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Students voice concern with administration’s handling of sexual assault on campus

Students gathered on Holmgren Meadow to protest how Mills administration handles cases of sexual assault on campus. (Tia Crawley)
Students gathered on Holmgren Meadow to protest how Mills administration handles cases of sexual assault on campus. (Tia Crawley)

Students came together to voice discontent with the current administration’s handling of sexual assault at two forums and a student led protest, where members of the administration addressed student’s concerns and made a commitment to future dialogue.

The protest was organized by a group of students dissatisfied with the manner in which administration had handled sexual assaults that took place on campus, the most recent of which occurred on March 25. A collaborative Google document outlining protest details and demands for the administration was drafted by a group of students and e-mailed to all Mills students on April 2.

Following the announcement of the April 5 protest, Mills administration held an open forum to answer questions from the students on April 4. President Elizabeth Hillman, Dean of Students Chicora Martin, Provost Chinyere Oparah and Director of Public Safety Niviece Robinson addressed a number of questions raised by protest organizers and attendees regarding Timely Warning notices about assaults on campus, Public Safety’s Public Crime Logs and the termination of the Education First (EF) program on Mills’ campus.

During the protest, Oparah and Martin answered more questions from the students who stood before Mills Hall, holding a banner that read “STOP SILENCING RAPE @ MILLS.” Marissa Ayala, one of the protest’s leaders, urged students to join the protest and stand in solidarity.

“I do love Mills and I know so many others here today love Mills as well,” Ayala said. “That is why I, myself, feel even stronger to make this institution have accountability.”

An updated version of the original Google document was passed around during the protest, and the administration addressed the revised demands.

(Tia Crawley)
(Tia Crawley)

“We are really committed to making sure that what we say has integrity and that we follow through with it,” Oparah said.

One demand outlined in the document was the need for the Crime Logs to be updated more frequently and made available online. Students voiced that they weren’t aware that the information was available to them, and wanted them to be more frequently updated online. Students also wanted to be notified more than annually that the logs were updated and available.

Martin told the students that they were working on how to make the Crime Logs more accessible to students, up to date, and that students would be notified of their availability in a more timely way.

Many students were upset that a Timely Warning wasn’t sent to the school after a sexual assault that occurred in March 2016. Oparah explained the process of sending a Timely Warning to the crowd.

“Legally we’re required to send out a Timely Warning when there is a threat on campus,” Oparah said. “In the past, that’s what Mills has done. Let me just say that the reason why that wasn’t sent out in 2016 is because that individual was immediately identified and had been removed and barred from the campus.”

A Mills student, who wished to remain anonymous, reported being assaulted by an EF student in March 2016 and spoke out against Martin, claiming that they mishandled the case. Martin responded to the student, acknowledging their right to speak out.

“[The student] has a right to do that, as do each and every one of you,” Martin said. “So I’m not going to shy away from that. I’m not going to shy away from what I have done.”

Oparah, Martin and Ethnic Studies Chair Vivian Chin all offered their apologies to the Mills community and survivors of sexual assault at Mills during the protest. Martin addressed the student individually, apologizing for any harm they had done to her while handling their case.

“I apologize, truly and deeply,” Martin said. “I know that doesn’t help. It doesn’t. It is truly how I feel.”

Euna Bonovich, another protest organizer, voiced disappointment in the school’s administration and Martin’s handling of the student’s case. Dissatisfaction with Martin’s handling of previous cases of assault on campus, as well as with the responses they gave during the protest, led some organizers to believe that removing Martin from the administration was necessary for moving forward.

“I hope we can pressure [the administration] into realizing that’s a person that is just not fit for their job,” Bonovich said.

Rebecca Raymond was glad to see the number of students that showed up to stand in solidarity with one another, but felt that the apology given by Martin was lacking.

“I think the biggest takeaway for me was the lack of genuine feeling coming from the Dean of Students. They kept saying ‘I’m sorry this happened,’ but I really didn’t get any sense of actual apology and feeling from them,” Raymond said.

Students gathered outside with homemade signs to express their concern to Martin and Oparah. (Marisa Tangeman)
Students gathered outside with homemade signs to express their concern to Martin and Oparah. (Marisa Tangeman)

Imani Smith was glad to be a part of a school with a culture where students were encouraged to speak up for what is important to them.

I’m so proud of the Mills student body for speaking out about the issues that are affecting us,” Smith said. “Especially when so many of us came to Mills because we wanted to be on a campus where we were constantly encouraged to do so.”

ASMC president Erin Clark spoke to the group about utilizing the resources that the Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) has to offer.

“If we’re saying ‘come to us first,’ it’s because we know there are bureaucratic processes in place, and you are going to meet blocks. After a certain point, we bug enough, and administration’s going to know that the protest is coming next,” Clark said in a statement after the protest. “So if you want to surprise administration, do the protest. But if you want to engage administration, talk to ASMC.”

During the protest, students demanded another meeting the following day, and the administration worked with them to schedule a time. On April 6, the administration held another open forum to continue answering questions and to discuss what to do next.

Many students were concerned about the continuation of the EF program, and Hillman announced that the partnership between Mills and EF would be ending in Fall 2017 by mutual agreement.

“EF isn’t continuing with the campus that they have here and we’re ready to use that space in another way going forward,” Hillman said.

Hillman also noted that Mills has resources for sexual assault survivors to talk about their assault without it being reported.

“We do have some avenues where you’re protected at Mills, if you talk to our counselors at counseling and psychological services,” Hillman said. “They are not mandatory reporters in the counseling center, and the chaplain is also not a mandatory reporter.”

(Marisa Tangeman)
(Marisa Tangeman)

One student at the forum shared that their experience with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) had not been beneficial to them. CAPS Assistant Director Ilana Barakat encouraged students to share any negative experiences they had in hopes of bettering their services.

“If there are things that you’d want to see that you’re not getting at CAPS, we welcome you to come in and tell us,” Barakat said. “I think that’s a place that you also have an opportunity to make change as students on this campus and we really welcome that dialogue.”

The forum ended with Oparah thanking the students for being a part of the process, noting that the Mills community needs to work together in order to enact lasting change.

“Today, we’re coming together as a community to figure out what it is that we do next,” Oparah said. “I just want to thank you for partnering with us and allowing us to be honest with you and making this change because it’s easier for us to see institutional change when we’re actually working together on it.”