TW: sexual violence
Following multiple allegations of abusive behavior against a Pitzer College student, 5C student groups came together in support of survivors and demanded more effective action from administrators regarding sexual assault and harassment cases. The allegations were made public Dec. 2 in a 20-page document.
Chaiyia Taylor-Jackson PZ ’23 was first to publicly share her experiences, spurring other survivors to anonymously document their stories of sexual assault and harassment at the Claremont Colleges. A total of nine anonymous allegations of inappropriate behavior have been reported against the Pitzer student in question.
A secondary document shared on Dec. 6 contains 15 separate stories of sexualt assault from students across the 7Cs.
Several student groups shared statements of support for those who publicly revealed their experiences.
In consultation with Taylor-Jackson and other survivors, Pitzer’s Black Student Union released a list of changes they wished to see from the college’s administration in response to the allegations. The list includes a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault perpetrators; accountability for the student in question; reevaluation of Pitzer College’s Title IX Coordinator Corinne Vorenkamp; and more staff for the Title IX office.
Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at any educational institution receiving government support, is a mandated process colleges and universities must follow in order to maintain federal funding.
We Are Living History, an affinity group for Black, Indigenous and women of color at Pitzer, released a statement of solidarity with survivors. The Claremont Black Women’s Collective also released a statement of support. Both groups condemned Pitzer’s handling of recent Title IX cases.
Scripps Associated Students also sent a statement of support to Scripps students.
“Sexual assault, and the culture which allows it to occur affects everyone, but it is compounded by systemic forms of oppression. It is fully intertwined with our society’s deeply-rooted racism and anti-Blackness,” the statement said. “We urge everyone to be mindful of how sexual assault uniquely harms Black women and how frequently internalized anti-Blackness informs people’s responses.”
In an interview, Taylor-Jackson called for an overhaul of the Title IX process, stating from personal experience that reporting cases of sexual assault requires an “unhelpful and very tedious process [where] it’s near impossible to get justice,” citing this as the reason why many students do not report their experiences to Title IX.
“Pitzer has had a fairly weak response, if any,” Taylor-Jackson told TSL. “They didn’t directly respond to the document.”
Vorenkamp addressed students’ complaints in an email to TSL.
“I understand and empathize with anyone who finds the process frustrating or intimidating,” she said. “It’s important to know that Pitzer is required to follow federal Title IX regulations, as well as relevant California and federal caselaw.”
A day after Taylor-Jackson’s initial document was shared, Pitzer appointed Alyssa-Rae McGinn as interim Title IX coordinator working alongside Vorenkamp, according to a Dec. 3 email from Vice President for Student Affairs Sandra Vasquez.
But the Pitzer Advocates called for the “urgent removal and replacement” of Vorenkamp in their Dec. 3 statement of solidarity, a sentiment shared by SAS, Pitzer BSU and Scripps Advocates. At a Thursday meeting of the Pitzer College Council on Zoom, several students had their Zoom backgrounds set to a graphic that read ‘Fire Corinne Vorenkamp.’
“By silencing, neglecting, and diminishing survivors, Corinne has demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of survivor support, eradicated a sense of safety, and is complicit in ongoing violence. Corinne has lost the trust of the community,” Pitzer Advocates said in an Instagram post.
Julia Young PZ ‘22, a co-head of Pitzer Advocates, said Vorenkamp has a record of mishandling cases relating to issues that fall under Title IX. Young added that there should be better “trauma-informed education” for administrators.
Pitzer Advocates also called for an increase in number and diversity for staff members at the Title IX office. Earlier this year, all colleges in the Claremont Consortium except Keck Graduate Institute adopted a unified Title IX policy.
Taylor-Jackson agreed, saying she hopes that Pitzer can enforce policies through the college rather than through Title IX to expand protection for survivors, since the legal boundaries of Title IX limit the action colleges can take in response to sexual assault cases.
In addition to revising Title IX policies, Taylor-Jackson and others called for the removal of those students on campus who have a record of sexual-assault violations.
“Personally, I would like for them to expel students who have multiple cases because they’re a threat,” she said. “And I’ll use the student [from my experience], he does not need to be here.”
Vorenkamp said Pitzer cannot take action against a student accused of sexual assault without going through a formal investigation and resolution process.
“The process nearly always requires a survivor to be willing to officially make a complaint or participate as a witness in an investigation and hearing,” she said, “but whether to do so is a very personal choice which we always respect.”
An internal investigation will be conducted to look into Pitzer’s Title IX process, Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver told students and faculty in a Dec. 7 email.
“We are all saddened, we are all frustrated, upset about some of the actions we’ve heard that have affected our students,” Oliver said at the council meeting. “And we are intent on making Title IX much more able to meet the needs of our community.”
At the meeting, Taylor Hagen PZ ’24 said Vorenkamp does not support survivors and that there is already “sufficient evidence and dozens and dozens of stories about how [Vorenkamp] can’t do her job.”
“There are still assaulters living on Pitzer’s campus in Pitzer’s dorms. And if you support survivors, I think direct action needs to be taken and we need to be told that these people, that are dangerous and predators, should be removed from the Pitzer community,” she said. “I don’t think an investigation needs to be done about a Title IX director who obviously cannot do her job.”
Oliver announced the establishment of a Title IX Task Force at Pitzer composed of faculty, staff and students. Pitzer aims to identify members of the task force by next week so that they can begin working by the new year, according to Pitzer spokesperson Kimberly Shiner.
Vorenkamp endorsed the new task force and interim coordinator, adding that she welcomes “the additional support being offered to the Title IX office and [looks] forward to the recommendations.”
Pitzer’s resident assistants also sent an email condemning what they see as a lack of action from the college.
“We are no longer comfortable being trained by Pitzer’s Title IX Coordinator, in regards to sexual assault on campus,” the email said. “We do not feel comfortable recommending our residents to her, as she has failed many students now and in the past.”
The RAs also issued a list of demands including the immediate expulsion of the alleged abuser, the replacement of Vorenkamp and the retraining of all who were trained by her. They also asked that students on campus be able to remove roommates or suitemates with pending or past Title IX cases to “provide a safe living environment for all” as well as providing active support for residents in this situation.
Pitzer Student Senate President Kaila Teague PZ ’22 said the outpouring of support that emerged in the wake of Taylor-Jackson’s document reflects a larger desire for a change to Pitzer’s policies.
“I want [Pitzer] to be better,” Teague told TSL. “Survivors do not feel supported [by administration] and with all the different [identity] groups, clubs and other student groups that have written solidarity statements and advocated for survivors, they have all been clear of what is desired by students to ensure we feel secure, supported, and safe on campus.”
Taylor-Jackson expressed her gratitude to all those who supported her and shared statements of solidarity, especially after being told by administration that the student she reported for sexual assault was not a threat.
“I would never have imagined that I would have to deal [with] the situation again, and that I would have this much support in dealing with this situation,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Taylor Hagen’s last name as Gahen. TSL regrets the error.
Siena Swift is a Politics major at Pomona College in the class of 2023.