As many of us are now aware, a recent article in The Washington Post stated that Knox College has the fourth highest rate of reported rapes out of hundreds of colleges and universities across the United States. Our president, Teresa Amott, has just sent out a campus-wide email containing a PDF of her response to the Post article. In it, our president attempts to put a positive spin on what appears to be, objectively speaking, rather terrible news — and in my opinion, her response misses the mark in three key ways.
First, Amott’s letter illustrates a clear disconnect between the ways she and the student body view the Post article. In her letter, she states that “we at Knox view our ranking as fourth in the nation in a positive light,” presuming it to mean that students at Knox choose to report more often than students at other schools. In direct contrast to Amott’s satisfaction, students at Knox expressed anger and discouragement at our high ranking. On Facebook, many students wrote that they saw the Post article as proof that rape continues mostly unabated at our school. It is thus surprising that Amott claims “we at Knox College” collectively concluded that the high rape rate simply means students are more apt to report, when “we at Knox College” have actually overwhelmingly stated that we believe this data is proof that rape is prevalent at Knox.
Secondly, even if Amott is correct in her assumptions about what the data implies, it feels like a slap in the face to hear her state that students feel “comfortable” with our reporting process. As Amott must recall, students at Knox have protested against our reporting policies for literally years, repeatedly calling the policies unnecessarily stringent and re-victimizing. Her claims of student comfortability are ahistorical, as they brush aside (yet again) all the protests, petitions and forums students have held to voice our concerns with mandatory reporting. It feels deeply unfair for our president to pride herself on our reporting rates when they have come about in great part simply because of the rigid policies she and other administrators choose to enforce against students’ will. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for high reporting rates when those rates come at the expense of survivors’ agency and emotional wellbeing. We can’t praise our students for reporting when they often have no other choice.
Finally, Amott’s assertion that Knox is taking extraordinary measures to protect and support assault survivors undermines the continued concerns students have regarding Title IX at our school. She writes on the second page of her response that “[students] know if they report an assault … Knox will take steps to support and protect survivors and hold accountable those who violate our policies.” This seems to me a glib and blatant dismissal of the (over a decade long) student outcry against Knox’s confusing policies, problematic Title IX coordinator, lack of resources and administrative apathy toward student concerns. For our president to claim that we students trust the Title IX process here speaks over the voices of many in the Knox community, and indicates a continued attitude of complacency on the part of the administration.
I write this letter not only as a former student activist at Knox College, but as a student who underwent a Title IX complaint at this school and found it lacking. Because I know what it is like both to experience trauma at Knox and to attempt its rectification via our Title IX process, it pains me on a personal level to hear our president claim that students feel safe within our system. More importantly, it suggests to me that Knox College is not yet on the road to genuine and lasting change — because if we were, we would not spend our time putting positive spins on concerning statistics rather than humbly recognizing and righting the wrongs we continue to make at this school.