The morning of Johns Hopkins University’s commencement ceremony, on May 21, was a dreary one. Parents and guests huddled in the stands of the university stadium in rainy, 50-degree weather, clutching Hopkins-branded water bottles and rain ponchos that university staff had been handing out at the stadium entrance. On the field was a massive elaborate setup: A large stage, topped with an arched cover and flanked by massive pillars bearing screens and the Hopkins seal, looked out onto rows and rows of folding chairs. Four minutes before the ceremony started, an announcer boomed out that the undergraduates were on their way, and the screens showed a video feed of a jazz band leading a cap-and-gown-bedecked crowd toward the stadium. Staff waited with strings of blue flags to usher the soon-to-be-grads onto the field. It was an impressive spectacle..
After the graduates had all filed in and the ceremony had begun, the university’s president, Ronald J. Daniels, gave a speech to the graduates, in which he talked about the idea of critical junctures.
“The idea is that policies, institutions, and customs arise in response to a certain set of starting conditions. And even when those starting conditions recede and are no longer relevant, the policies, institutions, and customs that were created in their shadow, and which were long ago outdated and unjust, tend to persist—sometimes over decades, sometimes even over centuries,” he explained. “This is so because people become rooted in these familiar paths. Rather than endure the disruptions, the costs of, and adjustments to what is desirable change, they will opt to stick with what they know. They will opt for the status quo.
“And yet, every so often, we arrive at a moment that is so wrenching, so deeply unsettling that it makes the status quo untenable, and there is an opening for real and profound reform,” he continued. “Not even the heavy weight of history can thwart its logic. These are critical junctures. And when they happen, all bets are off.”
He was talking about the recent uprising in Baltimore. As I shivered in the rain in the stands, I thought about critical junctures in relation to the movement to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
Over the past couple of years, student activists at universities across the country have networked with one another and spoken out about the ways their universities handle sexual assault, filing complaints with the federal government against their schools and gaining national attention in publications including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, New York magazine, and, infamously, Rolling Stone magazine. The White House created a Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in January 2014 and senators and representatives have introduced multiple bipartisan bills to deal with the problem. Nationally, the critical juncture for confronting sexual assault on college campuses seems to have arrived.
And now, the issue has come to light at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus: A little more than a year ago, the Department of Education received complaints into the way Hopkins dealt with sexual assault, and subsequently announced that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) was investigating the university to see if it had broken federal guidelines and violated its students’ civil rights. But while the attention on the issue is new at Hopkins, the problems at hand are not. A pattern of a discriminatory culture dates back to before women were admitted as undergraduates in 1970, and has continued through the university’s struggles to follow federal guidelines and victim-blaming and retaliatory actions from the student body.
In March 2013, a Towson University student reported that a group of Hopkins students in the Pi Kappa Alpha (nicknamed Pike) fraternity house had gang-raped her, and the Baltimore Police began investigating the incident.
In late June, Allison Boyle, Hopkins’ Title IX coordinator, wrote in an email to a group of Hopkins administrators, “Since learning of the allegations, I have advised the BPD that JHU will hold off on investigating until the ASA [assistant state’s attorney] gives us the go-ahead. That said, we are at about 90 days out from the report, and I am growing increasingly concerned about our Title IX obligations as they relate to this case.”
“In the interim,” she continued, “a group of students who have stated that they are aware of the allegations, and believe that the Pike House should be shut down and members disciplined, have approached Student Life, and among other things are asking that there be some kind of warning about the Pike House to students.”
She and a chain of 13 other administrators went back and forth on whether to warn the student body that police were investigating allegations that fraternity brothers had gang-raped a woman. Patricia McLean, the senior associate general counsel for the university, wrote that they have an “obligation under the Clery Act to provide timely notice to the community of reported crimes involving public safety on or near campus.” The group quibbled about language in a drafted notice to send out to the student body, but then Boyle wrote to the group, “I learned from the ASA that her office has declined to prosecute due to insufficient evidence. And so, at this point, a Clery notification is not now required. Dorothy Sheppard and I will commence an internal investigation, and also continue to discuss what if anything we want to communicate to the concerned female students.”
