From Pexels

There are certain sub­jects both men and women tra­verse with caution and trep­i­dation, and right­fully so. Sexual assault is one such subject. This is a sen­sitive con­ver­sation because it involves a deep injustice, emo­tional trauma, and often, a loss of inno­cence. As Hillsdale stu­dents, we cannot pretend our campus — though atyp­i­cally safe and com­munity-ori­ented — is immune to sexual assault. This is a con­ver­sation we must have.

Hillsdale College is a small school with a deeply con­nected student body, and as such, the rumor mill never stops spinning. Stories are passed from one student to another, and with them, the hurt and anger they tend to produce. It’s easy — and even right — in these moments to demand justice for our wronged peers, to call on the college’s admin­is­tration to do some­thing.

It is also easy to assume that because the college does not pub­licly address spe­cific alle­ga­tions, it is either not doing any­thing or it is attempting to cover such stories up. Both of these assump­tions are wrong and will only hinder the coop­er­ation and mutual trust this subject requires. Silence does not amount to inac­tivity.

The Deans’ Office is respon­sible for han­dling the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of sexual mis­conduct, and for both legal and moral reasons, it cannot pub­licly pro­claim the names of accused per­pe­trators or the con­se­quences the alle­ga­tions against them require. But this nec­essary dis­cretion often leads to spec­u­lation and mis­un­der­standing among stu­dents. These are our neighbors, our friends, our sisters — why won’t the college defend them?

Dean of Women Diane Philipp said Hillsdale does fight for its women in ways that are often unbe­knownst to the student body. Sexual mis­conduct of any sort is “treated with the utmost urgency and impor­tance,” she said.

“Safety, justice, and well-being of stu­dents are the college’s pri­ority in receiving, inves­ti­gation, and responding to alle­ga­tions,” Philipp said.

I spoke to a female student who said she expe­ri­enced sexual assault on campus, and she told me there’s a mis­con­ception of how the Deans’ Office responds to alle­ga­tions of sexual mis­conduct. “I don’t see it as a con­flict between the deans and the stu­dents,” she said. “I never doubted, and I never had any reason to doubt, that they did want to help me. There are legal things that go on that we’re not allowed to know.”

Hillsdale’s dis­tance from Title IX policies can also create con­fusion. Title IX is a man­dated set of legal hoops fed­erally-funded schools must jump through when addressing any matter related to the sexes, including sexual mis­conduct alle­ga­tions. Since Hillsdale does not accept federal money, the school is not obligated to check the government’s pre­scribed boxes. So what, then, is Hillsdale’s policy?

Philipp said the admin­is­tration goes “to great lengths to ensure the safety and well-being of our stu­dents and take claims of sexual mis­conduct and assault extremely seri­ously, responding swiftly and with com­passion and respect for all parties involved.” Upon receipt of an alle­gation, Philipp said the deans “ini­tiate an inves­ti­gation, offer assis­tance in con­tacting law enforcement at the student’s dis­cretion, and will implement any initial no-contact orders or interim mea­sures as may be appro­priate.” The deans work with external legal counsel when nec­essary and reg­u­larly meet with the “affected stu­dents throughout the inves­ti­gation process.”

The absence of Title IX reg­u­la­tions allows the Deans to focus on con­necting with people rather than focusing on a legal checklist. And in many ways, Hillsdale’s inde­pen­dence guar­antees con­sis­tency: The gov­ernment is con­stantly changing Title IX reg­u­la­tions and schools are then expected to conform to these changes, which often throws the whole process into turmoil.

But Hillsdale’s process is not without faults. It’s not well known to stu­dents, and its case-by-case approach leaves room for spec­u­lation. In the case of the female student I spoke to, she said there was little guidance.

“When it came to prac­tical mea­sures, I felt like I was the one spear­heading that. And I was never told what the pro­cedure was or even if there was one,” she told me. Though she said Title IX “would not be good for Hillsdale,” she said there needs to be an acces­sible, straight­forward pro­cedure stu­dents are aware of.

“If there aren’t pro­ce­dures or a rubric of basic steps, no one’s going to know what to do,” she said. “How do you mend the sit­u­ation in the present and prevent it in the future without that?”

