How “Yes Means Yes” Doesn’t Solve Grinnell’s Title IX Problem

Grinnell’s policies have been lauded in multiple articles, but do they live up to the hype?

Editors’ Note: This article includes a potentially triggering account of sexual assault. 

A recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education notes an increasing trend in affirmative consent policies at colleges and universities, citing Grinnell as an example of how “‘yes means yes’ already works on one campus.” Surprisingly, Grinnell has been lauded in multiple publications for its policies and responses to sexual violence, despite the staggering number of reported sexual assaults on-campus (18 forcible sex offenses in 2012, 8 in 2013—numbers comparable to large universities in the area). Yet throughout these celebrations of Grinnell’s purportedly stringent sexual violence policies and “safe” environment to report such crimes, the voices of survivors are notably absent. Indeed, the word “rape” has almost disappeared from Grinnell’s campus policies, replaced by the vacuous “sexual misconduct.” While sexual misconduct encompasses a broader range of sexual offenses, the word “misconduct” tepidly suggests “mistakes,” rather than acts of violence and aggression. A term like “sexual assault” retains the implication of violence, without losing the broadness of “sexual misconduct.”

Affirmative consent is a tremendous step for colleges and universities like Grinnell because it encourages sexual partners to foster a healthy and respectful dialogue about the sexual acts they perform. The concept is sound, progressive, and in many ways, feminist. But “yes means yes” policies at Grinnell can only be effective if the administration fully complies with Title IX and protects students who report sexual assaults. So the pressing questions are: Does the institution stand behind students who have been raped? Does Grinnell’s administration put (feminist) action behind its lofty, self-congratulatory words?

The simple answer is no, Grinnell is not necessarily a safe environment for survivors to report rape. Many rape survivors I know and love no longer attend Grinnell because the administration and Title IX programs at Grinnell have so dramatically failed them.

But surely the College has put structures in place to those that they identify as victims? Nope. Grinnell’s no-contact orders are ambiguous enough that while my rapist cannot deliberately communicate with me, he can violate my physical space, which makes me feel unsafe on campus. From what we’ve observed, Grinnell rarely—if ever—expels students found responsible for “sexual misconduct,” and it is more common for rape survivors to transfer because, in most cases, rapists are granted more protection than their victims at Grinnell.

Grinnell doesn’t just fail to protect survivors of rape; in some cases it actively silences them. For example, I have filed a number of complaints with the school’s administration about violations of Title IX policies. In response, I am usually offered a cookie and asked if I am in therapy. Not only are these “band-aid” solutions condescending and insulting (and recall a troubling history of labeling women “hysterical” or “crazy”), but they also indicate the College’s unwillingness to make systemic changes to its implementation of Title IX policies. In more public discussions about sexual violence on-campus, rape survivors are often excluded by the notion of “civil discourse.” This concept is defined as calm, polite and rational conversation about controversial and emotionally charged issues. Last year, the College held several town-hall meetings about “sexual misconduct” which were dictated by the terms of civil discourse. Students could voice their opinions, but only in ways that the administration deemed appropriate—dispassionate, logical, and palatable. Many members of the campus community participated, which is encouraging, but those who may have had difficulty engaging in the town hall with “civility” were excluded. How can the College expect rape survivors—who in many cases have been royally fucked over by the administration—to engage in a discussion about rape policies on campus with anything but grief and perhaps righteous anger?

At this point, it should come as no surprise that we have never been interviewed for celebratory articles about Grinnell’s rape policies. In fact, journalists only seem to quote mouthpieces for the policies—primarily administrators and spokespeople, athletes, and men. They rarely quote survivors, which suggests we are missing the crucial part of the story.

As a campus community, we need to think critically about the narratives Grinnell puts forth about sexual assault and search for the ones that it anxiously buries. Grinnell is not as progressive as it seems. It’s time for students to take action, stand behind survivors, and hold Grinnell—and its administration—to a higher standard.


Editors’ Note: This article has been amended to remove a statement which mischaracterized Title IX adjudication processes at Grinnell as being able to find students “responsible for rape.” The college cannot in fact find students legally responsible for rape as a criminal charge.

If you experience sexual assault and require immediate assistance, please consider contacting Grinnell Campus Safety and Security (641-269-4600) or law enforcement (911).

For a trained and confidential counselor, contact Student Health and Counseling Services (641-269-3230), the campus chaplain and rabbi (641-269-4981), or the North Central Iowa Crisis Intervention Service (800-270-1620).

For information about your rights under Title IX, visit End Rape on Campus, the Department of Education, or Faculty Against Rape

The Grinnell College administration responded to this post in an op-ed on October 4

9 Comments

  1. 1. The subject switches from an I to a “we” throughout the article. I really hope you all weren’t trying to unify victims of sexual misconduct because I probably don’t identify with you nor you with me.

    2. While I agree that “sexual misconduct” is a tepid” phrase, I think that serves a purpose. Although many people definitely are angry after being violated, many people just want to get past it, never think about it again, and DEFINITELY don’t want to report it because they don’t believe it’s serious no matter how hurt they are. A “vacuous” term like misconduct makes space for these people, so that no matter how “small” they feel the violation is, they may feel comfortable talking about their experience to someone who can help.