One of those “concerned female students” was Eliza Schultz, who had just finished her sophomore year at Hopkins. She ultimately decided to file complaints against Johns Hopkins University with the Department of Education, saying that the university had broken both of the federal laws that the administrators had cited, the Clery Act and Title IX. In the complaint that she and two other students filed eventually filed, they alleged that, “although the university suspended the fraternity’s social activities while the investigation was ongoing . . . the school also failed to act when it was informed that Pike was still holding parties,” The Huffington Post wrote when it broke the news in May 2014.
While it’s difficult to know just how many people are sexually assaulted on college campuses—it’s chronically underreported, with the Department of Justice estimating in a 2014 study that 80 percent of sexual assaults aren’t reported to the police—the most common statistic is that one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. A study recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that, in just their first year at college, 15 percent of women experienced attempted or completed “incapacitated rape” and 9 percent reported attempted or completed “forced rape.” Hopkins, which has more than 6,000 undergraduates, recorded 23 sex offenses in 2013.
But why do universities deal with sexual assault in the first place? It’s because of Title IX, a federal prohibition against sex discrimination in education that was put into place in 1972. Title IX used to be mostly known for guaranteeing equal opportunities for women in athletics, but it covers a huge range of areas of sex-based discrimination in education. Under Title IX, the federal government considers sexual harassment, including sexual assault, a form of sex discrimination, as it prevents students from “benefit[ing] fully from the school’s programs and activities,” as a 2011 letter to universities from the Department of Education said. Because of that, any schools that receive federal funding are obligated “to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.”
As the movement to confront campus sexual assault, and to get universities to handle the cases properly, has gained traction, some have argued that universities shouldn’t handle sexual assault at all, and should instead refer all cases to police departments. But police departments can’t address the effects of sexual violence in the ways that universities can under Title IX. When universities handle sexual assault cases properly, they can be crucial in providing the accommodations or support systems that a sexual assault survivor needs after an assault, such as a new dorm room to be farther away from their rapist, academic accommodations in classes, or counseling services on campus—resources that a police department can’t provide. My strong belief in the potential that Title IX has to provide much-needed victim-centric care to sexual assault survivors is why, for about a year, I worked with Know Your IX, a grassroots advocacy organization that educates students on their rights under Title IX and advocates for stronger federal enforcement of Title IX.
But while universities have the potential to be a powerful resource for sexual assault survivors, they don’t always handle their obligations under Title IX correctly—so students have been filing complaints against their universities. When Hopkins’ President Daniels announced in August 2014 that OCR had opened a Title IX investigation into Hopkins, the university joined the ranks of 74 other postsecondary education institutions that the OCR was investigating for Title IX violations at the time. The number of institutions under investigation, as of May 27, has grown to 113.
The other federal law that guides how colleges handle sexual assault, the Clery Act, was named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student who a fellow student raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986. The act, signed into law in 1990, is mainly about requiring universities across the country to disclose information about crimes that occur on and around their campuses, with responsibilities including: a public crime log that lists all crimes that occur on or around the campus; a yearly report that documents, among other things, the crime statistics for seven major types of crime, including “sex offenses”; and timely warnings issued for crimes that could pose a “serious or ongoing threat to students and employees.” Since its implementation 24 years ago, the Clery Act has been amended and expanded multiple times, mostly recently in 2013, so that it now explicitly states certain rights for sexual violence victims, requires colleges to collect data specifically on domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, and requires colleges to provide prevention and awareness programs on sexual violence for all incoming students and employees. The Department of Education does not share information about opened or ongoing reviews of universities under the Clery Act, so there’s no way of confirming whether an investigation has been opened into Hopkins’ compliance with the Clery Act—ironic for a law about transparency, though a bill was introduced to the House of Representatives last year that would require the Department of Education to make that information public.
These two laws, Clery Act and Title IX, contain tons of specific requirements and guidelines for schools to follow, but compliance with them boils down to two questions, questions that Hopkins is now facing: Is a school transparent about and trying to protect its students from crime, and does the school have a sexually hostile or discriminatory atmosphere? These questions are not new ones at Johns Hopkins.