And she’s right. There is more the college can and should do for its female stu­dents. Talking about the college’s pro­cedure when it comes to sexual assault alle­ga­tions is a great place to start. The admin­is­tration should begin by giving pre­sen­ta­tions in the campus dor­mi­tories on what sexual assault is, what to do if a student expe­ri­ences sexual assault, and what the college will do for its stu­dents.

As a member of one of Hillsdale’s national soror­ities, I am required to sit through a pre­sen­tation like this, along with the rest of the women in our house. On these occa­sions, Director of Health Ser­vices Brock Lutz advised us on what to do if sexual mis­conduct occurs, how to look at alcohol con­sumption in light of sexual mis­conduct, and he encouraged us as women, friends, and sisters to look out for each other. All of that might seem obvious and self-explanatory, but it truly cannot be over­stated. Self-awareness and caution are some of the only pre­ven­tative mea­sures women have against sexual assault, and though it is never the victim’s fault, we must bolster our women with the tools we have.

Hillsdale’s admin­is­tration should also meet with campus leaders to discuss how the school can further improve its policy. Perhaps it’s the stigma asso­ciated with the Dean’s Office or the fear of opening up, but stu­dents who expe­rience sexual assault are not likely to go to the admin­is­tration for help. Instead, these stu­dents will go to a trusted friend or mentor, as the female student I spoke to did before approaching the deans. Leaders on campus — the head res­ident assis­tants, sorority and fra­ternity pres­i­dents, and ath­letic team cap­tains — have much to con­tribute and can help build a com­mu­nicative, ben­e­ficial rela­tionship with the admin­is­tration. As Philipp told me, Hillsdale is absolutely on the stu­dents’ side. Sitting down and lis­tening to influ­ential, insightful stu­dents is one of the best ways to show that.

With that said, there is much the college is already doing to improve its sexual mis­conduct policy. This year, for the first time, the admin­is­tration invited a lawyer spe­cial­izing in sexual assault to train the dorms’ res­ident assis­tants. Philipp also said all res­ident assis­tants, house directors, and ath­letic staff members undergo edu­cation and training to ensure they can properly handle sexual mis­conduct alle­ga­tions if need be. This is a huge step in the right direction. And further opening that channel of com­mu­ni­cation will only con­tinue to build trust and ensure account­ability.

Now, to the ladies of Hillsdale College: If you have ever expe­ri­enced sexual mis­conduct of any kind on campus, I am sorry. It breaks my heart to know a place I love so dearly is asso­ciated with so much pain for so many. But do not be afraid to speak up. You have every right to come forward — and you should.

“Stu­dents – and women in par­ticular – should know that they are not alone when dealing with issues of this nature,” Philipp said. “The college will do all in its power to help and to support stu­dents who have suf­fered such mis­conduct. As we often remind stu­dents, never fear to ask for help. You will find it.”

And, to the student body: Let us be wary of pre­ma­turely drawing con­clu­sions. We should trust that our school offi­cials have our best interests at heart and are fighting for us. The alter­native sug­gests that Hillsdale College under­mines its very mission and betrays its values.

This con­ver­sation shouldn’t end here. Let’s con­tinue to talk about sexual assault, hold each other accountable, and look out for one another. As the female student told me, “This is a family.”

“In a strange way, I’m thankful this hap­pened to me,” she said. “Because now I get to be a part of this con­ver­sation. And at the end of it all, no matter where you’re coming from, student or faculty member, we all want the same thing.”

Kaylee McGhee is a senior studying pol­itics.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    We need to treat each other with courtesy, respect and kindness-that would alle­viate many of these problems. And that goes both ways. When I was orig­i­nally a college student back in the early 1970s the nation was going through a period of strident fem­inist mil­i­tancy. I’d hold a door open for a lady and she’d sneer at me for doing so, rather than gra­ciously accept it. Obvi­ously that doesn’t rein­force my expression of respect and courtesy-rather it pro­moted a feeling of fool­ishness and even fear of rejection on my part.

    Thank goodness those days are over with. You can be a gen­tleman today and not fear rejection because of it. With that said, we men need to accept the respon­si­bility of behaving cour­te­ously and cor­rectly around ladies. And that includes not drinking exces­sively at parties and social func­tions-which can lead to sexual harassment or even sexual assault. Being a man means accepting the respon­si­bility of behaving as a gen­tleman. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that needs a crash course in Title IX.