Discourse / Letters / April 20, 2011

Letters to the Editor: Advice on approaching the Grievance Panel

Grievance procedure. It’s just as intimidating as it sounds, but it’s worth it. I was distressed to review my first spring TKS and find two sexual assaults in our campus safety log. As we all know, those are only the reported ones. I went into my grievance trial months after my assault, with no idea what I was doing and very little confidence that I even wanted to endure the process in the first place. I had a lot of questions, but I was told repeatedly that they could not be answered due to the specificity, and that it could compromise the confidentiality of previous trials. I get it, but it sucks, and that’s why I’ve chosen to submit this article. I’m not going to pretend to know everything, because I know that I don’t, but I’ve been through this and I know how horribly difficult it is. I want anyone who is presented with this unfortunate choice to have an idea of what they’re about to face, so here are some things I wish I had known:

They will tell you that the trial itself can go around six hours. They mean it. Be sure to have lots of comfort food. Even if you don’t eat it all, you’ll feel better knowing it’s there.

Choose an advocate you are comfortable with. When I was given the list of possible advocates, I recognized one name, and I knew I liked her, so I went with it. I considered choosing a man for a while – I thought I’d feel more powerful with a male backing me up – but realized that wasn’t for me. You’ll be confiding some very deep, personal things with this person for a while, think of nothing but your own comfort during this time. Some of the advocates are professors, some aren’t. Keep in mind that you may not want to choose someone you’ll see every day from the hearing until you graduate, or maybe that would comfort you. These are all valid things to consider.

Support person. Same goes for your optional support person. I would highly recommend bringing someone with you. They can’t go into trial with you (also sucks) but they will give you the words you need when you need them. You want someone you can trust who will provide that comfort for you. They don’t need to be an expert on sexual assault, they don’t need to know the details of your case; just think, “they’re gonna be locked away in a separate room from me for about six hours and have to put up with my crying and bring me food.” Whoever you can think of who would not only put up with that but actively volunteer to hold your hand through that, is the person you want to ask.

Be prepared for difficult questions. This was, without a doubt, the hardest part, and I was not at all prepared for it. The panel may ask some difficult questions, but nothing that can’t be handled. Especially when the assailant was previously considered a friend, all those years of knowing each other will crash on your head. I would encourage you to be as honest and open as possible, the panel seems to appreciate that, but it would be wise to assume that the defense won’t be as gracious.

It’s okay to be emotional. I hated my hearing. I’m generally very composed and fairly quiet. I’m a private person who likes to keep to myself, and you’ll never see any emotion from me beyond happy, sad, hungry and tired on the most basic of levels. What I’m feeling is nobody’s business but my own. However, when it comes to the hearing, there may be tears, wailing, uncontrollable shaking, shame, guilt and fear. It’s going to hurt, and it’s okay to let it show. For me personally, I did not want to show any amount of vulnerability to my assailant (because they will be in the same room with you. You won’t see each other, but still). To me, it made it seem like he was winning. I was also concerned that showing too much emotion may be used against me as the panel would interpret it as staged for the sake of empathy, and therefore discredit anything I’d say all night. I never asked, but I doubt this is the case. I’m sure they’ve seen worse than my shaking, sniffling, teary fits. You can ask for breaks – use them.

Opening and closing statements. For the procedure, a written complaint, an opening statement and a closing statement are required from each party. The written complaint is basically an account of everything that happened along with any other relevant information. As far as the opening and closing statements go, I was pretty much on my own. My advocate suggested that I restate my complaint, I guess that’s usually how it goes. I, however, chose to go a different route. The panel has already seen the complaint, so I decided to just state what was on my mind. My opening statement was an address to the panel, expressing my expectations from them. It may not have been my place, but it made me feel a whole lot better, which means a lot in this situation. My closing statement was an ode to how much I hated my assailant. Not at all professional and some inappropriate word choice, but again, made me feel a whole lot better and I think gave the panel some pretty good insight on my mental and emotional state at the time. Both statements are completely open to interpretation by whoever is writing them (or at least that’s how it was explained to me) and that’s simply the way I chose to go. I would advise you to allow yourself to be expressive. Don’t be afraid of your words, or of how you think they’ll sound. You’re all that matters right now.

Resources are available. You know how people brag about the supportive faculty and the amazing resources and the flexible professors at Knox? Well, you only get to do that if you reach out first. I was amazed at the doors that opened to me when I started looking for them. I had a professor end class early and sit and talk with me and walk me to the dean’s office on a particularly horrible day, and she didn’t even know what I was going though at the time. That is something. That means something. It’s likely that your professors will know that something is wrong, and I promise that they want to help you. They won’t pry, but they will be there. Professors, deans, advisers, the counseling center, organizations and friends. Ask for help, even when I was unsure if I needed it, it helps to ask. I’m still awestruck by the amount of support I received and continue to receive.

Finally…BRAVERY. Going through the formal grievance process was literally the worst experience (after the assault itself and my parent’s divorce) that I have ever endured in my life. It took a lot out of me. Immediately after the fact, I remember complaining to anyone who would listen about how awful it was and how flawed the system is, because nothing really came of my hearing. This is a very small campus and I see my assailant more than I would ever like to. it’s not easy. Then I had a realization: he took advantage of me. Something was taken from me, and while I couldn’t do anything about it then, there was something that I could do after the fact.

To those of you who are hurting, I feel for you. I wish I had the strength in me to put my name on this so I could reach out to you if you needed me. I highly encourage this process. It is difficult, and I promise it will be painful. It alone will not make you better – especially if your attacker remains here on campus – I have battles that I continue to fight all day, every single day I am here. Literally every day. But I take pride in knowing that although my assailant hurt me and instilled a fear in me that is still very strong, I did not let that fear hinder my willingness to fight back. No matter what the outcome, there is tremendous peace of mind in knowing that you had some control. I refused to let my assailant take advantage of me emotionally after the fact. That’s why I did went to the Grievance Panel. I encourage anyone else who needs it to do it too.

Good luck and all my love.

TKS Staff

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