“I think sometimes at our school people feel detached from issues,” says Victoria Chen, a freshman studying public health and economics, who joined the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) when she came to Hopkins. (J.M. Giordano)
The university’s Homewood campus is the quintessentially beautiful American college campus, with classic-looking brick buildings boasting white steeples and neat brick pathways connecting them. In the spring, there are blooming cherry blossoms, and when the weather is nice, groups of students will hang out on one of the campus’ many impeccably maintained green quads. Security guards in reflective yellow jackets meander through the surrounding quiet streets of Charles Village. It’s what you might expect from a university that was founded in 1876, that likes to boast it was America’s first research university, and that has a sticker price of $47,060 a year. Students have described the campus culture as professionally focused, with a social life that’s heavily influenced by fraternities (approximately 30 percent of the student body is in a fraternity or sorority) and lacking in campus activism.
Hopkins has struggled with the treatment of women on its campus since it first allowed women into its undergraduate program in the fall of 1970. “You feel like a cross between Gypsy Rose Lee and Typhoid Mary,” student Rebecca Love told the JHU News-Letter, the student newspaper, at the time. In 1984, a note from a fraternity accidentally was sent to the mailbox of a student in the feminist club. “Written on university letterhead, the note described acts of sexual violence committed against a woman (a ‘filthy slut’) and her mother (a ‘rotten old stank box’),” Schultz wrote in an article last year for the Politik Press, a weekly student publication of political opinions at Hopkins. The student passed around photocopies of the note, and protests followed that “were a reflection of a lot of pent-up frustration related to the unaddressed problems of the status of women on campus,” Professor of Humanities Ruth Leys recalled to Schultz. The administration set up an Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women in response to the outrage which concluded that Hopkins “remains a male institution with an atmosphere that is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the concerns of women.”
In 2005, the University Committee on the Status of Women published another report on the status of women students, and concluded there was a systemic difference in the way faculty treated men and women in the classroom, which included “the level of attention in the classroom, laboratory, or operating room and the amount of feedback (written or verbal) on students’ work. Students also reported that differential treatment was manifested by their peers. This differential treatment causes female students to question their role in and value to the academy.” A survey that the committee conducted showed that women students generally weren’t aware of the resources the university provided to support women, or of the resources available to students in cases of sexual assault and rape.
The university came under pressure regarding its Clery Act obligations in 2011, when the student group Hopkins Feminists began a blog called Until It’s Zero, in response to the fact that Hopkins had listed that zero sexual assaults had occurred on or around its campus from 2007 to 2009. Students could anonymously submit their stories of sexual assault on campus: “[This] is a space devoted to giving survivors of sexual violence an outlet until such time as the incidence of sexual assault and rape truly is zero,” the blog’s description read.
Some of the submissions are graphic and heartbreaking: In one, a woman describes a friend, in her freshman year, taking off her clothes and raping her, “although I was too drunk to string together a coherent sentence and sobbing by the end of it.” In another, a woman wrote after her boyfriend raped her, “i told him i wouldn’t report him. and i didn’t of course, because it would ruin his life but what would the school have done about it anyway? he wouldn’t have gotten more than a slap on the wrist and i would have made it public in the process. . . and who wants to go public about that kind of thing anyway? . . . people make rape jokes all the time too and everyone acts like that’s okay–can you imagine if they were making racist jokes instead in the earshot of a dean?”
The year before, Hopkins student Yelena Tsilker had written a blog post for national volunteer collective Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER). “On a good day, Johns Hopkins can be referred to as a ‘boys’ club’,” she wrote. “As a research university, most of its science professors are men, including one who, many years ago, told a professor of mine she would not be able to pass his class due to her gender (she got an A).”
