault seriously?” McGinnis wrote. “Why haven’t they had [the suspension of organizations] in place before? Why haven’t organizations been suspended in the past? There are people out there who will praise Stenger for including that, but that should have been a given.”
Cavallaro wrote that this would lead to organizations going off campus instead of stopping sexual assault.
“Kicking an organization off campus makes the situation 10 times worse,” Cavallaro wrote. “Most allegations are for off-campus fraternities and sororities. These organizations won’t stop their behavior if they are kicked off campus. It will get a lot worse. By pushing more organizations off campus, [BU] is sweeping the problem under the rug and [letting] people get hurt.”
At the end of the statement, Stenger wrote about ending sexual assault on campus.
“Together we will end this horrible behavior through a strong, consistent and effective educational approach,” Stenger wrote. “And when a sexual assault happens, we will act swiftly to support our survivors with the compassion that they need, deserve and require, and to punish the perpetrators.”
Chloe Levine, a junior majoring in linguistics, wrote that the actions Stenger outlined do not reflect this statement since students have not been a part of them.
“While some of these reforms can be a step in the right direction, they are not enough to fix the clearly broken and flawed systems in place on campus that has failed countless survivors,” Levine wrote. “Our lives surround this school and campus for four years, so instead of the administration throwing reforms at us, why not ask the students who have been affected by this for their ideas on how we can change this climate on our campus, or at least make the process collaborative between students and those higher up in the University? They asked for student input for the fall semester plans … why can’t we do the same here?”
To read the plan in detail, click here.