Former Williams student Lexie Brackenridge petitions college to change sexual assault policies
WILLIAMSTOWN -- A former Williams College student has started an online petition calling for substantial changes to the way the administration handles allegations of sexual assault.
Lexie Brackenridge, of Boston, has criticized Williams' decision to allow the student she says raped her in 2012 to return to school full time. After a college disciplinary process, the student served a three-semester suspension.
Brackenridge launched the petition -- titled "Assume a proactive stance and adopt the following proposals to combat the prevalence of sexual assault at Williams College" -- at change.org earlier this month.
Brackenridge's petition includes calls on Williams to stop discouraging students from reporting sexual assaults to the police, to expel students found to have committed sexual assaults, to employ professional investigators to examine witnesses and evidence, to allow both the accuser and the accused to review witness statements, and to expel students who retaliate against sexual assault victims.
"I, along with numerous alumni, trustees, and current students, as concerned members of the Williams community, ask that Williams College acknowledge that sexual assault is a severe problem on campus and strongly consider adopting the above preventative and proactive measures in order to work to ensure the safety of the Williams community," the petition states.
Nationwide, colleges and universities have come under scrutiny for their handling of sex assault complaints. The Obama administration recently put 55 colleges and universities under investigation for potential violations of federal law as a result.
Brackenridge's change.org petition is seeking 1,000 signatures, with 806 having signed on by Tuesday afternoon. When a person supports an online petition, a notification is sent to the people with the authority to enact change.
A number of Williams College alumni are among those signing the petition and recording their reasons why.
"As a member of the Class of 1985, I know a number of classmates who suffered under the school's sexual assault policy," wrote Marjorie Duffield of New York City. "Thirty years is too long. Zero tolerance is the only acceptable policy."
The school's policy regarding investigation and disciplinary action in the case of sexual assault has been a hot-button issue since Brackenridge was interviewed by public radio station WBUR on May 12. It is the policy of The Berkshire Eagle to refrain from printing the names of victims of sexual assault, but Brackenridge voluntarily came forward to raise awareness on the issue in the media.
Brackenridge said she was assaulted in October 2012, when she was a 17-year-old freshman, by an inebriated member of the hockey team. In the WBUR report, she is quoted as saying that family lawyer had advised her against reporting the incident to police. In a Boston Globe report, she also said Williams College administrators advised her not go to the police.
After the college began its disciplinary process, Brackenridge has said, she was harassed by other members of the hockey team -- including one incident where they allegedly threw full beer cans at her head -- and some of her friends turned against her.
When she was assigned to a dormitory where other members of the hockey team would reside, she decided to withdraw and resume her education as a sophomore at Columbia University.
Earlier this spring, Williams College officials changed the way sexual assault allegations are processed. Now, professionals with no affiliation with the college conduct inquiries and cases are decided by a panel from the staff of student affairs.
Sarah Bolton, college dean and the administrator who handled Brackenridge's case, responded to the petition in a letter to the Williams College community. In the letter, Bolton said that the administration, from President Adam Falk on down, has been working on sexual assault awareness and prevention since 2010.
"Today we have two active groups of students and staff working both on our policies and practices, as well as on new ideas for student support," Bolton wrote. "Our Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness group, which was founded in the fall of 2011, is made up of students and staff, including those on the front lines of activism and student support. This group meets biweekly, year-round, to examine each part of what we do, brainstorm ideas, and propose and enact changes."
Bolton wrote that in addition to the changes in how the school investigates and resolves allegations of sexual assault, "We've also created the position of director of sexual assault prevention and response, and brought to that role this spring Meg Bossong ‘05, formerly director of community engagement for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center."
Bolton acknowledged that the college will continue to examine its policies and practices regarding sexual assault, and that more changes will occur as more information is gathered.
The petition "offers a helpful framework to think about this work at Williams," Bolton wrote. "The actions the petition seeks are ones that either we already do or would certainly adopt if we believed they would reduce the number of assaults or increase the safety and support of survivors and the accessibility of disciplinary and legal processes."
Bolton expressed hope that the conversation will continue.
"That's why I welcome more, and more public, conversation," she wrote. "None of us has all the answers; I know that I don't."
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