Hopkins students past and present submitted testimonies of their own experiences at the school after the initial Title IX and Clery Act complaints were made public, and the resulting complaints showed just how long this has been an issue at Hopkins. Laura Dunn, a victim’s rights attorney and executive director of nonprofit SurvJustice who helped students file the Title IX and Clery Act complaints against Johns Hopkins, told City Paper that, as of April 2015, the total number of complainants had increased to 11. In a Q&A with the Politik Press, Dunn said an anonymous survivor in the initial complaint “pointed out that Dean [of Student Life] Susan Boswell had, in particular, been discouraging survivors from reporting to police and even from using the campus process by saying that it wasn’t very helpful for students . . . since [the complaints] went public, we’ve had an anonymous tip about a mishandled sexual assault in 1992, again involving Susan Boswell. We’ve had a student come forward who was a victim of stalking, and she ended up leaving campus and losing a Fulbright Scholarship because the campus simply would not remove the stalker, even after the criminal action had been taken . . . .
“I’ve never had so many people come forward in one complaint or have it span so many decades, so it is a highly unusual case,” she said.
Dunn later filed an additional Title IX complaint in March 2015, based on five different testimonies she received from students who all identified the same teaching assistant as having a pattern of abuse and discrimination. As of the time that she filed the complaint, he was still on campus. “[Because] there’s a high level of concern and very specific facts to back it, I recommended that a second complaint be opened,” she said in a phone interview. “The school did have notice from more than one survivor of [the teaching assistant’s] pattern of abuse in this case,” but he had still been teaching after the administration first received complaints about him.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on St. Paul Street (J.M. Giordano)
In October 2012, Sara, a sophomore at the time, went to a formal for a fraternity on campus, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), and went with her date afterward to his house. (Her name has been changed—she asked to be anonymous for this article.)
“I agreed that I would make out with this kid and we would solely make out and I was very prominent that I will not have sex with you, this is not going to happen,” she said. “He was, you know, he was fine with that originally, and then he got really upset, and he was like, no, we’re doing this, and kinda like pinned me down and raped me. And then, he, like, walked me home. I don’t know why he chose to do that afterwards.
“But after he had gone away I went up to talk to a security guard, and I was like, hey, I need to report a rape, and he was like, ‘You know, it’s like not really worth doing it, no one’s gonna take it seriously on this campus,’” she said. “So I went home, and I took a very, very, very long shower. And then I told my friends the next morning, and they said did you report it, and I said I went up to the security guard and he said it wasn’t worth it. And so that’s where that ended.” Boyle, the Title IX coordinator, would not meet with City Paper or speak on the phone for an interview, but she wrote in an email, “The Office of Institutional Equity conducts annual Title IX training for JHU Security officers. University Officers are also receiving training on both Title IX and Clery.”
More than a year later, in February 2014, Sara spoke with Dean Susan Boswell about an unrelated incident and the dean asked her why her grades had been so low. “I told her what happened, and she apologized and she could not understand what was wrong with the security,” Sara said. Boswell asked her if she wanted to file a report, and Sara said no: “It’s been like two years. It’s not worth doing it now.”
During their conversation, Sara, who was living off campus at the time, “told her I’m not very comfortable living off campus, like, I still have to barricade my door. And she got me actually on-campus housing [the following school year], in Bradford, where you need two keys to get into the building.” Sara said Boswell also offered her counseling services—both the housing change and counseling services are examples of the accommodations schools are supposed to offer under Title IX to remedy the effects of sexual violence.
“She made sure that I had everything, that I was comfortable,” Sara said. The same month Sara and Boswell had that conversation, Schultz and two other students were working with Dunn from SurvJustice to file the Title IX complaint that said Boswell had been discouraging sexual assault survivors from reporting their assaults. Boswell, who became a special adviser to the vice provost for student affairs with a focus on gender equity and sexual violence before leaving the university at the end of 2014, did not respond to a request to comment.
As Schultz waited for news to break of the Title IX and Clery Act complaints in April 2014, she put together a petition on the inadequacy of Hopkins’ sexual assault policy. It sought to eliminate vague definitions of sexual violence and require that, if a sexual assault victim shared a residence or class with a perpetrator and needed to change, the perpetrator would be the one to move or change courses, not the victim.
