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