    3. I have a HUGE issue with the way therapy is framed here. Therapy isn’t for hysterical or crazy people. Therapy is for people who have had a traumatic experience, mental illness, or just need to blow off some steam. Not okay that you were reading “craziness” into therapy.

    4. Why would we assume that a woman could never be cool and collected after being sexually assaulted? This draws up the sexist notion that women are pure emotion, no reason. Also, it’s not that emotions aren’t real. It’s that discussions about how to make campus more safe need to be thought through and policies need to be nuanced. Overly angry or emotional people tend to not think of the nuances and just charge ahead.

    5. This entire article is a lot of broad brush statements. I don’t exactly know what should be changed or you have a problem with. There aren’t really suggestions how to make the broad brush issues better.

  2. The stock photo attached to this article is kind of… triggering…And I think unnecessarily. I felt uncomfortable posting the photo along with the article on my facebook wall. That image of the hand clutching the sheets is typically shown with people enjoying sex or with someone being forced and struggling. Both things that shouldn’t really be paired with this article.

  3. Thank you so much for pointing out the potentially triggering image. We have updated the thumbnail.

  4. 1. The subject switches from an I to a “we” throughout the article. I really hope you all weren’t trying to unify victims of sexual misconduct because I probably don’t identify with you nor you with me.

    While there is a frame within which this makes sense, how the hell are ‘we’ ever going to change things if ‘we’ cannot talk about collectivity in some way?

  5. Cassandra Wilson

    October 4, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    That’s been a really big conversation in feminism since feminism has tried to move away from Western second wave thought. Strategic essentialism was put forth by Gayatri Spivak. Another good political thinker, Chantal Mouffe, has a lot to say also. There are moments in which “women” can unite (by their own choice) over a political issue, but at the end of the day the word “women” is empty. By throwing around “we” like all women or victims of sexual assault are the same tends to violently ignore a lot of women’s stories, and those women tend to be people of color/people who don’t fit in the binary/not wealthy.
    To an extent, “we” can be used (and still I’m not sure if author’s intent was behind this), but in this article it becomes very universalizing.

  6. Concerned Student

    October 4, 2014 at 11:11 PM

    The concerns raised about the use of pronouns in this article are important. The sliding between “we” and “I” is somewhat ambiguous and may need clarification. Because there are two authors, the “we” refers to both of the authors’ perspectives and observations. It is a co-written article. The “we” statements in the final paragraph, as indicated in some clauses, refer to the Grinnell campus community.

  7. Concerned Student 2

    October 5, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    I (“we”?) think it’s petty to argue over pronouns when discussing real issues. Regardless of who, the fact that it occurs, which I (“we?”) wholehartedly believe, is clearly the more pressing concern. Don’t live up to the administration’s expectation that academic environments simply perpetuate arguments of subtlety; act and change. and also discuss the subtlety, but maybe realize that gramatical inconsitencies do not constitute reasons for argument as much when it comes to application, society, and psychologies of peoples.

    -to a better grinnell

  8. Male Student in Solidarity

    October 5, 2014 at 2:14 PM

    I would like to first thank the authors for so articulately voicing their opinions and experiences with this issue–one of the most important, if not the most important, that the Grinnell community is facing and will continue to face in the near future.

    I would also like to respond to Sally Smith’s comment (point #3) about how therapy is portrayed in this article. I do not agree that the authors are saying that therapy is for crazy or hysterical people, as this commenter suggests. In fact, upon a closer reading, it is clear that the authors expose how the administration problematically conceives of therapy for those who file Title IX violations—as a “band-aid” solution that is “condescending…and recall[s] a troubling history of labeling women as ‘hysterical’ or ‘crazy.’” It is not the authors who read craziness into therapy. It is the administration who, in the authors’ experience, read crazy in rape survivors who have the strength to file Title IX complaints.

    While therapy is an important tool for rape survivors and individuals that suffer from a variety of forms of mental illness, the administration’s insinuation that someone who has a serious Title IX complaint needs therapy implies that this individual has a psychological “problem” (that, perhaps, caused the complaint but can be fixed by a therapist) and that their complaint is not a serious matter and can be dismissed. This is a egregious misunderstanding of therapy’s role, and such an insinuation is a huge mistake on the administration’s part, as EVERY Title IX complaint needs to be handled with the utmost seriousness.

    I would also like to suggest that the administration has located the “problem” in the wrong place. It is not the individual who files a Title IX complaint that has the “problem” or is “crazy.” Instead, I see true madness at the level of the campus community. In fact, I would contend that true madness is typified by a community (and college administration) that allows rape culture to continue and then labels those who resist that culture through complaints to the authorities as crazy. I hope to see Grinnell’s student body demand from the administration a more logical and serious response to future Title IX complaints. I also hope to see Grinnell students engage thoughtfully with these issues (like actually understanding what they authors of this important article are saying) and support their fellow classmates who have identified this as an important issue and are doing something about it.

  9. You’re telling me that your rapist is in a position of power in this campus, even after being reported? I don’t feel safe here anymore

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