Hopkins’ Student Government Association (SGA) adopted the petition, which eventually garnered more than 1,000 signatures, as a resolution “so they would be brought to the university,” Schultz told me this past November. The administration originally told Schultz that she could provide input into a new sexual assault policy, but when she reached out in September to Boyle, she informed Schultz that the new policy would be published on Oct. 1. “And once it was made public, I saw that there were a lot of problems with the policy that could have been rectified had students been involved in the first place,” Schultz said.
After the policy came out, Boyle met with Schultz and other on-campus activists about the policy, but “they weren’t very good meetings,” according to Tamara Golan, a Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins. So an organization that had founded that semester, Hopkins End Rape Culture, decided to stage a protest in October that most was “a lot of demands for transparency,” Golan said. “[O]ne of our talking points was about students know what happens to them if they plagiarize, if they plagiarize this much or that much they have a set punishment. Like, what happens if you rape someone? Do you even get expelled? Because according to the administration you don’t.”
A group of about 60 people, by her count, went from building to building and read written statements through a megaphone about the issues that the students had with the new sexual assault policy, including, “There is no statement on changing accommodations or classes for survivors, in order for students to avoid encounters with their rapist” and “There is no statement about protecting survivors or activists against retaliation.” Both of those statements are required by Title IX, and while neither appear in the university’s Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault, Relationship Violence, and Stalking Policy, they do appear in a related policy succinctly titled Procedures on Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence and Stalking. Boyle wrote to City Paper that the university would be further amending its policy. “Among other goals, the new policy will aim to be more accessible, clarify rights and responsibilities, and ensure consistency with regard to resolution of complaints against students across JHU’s nine schools,” she wrote.
As the policy currently stands, there are different codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures for each of the schools within the university. In order to know how a specific complaint of sexual violence will be handled, you must be familiar with both the 4,600-word-long procedures document and the code of conduct that applies to the perpetrator. The Title IX coordinator issues “factual findings and a recommendation for resolution of the complaint to the appropriate administrative official at the division or unit”—but that administrative official may decide not to follow the recommendations.
The same day that the new sexual assault policy was published, Daniels sent an email out to the university community announcing that Hopkins had filed its Annual Security Report for 2013, as required by the Clery Act. In that email, he also addressed the reported assault at the Pike house.
“We have concluded that the University should have recorded the incident in our Daily Crime Log and should have issued a timely warning to the community soon after the incident occurred,” he wrote. “The University’s failure to have done so is unacceptable, and we are determined that this kind of mistake not happen again.” He then listed steps that Hopkins would be taking to improve its Clery Act compliance, including “creating a dedicated Clery Compliance Administrator.” That position, as of press time, has not yet been filled.
I sent Daniels’ statement to Dunn and asked her if Daniels’ admittance that Hopkins had not abided by its Clery Act duties was unusual for a university. “It is not a common response but given that the submitted complaint from SurvJustice contained internal emails (not common evidence available in cases) the best tactic is to acknowledge and improve in an effort to minimize the resulting fines,” she wrote back. Schools found responsible for breaking the Clery Act can be fined up to $35,000 per violation, can have their federal aid limited or suspended, or can become ineligible for federal student aid programs.
“I think JHU has more skeletons in its closet than the Pike incident so may also be an attempt to placate the federal government and avoid higher scrutiny on other Clery violations,” Dunn wrote.
Daniels also wrote that, while the university had not “been able to confirm” the accounts of the unnamed complainant who alleged that Boswell was discouraging students from reporting, “we encourage any students with concerns about their rights and options under Title IX to contact the University’s Title IX Coordinator. We welcome and will examine fully any additional information brought to our attention. We have strengthened our processes for providing immediate resources to a student in crisis and to ensure that we respond to incidents of sexual violence expeditiously, fairly and sensitively.” Among the steps he touted: a university-wide sexual assault helpline (in addition to a peer-run hotline that already existed); a new standing Sexual Violence Advisory Committee; the revised university policies and procedures; and a new administrative position of a victim’s advocate.
