The Pomona College Dean of Students office sent an e-mail to the 5C community last week notifying them of two reported sexual assaults on Pomona’s campus, one at the Sept. 18 Pub and one at last year’s Harwood Halloween party. Unlike previous sexual assault alerts, which only made students aware of misconduct, the e-mail informed students about responsive action taken by the administration: the suspension of Pub.
This is not the first time that Pub, which has typically been a weekly party, has been suspended due to alleged sexual misconduct. Administrators chose to suspend Pub for part of last semester after an audit of Pomona’s sexual assault policies conducted by Tiombe Preston SC ’95 highlighted the party as a recurring venue for sexual assault.
Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Daren Mooko said that the suspension of Pub was not intended as a punitive measure, and that the administration was not targeting the Kappa Delta fraternity (KD), which organizes the party. However, he said, the centrality of Pub to Preston’s findings gave the administration little choice but to suspend the event following a report of sexual misconduct. Any group would have been treated similarly had its event been emphasized in the report as a common space for sexual assault, according to Mooko.
Furthermore, Mooko said that other groups could face similar penalties if sexual assaults are reported at recurring events they host.
“If we received a report right now that said, ‘Here are [sexual assaults] that happened at this event,’ I think we’d take a similar approach,” Mooko said.
He noted that the response might not be identical to the suspension of Pub, since Pub alone was prominent in the report, but said that any recurring event at which a sexual assault is reported could face suspension.
KD President Travis Bowers PO ’14 said that the fraternity is not directly involved with the current investigation of Pub but is looking for a way to be involved productively.
“Right now, we’re in the process of sending an e-mail to Dean [Miriam] Feldblum regarding what KD can do to help the school with the investigation,” Bowers said. “Obviously, we’re not the investigators in this situation … We’re a third party looking in, trying to do whatever we can to help.”
Bowers said he was confident that Pub would eventually return, although he was unsure when.
“Absolutely Pub will back online at some point,” he said. “It kind of depends on the progress of the investigation and the steps we can take to make Pub a safer place.”
Assistant Director of the Smith Campus Center (SCC) and Student Programs John Lopes, who oversees campus fraternities, said that the college was working on a policy to increase student safety at all parties, not just Pub.
“We … know that the party scene on campus would probably be better for everyone if we looked at an overall policy governing all parties on campus to make them safe events,” Lopes said.
The college already has set a minimum lighting level for Doms Lounge, where some parties, including Pub, are held. Lopes and the building manager will be looking to do the same at other party venues in the SCC, such as the Social Room and Edmunds Ballroom. Additionally, groups hosting parties are required to put up signs with messages explaining consent. Lopes said that he and his colleagues are working to develop a permanent collection of signs that student groups can check out.
“The challenge is for my building managers to maintain that level of consistency … We don’t have a different set of rules for different groups,” Lopes said. “It will be the same across the board.”
Bowers said that in the wake of Pub’s suspension, KD was discussing further changes to the party’s lighting “to make people feel more accountable” for their actions.
The college is also urging any student group planning a party to organize a daytime walkthrough of the venue to assess possible security precautions. Walkthrough teams must include Lopes, Director of Campus Safety Shahram Ariane, and the event organizers, although they are open to all interested parties. A representative of KD participated in a walkthrough of Doms Lounge earlier this year as part of the security evaluation for Pub.
Lopes said that three criteria determine the number of campus safety officers required at an event in Doms Lounge. If a party has alcohol, dancing, and dance music, a minimum of four officers must be present. If only one or two of these factors are present, the number of officers can be lowered.
“Clearly, we don’t need to have four officers present for a Pomona Student Union social debate,” Lopes said.
Mooko said that the administration consulted lawyers to learn more about the conditions under which a college is considered to have had “official notice” that an event is propagating sexual assault. However, he said that the lawyers had not been specifically consulted about the decision to suspend Pub, and that the suspension was not an attempt to avoid legal trouble.
“I can say pretty confidently that one of the reasons I enjoy working at Pomona is that we don’t do things in fear of being sued,” Mooko said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not conscious of it, but that’s not the top priority that we’re looking to satisfy every time we make a decision.”
Mooko said that rumors about the Dean of Students office targeting fraternities were completely unfounded.
“I don’t think there’s anything against fraternities, that they’re not funded by the college directly like ASPC [Associated Students of Pomona College], or anything like that,” Mooko said. “We just react to things that are brought to our attention.”
The e-mail from the Dean of Students office clearly stated Pub’s fate, but said nothing about whether sexual assault at Harwood Halloween, one of the biggest parties in the fall semester, was being addressed.
Pomona Events Committee (PEC) Commissioner Giselle Fierro PO ’14 said that her committee has been working since the beginning of the school year to make Harwood Halloween a safe space.
“The first meeting we had, sexual assault was something I addressed immediately,” Fierro said.
She said that she had asked her committee members to encourage a culture of consent for all events planned. Additionally, she said that PEC has been working closely with the Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault this year to plan safer functions.
At this year’s Harwood Halloween, the disc jockey’s stage will be situated in the center of the room so partygoers will be able to spread around it on all sides instead of crowding into one corner. Lights will be brighter than they were in previous years.
Fierro said that the sound would be lower to make it easier to communicate. Professionals, rather than students, will handle lighting and sound this year. Consent signs will be posted around the venue, and PEC members will do consent-based advertising in the days leading up to the event.
Still, Mooko said that Harwood Halloween, like every party, could be suspended if multiple sexual assaults are reported at this year’s event.
“Maybe we do need to suspend Harwood Halloween, if we get more reports that, yeah, X amount of sexual misconduct issues came up during this Harwood,” Mooko said. “How can an institution not?”