On March 13, a collection of about 25 Union students gathered in Reamer Campus Center to stand in solidarity with Skidmore College sophomore Reina Kiefer.
As a freshman at Skidmore, another student sexually assaulted Kiefer. Her assailant was suspended from Skidmore for a year after being found guilty on three counts of sexual misconduct. Now, one year later, the college held a readmission hearing to decide whether or not the student could re-enroll.
Kiefer and a group of 100 of her peers gathered in silence to protest the student’s hearing. In an interview with News 10 ABC, Kiefer stated, “The idea of him coming back is horrifying. It’s the last thing I want. And it’s unacceptable that the school even considered it.”
The silent protest held at Union was organized by Shayna Han ‘15, Kyra DeTone ‘16, Sydney Giller ‘16 and Toni Batha ‘17, all of whom are members of the Committee on Consent Education and Awareness.
In a statement handed out by the participants in the protest, they said, “We are standing in silence to support Reina Kiefer, a sophomore at Skidmore College … Participants are wearing green to represent Skidmore’s colors. We will be silent for 20 minutes to represent the 20% of women who will be sexually assaulted while attending college. We stand in silence because we believe that universities should not graduate rapists.”
In addition to wearing green, many students also carried signs with statements like, “Don’t Graduate Rapists,” and, “98% of Rapists Never Spend a Day in Prison.” Students also covered themselves in green duct tape that read, “Rally for Reina,” “#solidarity,” “1 in 5,” and, “Enough is Enough.”
Krystal Edwards ‘17, a participant in the protest, stated, “I took part in this protest because this is a young woman fighting for her justice, and it is a beautiful thing … Union and Skidmore are building bridges, and I am a strong believer in (the idea that) injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere. I really hope that justice is made and people know it’s okay to be upset, but it’s what we do with that anger (that matters).” She went on to say that this protest was the best way to channel the anger caused by the injustice of the situation.
After over 10 days of deliberation, it was announced on March 26 that the student was suspended for another two years, meaning he could apply for readmission to Skidmore for fall 2017. If he had been allowed to re-enroll at Skidmore, he would have been a member of the Class of 2017, placing him in Kiefer’s graduating class. The readmission board’s decision means that if the student were readmitted in 2017, Kiefer would already have graduated.
Kiefer stated that though she is relieved her attacker will not be returning to Skidmore while she is enrolled, this was not the decision she was hoping for. She believes it is “problematic” that “sexual assault or penetration by incapacitation is not worthy of expulsion.”
She plans to continue raising awareness about sexual assault and hopes to reach an audience beyond Skidmore.
Sexual assault is a prevalent issue on college campuses, and the fallout from sexual assault cases where the assailant and the victim are both students at the institution tends to be highly controversial.
It is not uncommon for colleges and universities to be criticized for the way they handle sexual assault cases, and now more and more schools are being scrutinized for the way they have handled these types of investigations.
In July of 2014, the New York Times broke a story regarding a case wherein a freshman girl at Hobart and William Smith Colleges was allegedly raped by a group of older boys.
The school was accused of handling the case very poorly, and the Times reported, “With no advocate to speak up for her at the disciplinary hearing, panelists interrupted her answers, at times misrepresented evidence and asked about a campus-police report she had not seen. The hearing proceeded before her rape-kit results were known, and the medical records indicating trauma were not shown to two of the three panel members.”
This prompted an investigation into Hobart and William Smith led by the federal Department of Education.
Hobart and William Smith is one of 55 colleges and universities across the country being investigated in order to determine whether or not they violated federal rules established in order to stop sexual harassment.
Senior Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct Trish Williams explained the repercussions of what would happen in the event of a reported sexual assault involving Union students.
Williams stated, “Currently, any such complaint is conducted by an investigator in Campus Safety to determine which part of the policy was violated. The students involved are supplied information about the proceedings at every step of the process. All claims of sexual assault are adjudicated by a judicial board and if found responsible, the accused will receive 10 points and may be suspended or expelled … Both students are informed of the decision, and both have the right to appeal.”
Willams continued, “If an appeal were granted for either of the two the reasons allowed, it is possible that the matter could be re-heard by another panel. If the student was allowed to return, there is no provision for a hearing to determine such.”
While this particular case occurred at Skidmore College and not Union, it had the power to motivate Union students to form a protest and stand in support of a student that they did not personally know.
“Don’t stop, because people are listening,” stated Edwards in explaining her feelings about the importance of the protest.