The university’s announced commitment to the Clery Act and Title IX was put to the test on Halloween weekend, when two men attending a party at SAE’s fraternity house, which sits at the corner of St. Paul and 30th streets, raped a 16-year-old girl from Baltimore County who had come to the party with her sister. Hopkins’ campus security promptly sent out a security alert email about it, and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin G. Shollenberger and Vice President for Corporate Security Keith Hill sent out a follow-up email the same day informing students that the university was conducting “its own review of the circumstances” and that “SAE has been directed not to hold parties or any other activities” until that review was completed.
The Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), a student-led body that governs the fraternities on campus, voted the very next day to ban all open house parties for the rest of the semester, which, as the JHU News-Letter reported, would have still allowed the fraternities to hold date parties and formals. The university administration first seemed to support this decision, but then went a step further and decided to ban all fraternity social events “pending completion of an interim plan to make parties safer for our students and our guests,” as administration officials wrote in an email sent out to the student body Monday morning.
The email continued, “We were encouraged by the IFC’s speedy deliberation and adoption of these good-faith procedures” and promised to resume social activities “as soon as possible.” Still, students became upset at what they saw as an unfair singling-out of Greek life—and an impediment to their social life. Sara said that there was a lot of outrage directed at the administration and the girl involved.
“A lot of people on [anonymous social media app] Yik Yak were like, ‘oh, this is dumb, it wasn’t even the SAE boys’ fault, why do they get [the blame] on their party, it was the girls’ fault for going in there as an 18-year-old,’” she said. “And there was a lot of blaming the [girl] for being there, and it’s like, someone brought her to the party, it’s not her fault. And I’ve heard, you know, a lot of SAE guys being very upset about it—‘it’s not their fault, it wasn’t our brothers, why do they have to punish us.’” (The two men arrested the following month for the rape were not affiliated with Johns Hopkins.)
As Jezebel reported, a flier was distributed across campus that began “Life at Hopkins is royally fucked,” and continued, “Depriving you of revered traditions . . . is a rash and repugnant decision. Additionally, the attack on the Greek system as a whole for the actions of a few individuals is unjust.”
Ella Rogers-Fett, a junior at the time and the co-director of the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU), a student-run advocacy group that supports survivors of sexual assault and runs a peer crisis hotline, later described the outrage surrounding the party ban as an “unnecessarily hostile environment.”
“People . . . were directing hostility at survivors and at women in particular for coming out with these stories” about sexual assault, she said. “It was just so upsetting, and that week [of the ban] we had a lot of safe spaces for SARU where people could come and write and eat snacks and draw and decompress a little bit. And during that time we had a lot of people coming in and saying like, ‘this is so upsetting. I go to classes and I have to go home and curl up in a ball because this is, like, so triggering.’” Triggering refers to the way that reminders of trauma can cause flashbacks or anxiety attacks for survivors of trauma with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sexual assault survivors are particularly likely to develop PTSD, with one study estimating 31 percent of rape survivors will develop it during their lifetime (for comparison, Veterans Affairs estimates that 11-20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD in a given year).
The Student Government Association (SGA), unhappy about the ban, sent out an email on Wednesday, Nov. 12, that said the university’s actions “redirected the focus from sexual assault to Fraternity and Sorority Life” and considered the university’s decision to show a “disregard of the student-generated resolution reached by The Interfraternity Council and The Office of the Dean of Student Life. We are a community and this action is a breach of our trust and respect.” The SGA announced it would hold a community forum to have a “productive conversation” and gather student input, which the SGA then hoped to discuss with the administration.
A little more than 100 people gathered in a lecture hall at 5:30 the next night for the forum. The SGA explained that the main topics of discussion would be administration transparency, sexual assault, and binge drinking. Students lined up at two microphones in the room to air grievances and offer solutions. Several students brought up confusion over the logic behind the security alert emails.
At one point, a student walked up to the microphone and introduced himself as Luke Jenusaitis, the president of Pike, to several cheers from the audience. Pike had been suspended by the university in March 2014, about a year after the gang-rape allegations and two months after a Pike brother got stabbed at a party, for “underage drinking and the provision of alcohol to minors, unsafe behavior, failure to comply with University and police directives, and disturbance of neighbors.” The fraternity forfeited its charter in December 2014.
