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gender & sexuality | police / legal

Threats, Intimidation, and Rape Apologism at the Evergreen State College

TESC continues to ignore and sweep under the rug instances of sexual violence.
This letter was written by the President and Vice-President of the Evergreen State College, and was sent to all faculty, staff, and students. My response is included below, and was sent out over the school's listserv.

September 27, 2011

To: The Evergreen Community
From: Thomas L. Purce, President
Art Costantino, Vice President for Student Affairs
D. Lee Hoemann, Vice President for College Advancement
John Hurley, Vice President for Finance and Administration
Michael Zimmerman, Academic Vice President and Provost
Subject: Threats and Intimidating Behavior

As we start a new academic year, and in the face of recent troubling incidents, we want to take this opportunity to reaffirm long-standing college values. There is no place for violence, threats of violence, or other intimidating behavior at Evergreen. As President and Vice Presidents, we invite you to join us in affirming this value.
Incidents that occurred over the past two weeks raise concerns about student bullying. A number of posters were found that read "In the streets, at the school and on the job, everyone hates a snitch." The central image on the poster is a baseball bat with large spikes driven through it. The implication is clear: if you report criminal behavior, you will be harmed in violent ways.

This is part of an emerging pattern that targets and threatens those who might report criminal behavior. We have seen other instances of this kind of student bullying. Last spring there were two occasions when materials were displayed that targeted specific individuals as snitches and threatened them. Last year, some students took it upon themselves to create their own tribunal to judge and punish alleged perpetrators of sexual assaults. Last spring, a student who was condemned through such a process was driven from the campus. Even after this student left Olympia, threats of violence against the student continued.

This fall, another student is being targeted because of the assertion that he is a rapist. Much of the concern arises out of unsubstantiated allegations of behavior that is alleged to have occurred years ago in another state. In cases like this, the College seeks to substantiate the information we receive and examine our jurisdiction. In addition, on-campus complaints are investigated and when violations occur, corrective action is taken. Those steps were all taken in this case. Nevertheless, he was prevented last week from participating in college activities on two occasions, surrounded by a group of twenty to thirty individuals who shouted insults at him, demanded that he go home, and warned him against reporting this intimidation to the police. Yesterday, flyers with a picture of this student describing him as a rapist and kidnapper were posted on campus.

The actions mentioned above challenge important values in our community. We are committed to preventing and responding to sexual violence. We will continue to provide support and advocacy to survivors of sexual violence and will seek justice. At the same time, all members of our campus are entitled to due process before being judged guilty and punished. While students have the right to express their opinions about those who report criminal activity, threats of violence are unacceptable. Violent threats and actions like this perpetuate a culture of violence.
In situations like this, rumors abound. The Social Contract says that all members of our community must share alike "in responsibly obtaining and in providing full and accurate information, and in resolving their differences through due process and with a strong will to collaboration." We encourage members of the community with questions about these incidents and allegations to speak directly to any of us. While respecting the privacy rights of students and the tenets of due process, we will discuss what information we can.

Some students have stood up in instances where their peers have been threatened. This is commendable. The College will hold individuals who harm and harass others accountable through our student conduct code or criminal proceedings. Ultimately however, members of our campus community need to challenge threatening and intimidating behavior so that those responsible for it do not perceive community support for their troubling behaviors.
Please join us in building the sort of supportive community in which we can all be proud.

My response:
As we start a new school year, and in the face of recent troubling incidents, I want to take the opportunity to reaffirm long-standing values of human decency. There is no place for rape, unaccountable rapists, or unaccountable kidnappers at Evergreen. As an Evergreen alumnus (class of 2011) and someone who tries their best to not be a total tool, I invite you to join me in affirming this value.

Incidents that occurred over the past two weeks raise concern about the Evergreen administration's total lack of interest in ending sexual violence or supporting survivors. Apparently a number of posters were found that read "In the streets, at school and on the job, everyone hates a snitch." Apparently the central image is a baseball bat with large spikes driven through it. The message is clear: whoever hung those posters hates snitches. I said it a year ago and I'll say it again (Andrea, I know you've already got this one on my record): "Cops are not allies to People of Color, queer and trans folks, the poor, people experiencing homelessness, or those who challenge the status quo." Cops are not allies to survivors of sexual violence, and in fact have a habit of protecting rapists and undermining survivor autonomy. I would add that cops are not always officially employed by the state and do not always wear a uniform, sometimes they have titles like "campus grievance officer."

This is part of an on-going pattern of the Evergreen administration targeting and threatening students who do their best to support their friends when they've been raped. Last spring, a friend of mine was raped by another student. The rapist was employed at the Flaming Eggplant Cafe at the time, and I expressed (formally, in writing) to the Eggplant collective that I would not spend money there or support them until the rapist no longer worked there, as I do not feel comfortable supporting admitted serial rapists. Approximately 30 other students expressed discomfort with supporting perpetrators of sexual violence. In response, two other students and I received letters (which were cc'd to the campus chief of police and Art Costantino) from the campus grievance officer stating,
"This letter is being sent to you because we have received information suggesting that you may be associated with hanging of flyers and posting on the internet information alleging that a student is a rapist. The College has also been informed that you or others you associate with function with your own set of guidelines including in some cases advocating violence. Please know that if the College becomes aware of violent, bullying, or harassing behavior, we will take steps to inform local law enforcement as well as follow up within College practices such as the conduct system."

It is extremely unfortunate that the rapist who was employed at the Flaming Eggplant (and who resigned from that position the morning before the notice of non-support was delivered) was not afforded the same level of scrutiny, and ultimately was cleared of all wrongdoing by Evergreen, despite being an admitted serial rapist.

This fall, Evergreen continues to target opponents of sexual violence for their alleged opposition to rapists on campus. Much of my concern rises out of the fact that Les Purce, Art Costantino, and the other co-signers of the letter below have told a blatant lie in claiming "we are committed to preventing and responding to sexual violence," and elsewhere use clear rape-apologist language (which they back up with indifference in the face of actual cases of sexual violence). In cases like this, the College uses minimizing language that discounts survivors' experiences as mere "unsubstantiated allegations." Apparently being suspended for locking someone in your room on campus and not letting them out (in addition to previous instances of rape) is an "unsubstantiated allegation." In cases like this, the College refuses to acknowledge or legitimize that people might feel extremely unsafe sharing space with a rapist and a kidnapper.

The College's actions immediately discredit their claims of supporting survivors or standing in opposition to sexual violence. In all likelihood, the college will continue to clear rapists of any wrongdoing, deny people the right to safer spaces, and silence those who speak out against rapists when it becomes clear that working within the College's own grievance process is a failure from the get-go. "Due process" is a sham that forces survivors to relive the experience over and over again and further degrades survivor autonomy. Rapists aren't entitled to shit, especially not access to safer spaces or their survivors.

The Social Contract is useless and the College is delusional for expecting survivors to collaborate with people who have committed violence against them. I encourage anyone who is interested in ending rape culture and supporting survivors of sexual violence to read "Learning Good Consent," "Support (zine)", and "The Revolution Starts at Home" instead of talking to administrators who demonstrate that 15 years after Kimya, "TESC [still] ignores rape".