Change is Necessary: Pomona College Fails to Support Survivors of Sexual Assault

Pomona College’s carefully crafted message from day one, or even before the first day of college, is that Pomona cares for its students: Each student matters, regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation. The college’s administration constantly reminds us, through Facebook posts on the Pomona College page, Twitter and admissions pamphlets, that every voice will be heard. As a survivor of sexual assault who is also an international student, a woman and a person of color, I find this to be untrue.

This semester, I opened a Title IX investigation by reporting multiple instances of sexual assault that were committed against me by a fellow student. Unfortunately, my experiences with the investigation process and the administration have been extremely isolating and painful. The investigative process was conducted in a manner that made me feel as though I were being interrogated, only aggravating the trauma of having to repeatedly relive the assaults. At one point I was even asked to “explain” myself and asked why I had taken “so long to come forward.” Though my assailant was eventually found guilty of multiple instances of sexual assault, the sanctions imposed were minimal. 

Had I been able to foresee that reporting the sexual assaults would antagonize the survivor, yet result in minimal sanctions for the assailant even after he was found responsible, I would never have subjected myself to this process. I thought that the process might help me to heal, but it instead opened entirely new wounds when I realized that the college was willing to treat someone who had aggressed and violated me with utmost leniency.

The reporting process was lengthy and exhausting, especially since I navigated the Title IX system alone. My perpetrator’s parents hired a lawyer to defend him; while I would have appreciated having a lawyer, my parents are more than 12 time zones away and barely understand the legal system in the United States. The issue of cost was also a major consideration, and I did not wish to burden my family financially.

I was positive the college would protect me, but I was naive. Maneuvering this complex system of reporting a Title IX case without an officially designated support person that I could confide in without breaking confidentiality rules has been confusing and isolating, to say the least, especially since I was never given or even told about resources, such as Monsour Counseling or Pomona College Advocates, to help me through the process.

The college keeps telling me that they are “doing the best they can.” If this is the college’s best, it needs to try harder and do better. The comments of current and former students on the Change.org petition I created speak for themselves—many survivors publicly identified themselves and stated that the college’s process was so draining, bureaucratic and infantilizing that they never reported, or that they walked away from the process once they realized how time-consuming, draining and humiliating it can be for survivors.

The other oft-repeated statement I have heard from the administration is that they are simply “following policy.” While I appreciate our College’s dedication to following our written policy, has the administration thought about the fact that our sexual misconduct policy (though recently updated) could still be extremely flawed? Why is the administration trying to police my language while being unclear about what their own policy states about confidentiality? Shouldn’t they do more to support and protect survivors during the Title IX process and after convictions? The irony is that the survivors, who have been disempowered and re-traumatized by the hearing process, have to patiently sit and educate the administrators about the sexual assault policy administrators created to avoid lawsuits more than to empower survivors.

Feedback needs to happen earlier in the process, and administrators should not wait for traumatized students to politely request a meeting and hear out their concerns, as if they are doing an unusual favor to the survivor.

I would have liked to speak to President Oxtoby about the sexual misconduct policy and make an appeal for my Title IX case before I graduate. This Tuesday, I emailed President Oxtoby and asked to meet with him. Unfortunately, it has been more than four days, and I have yet to receive a response. The first two days, I waited anxiously for his reply, trying to make up excuses as to why he might not have responded to my email. The time for excuses has ended. For a college that prides itself on caring for its students and being open to communication, this is unacceptable.

Because of my petition, I have received many emails and messages on Facebook from both survivors and allies. Many survivors have reached out to share their isolating, disrespectful and hostile experiences with the college. Some allies ask me about what to say or do when a survivor breaks down in tears or has a panic attack. Other allies ask me about how they can help survivors heal and how I have managed to heal. There is so much pain and hurt in our community and I have to wonder why the administration has not even bothered to send an email with links to resources where people can get support, on and off campus. This is a time for compassion, and I do not see any from the administration.

The truth is that I haven't healed. Today I walked across Marston Quad, one of the places where I was sexually assaulted, and I started trembling. Ironically, I will be receiving my diploma less than ten days from now on that same quad. I find myself having to leave classes abruptly. I am even afraid of leaving my room alone and besides class, I only venture out during meal times because I am terrified of seeing my assailant, who has been physically violent towards me in the past. At Senior Dinner, where I was seated at the same table as Dean Feldblum, I left without finishing my meal because I could not stop crying.

I agonized a lot about whether I should speak publicly about my experiences with the Title IX investigation. I did not feel ready, but I realized that there would never be a perfect time—a time when I am fully prepared to speak about being sexually assaulted. My Title IX case might not have proceeded in a manner that satisfied me, but I am taking this moment to break the silence on sexual violence and stand in solidarity with survivors. I want to use my voice to own the truth.

I strongly encourage the administration to act now to make the necessary changes we need to see on our campus. Sexual violence has no place here and I refuse to graduate without doing everything possible to start a conversation, create change and help make Pomona a safe space.  

On May 7, Wong published an open letter and petition to Pomona College, President Oxtoby and Dean Feldblum entitled, "A Call for Pomona College to Take a Firm Stance Against Sexual Violence." You can access the petition at this link: http://tinyurl.com/endsexualviolencepomonacollege

Yenli Wong is a senior at Pomona College.