Jenusaitis said he felt the university was scapegoating fraternities and sororities for the issues of sexual assault and binge drinking. “I almost felt like a witch at the Salem witch trials,” he said. Several other students, most of them in sororities or fraternities, also stood up and said that they felt that their organizations were being unfairly targeted. It’s worth noting, though, that a 2007 study found that fraternity brothers were three times more likely than non-affiliated college men to commit sexual assault.
Eventually a woman came up to the microphone and introduced herself as Jules. “I think it is deeply problematic and symptomatic of all the cultural problems James referred to that we are here because a party ban happened and not here because a rape happened. You know, if you wanna feel some shame, now might be the time to do it.” She then recommended that anyone who “actually wants to take a proactive step and get involved with the right side of this issue” look up the Baltimore-based organization FORCE.
Several students spoke out and protested the idea that they were there because of a party ban—even though, technically speaking, SGA called the community forum in response to the party ban, not to the sexual assault. As three tall, athletic-looking men left the hall early, I overheard one of them say, “When that one girl got up and started talking about how we should be ashamed of ourselves, I wanted to get up and smack the mic out of her face.” The others laughed.
Threats of violence against someone speaking out against sexual assault would fall under Title IX’s prohibition of a “sexually hostile atmosphere,” and, more specifically, of retaliation. Fear of retaliation is something I ran into multiple times while reporting this story. Many sexual assault survivors did not respond to my attempts to reach out to them. Two students who talked to me candidly on the record about Hopkins’ culture later asked to have their names kept out of the story; one of them cited fear of retaliation from fellow students. One student was afraid that talking about her campus activism would incur retaliation from an administrator. When I originally spoke to Schultz about the Title IX complaint last November, she wanted to be anonymous. “There’s a reason that all of [the complainants] are anonymous. I constantly fear retaliation,” she said, though she later agreed to have her name on the record.
Much has been made nationally of the chilling effect that Rolling Stone’s piece on sexual assault at University of Virginia—which included allegations that were later publicly revealed to be fraudulent—could have on sexual assault survivors reporting their experiences or talking to the media. It’s impossible to tell if that article, and the ensuing fallout, had any effect on Hopkins students’ decisions whether or not to come forward, though Golan and I did have a conversation about journalism surrounding sexual assault and she brought up the Rolling Stone article. But I suspect the silence has less to do with Rolling Stone and more to do with Hopkins. “I had never seen so much silence in a school,” Dunn told the Politik Press. “At Hopkins, there is such a fear of retaliation and a loss of academic career, which is totally justified, but the fear is so palpable.”
OCR’s records indicate that a separate Title IX investigation had been opened in January 2015 against Johns Hopkins over a complaint of retaliation. There aren’t any details available about it, but the records show the school was able to work out a resolution agreement before OCR’s investigation into that incident was concluded. OCR marked the investigation as resolved, though it is monitoring the case.
As part of its investigation into Title IX compliance, OCR holds focus groups at universities that target specific subsections of the campus population—student athletes, fraternity members, sorority members, faculty, and graduate students are among the groups that OCR tries to meet with. With the focus groups, OCR tries to gauge the environment to determine whether a sexually hostile atmosphere exists, which factors into its decision on whether a school has violated Title IX.
OCR held its focus groups at Hopkins from March 31 to April 2 of this year. That week, the cold finally lifted a bit, and though it still wasn’t particularly warm on April 1, people were making the most of the less-bitter weather. Students were out on the grass tossing a Frisbee back and forth, while a professor held class outside on one of the quads, writing on a portable whiteboard as students sat in some of the brightly colored metal lawn chairs that dot Hopkins’ campus.
The weather might have been to blame for the turnout that the focus groups had that day. A 1 p.m. meeting for faculty had about 10 attendees. In stark contrast to the November forum, a 2 p.m. meeting for members of fraternities had one person show up. A 4 p.m. meeting for members of sororities went unattended.
