Campus / News / April 30, 2008

President stresses campus civility

The first thing Knox College President Roger Taylor said to senior Kelli Refer and freshman Alison Ehrhard when they arrived at his office on April 23 was that he could not talk long, because he had other business to attend to. The three spent 45 minutes in what Taylor termed “a discussion,” rather than a meeting, talking about a list of grievances and demands presented by Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS).

While Refer felt that by calling their meeting a “discussion,” Taylor was undermining its importance, Taylor said that by no means was this his intention.

“We weren’t having a meeting with minutes and all, we were just discussing things as people do,” Taylor said. Thus, he explained, his terminology was meant to describe the nature of the discourse, not the importance of the subject.

The other business Taylor was referring to was the need to reestablish, in the aftermath of John Ashcroft’s speech, an environment of civil discourse.

“It’s simply wrong to say I wasn’t taking it seriously,” Taylor said.

Refer said that she was, however, offended by Taylor’s “half thought-out responses to something I feel passionate about.”

Refer said, “He [Taylor] concluded by suggesting I put aside the SASS demands and focus on getting a job after graduation. It was condescending.”

This was among other suggestions, which Refer felt were unsatisfactory.

“He made the insulting suggestion that we return women and men’s hours, denying the agency of students, in order to prevent sexual assault. He also suggested that we ban alcohol,” said Refer. “I told him, these are just band-aids to the larger problem.”

Taylor, when asked if he was serious about these suggestions said, “No, but I think it’s useful, in conversations, to throw out ideas.”

Refer explained one of her primary concerns is that there is a silencing of sexual assault because students are not given a strong outlet for support.

“Many students don’t even know about the Grievance Panel, and those who do don’t want to go through the process,” Refer said. “There’s also no post-trauma follow-up, so many women transfer or struggle. They accept it and normalize it.”

Although Refer has not gotten all the support she feels she need from Taylor, both she and Taylor made it clear other staff and administrators have addressed the issue.

“So far none of the demands have been met, but many have been pledged and promised,” said Refer.

Associate Dean of Students Debbie Southern has expressed an interest in restructuring orientation activities to focus on and prevent sexual assault, Campus Safety Director John Schlaf has said he would like to see classes offered on self-defense and offer sensitivity training for campus safety officers, Dean Xavier Romano plans to meet with Refer on May 6 to discuss implementing some of the policies out-lined in SASS’s list of demands, and Dean Lawrence Breitborde has said he is willing to reinstitute the Grievance Panel task force.

In the process of trying to restore a safe, civil environment after Ashcroft’s visit, Taylor also temporarily called off the Presidential Task Force on Sustainability. Four members of the Task Force were involved in the protest against John Ashcroft.

It is possible, Taylor said, to focus on civility and sustainability simultaneously; and for that reason he has resumed meeting with the task force.

“But, until we do something to resolve this lack of civility, I’m not sure we have anything to sustain,” he said.

Taylor expressed his immense concern upon hearing that members of the Knox Republicans, who brought Ashcroft to campus, have been both verbally and physically abused. Taylor has received reports of attempts to break into dorm rooms, students being spit on, and students being booed when walking into class.

“If that’s all the better we can do, there’s a question whether there should even be a Knox College,” said Taylor.

Erin Coleman

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