There’s no way to tell how long it will take OCR to conclude its Title IX or (assumed) Clery Act investigations—the Department of Education didn’t fine Virginia Tech for breaking the Clery Act during the 2007 massacre on campus until March 2011, and an investigation into a 2010 Title IX complaint against Tufts University wasn’t concluded until 2014. A recent AP story highlighted the fact that the onslaught of complaints and subsequent investigations has swamped OCR, slowing the process further.
But in the meantime, Hopkins is taking steps on its own. The university is planning to hire its first-ever director of gender equity to focus on gender issues at Hopkins, though the university will not say whether there are plans to add a women’s center on campus, something that the majority of its peer institutions have and several activists on campus raise as an issue.
The university also issued a campus climate survey in April to try and collect data on students’ experiences with sexual violence and their perceptions of sexism on campus. Once that data has been compiled, Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor in the School of Nursing and a national leader in research into domestic violence who led development of the survey along with Bushra Sabri, said that they can use the data to continue to refine its bystander intervention programs. “Part of that bystander intervention is not only preventing sexual assault, but also preventing other forms of talks . . . that makes it OK to be sexually oppressive,” she said.
And this week, Provost Lieberman sent out an email to the campus community with a link to a draft of a new sexual assault policy and a comment box that community members can use to provide feedback, a sharp departure from students’ experiences with the implementation of the current policy. The draft policy doesn’t change the definitions of sexual violence that Schultz took issue with, but it does combine the multiple policies into one. It also eliminates the piecemeal approach to resolution procedures for cases of sexual violence. Now, all students, graduate and undergraduate, go through an explicitly explained investigative and resolution process with a specially trained panel of faculty, administrators, and retired judges, with sanctions (with examples thereof listed in the policy) determined by that panel. Of course, a better policy won’t necessarily eliminate problems of, say, administrators discouraging students from reporting, but it’s still a significant step in the right direction.
As for the student body, there are positive signs there too: According to Reeves, 861 students went through the school’s bystander intervention training program in the 2014-2015 school year, including most student-athletes and resident advisers and some sorority and fraternity groups—a dramatic increase from the 86 students who went through the training program in the spring of 2014. While some activists take issue with bystander intervention training, arguing that it puts the onus on bystanders, rather than rapists, to prevent rape, a 2007 study found that bystander intervention training can teach men not to rape: Fraternity men who had gone through a bystander intervention program were “significantly less likely to commit a sexually coercive act” than fraternity brothers who hadn’t gone through the program.
It can be hard to maintain steam with campus activism as students graduate or get caught up in academics. Golan said End Rape Culture has “died down a bunch. When I went to a meeting in February . . . it was down to maybe 10 people. One of them was 30 people before.” And, she said, all but one or two of the undergraduates in the group were seniors, and some of the graduate students graduated this year as well. But the national focus on sexual assault has given SARU a boost. “Over the past couple of years with all the attention that sexual assault has been getting, not just on Hopkins’ campus but nationwide on campuses, a lot of people come to college interested in getting involved,” Rogers-Fett said. She estimated that there were about 10 people in SARU her freshman year; that number has since grown to about 70, she said. “So that’s the big difference that I’ve seen is that freshman come in saying, ‘This is an issue that I care about and I want to get interested.’”
Victoria Chen, a freshman studying public health and economics, joined SARU when she came to Hopkins, and sees positive signs in campus culture. “I think in the recent year people have been talking about this issue more and more in a public setting,” she said. “I think sometimes at our school people feel detached from issues.” She plans on stepping back from some of her involvement in SARU next semester—she said she feels she’s been overcommitted and needs to scale back on student activities.*
A flier that was hung up around campus after the administration briefly suspended fraternity social events (Facebook)
In the cold gray of commencement day, President Daniels wrapped up his speech with a call to arms of sorts for the rows of graduates sitting in front of him. “Though critical junctures don’t happen often, they can happen anywhere and anytime. Graduates, your role—Hopkins education in hand—is to be open to that moment and embrace the radical possibility it entails,” he said. “When the moment arrives, and you face a critical juncture, we need you to be vigorous, bold, and smart in championing the truths you have discovered and which you hold dear.
“We are so, so proud of you all.
“Godspeed—and congratulations to the great Class of 2015!”
*This sentence has been updated.