To Sponsors, Mentors, and the Pomona College Community—or, Apathy in the Context of Title IX

This piece is largely aimed towards allies rather than survivors, and can be triggering due to content related to sexual assault.

On Oct. 8, 2015, Pomona College Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum sent an email to the student body informing us that a Title IX complaint was filed against Pomona College. Later, my fellow classmate Libbie Wilcox PO ’16 wrote an incredibly important and articulate op-ed for TSL regarding the loss of faith in the institution of Pomona College itself. Similarly, I have also been disturbed by how Pomona College considers sexual assault cases, Yenli Wong PO ’15 and Patricia Esparza PO ’97 being the most public examples.

However, I myself would like to address my disappointment and frustration with the Pomona College student body.

Now, nearly seven months after Feldblum’s email hit our mailboxes, I have heard little to no student discourse regarding the matter. I showed up to event after event—from presentations by Jessica Ladd PO '08, creator of Callisto, an online sexual assault reporting system, to a WU event demystifying the reporting process—only to find that I could count the number of attendees on two hands. At the student feedback forums on the recent Title IX policy revisions, there was literally only one person in the room aside from myself and the two friends I convinced to come with me. Advertising and word of mouth were absolutely not the issue—members of the Title IX working group individually Facebook messaged peers who eagerly vouched for the importance of the conversation but failed to show up at the forums, and I specifically promoted Ladd’s talk amongst my fellow Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP) mentors for only one of 23 to attend.

The latter demonstrates a trend that has been a point of concern for me for a while. In particular, I’m struck by how few sponsors and mentors, who have taken on the responsibility of supporting first-year students through various issues, made the effort to come and learn more about something that certainly affects some of their mentees and sponsees. As a former sponsor and current mentor, I know we are already responsible for too much. As an advocate for the Call to Action to better support first-generation, low-income students of color, I know we are exhausted and in pain. But survivors exist in all of these communities, are in even more pain, and are even less visible.

The fact of the matter is that the people largely affected by the Title IX investigation and changing reporting processes are people who have been assaulted and have had their voices and agency snatched from them so repeatedly that they find themselves unable to publicly address this situation. As a result, this issue has flown under the radar, with few Facebook statuses, events, initiatives, and meetings. Those who believe they are unaffected by sexual assault are able to proceed with their lives thinking that Pomona is working on solving the problem. After all, didn’t they establish a Title IX Working Group to fix the policy?

However, with the well-cited statistic that one in five women, one in twenty men, and an immeasurable number of trans and non-binary folk are sexually assaulted in college—and in consideration of the intersections of race and class and the fact that sexual assaults are hugely underreported—the chances are that, whether you are aware of it or not, you know someone who has been assaulted. According to the Spring 2015 5C Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey, 8.9 percent of students said they had been sexually assaulted while on campus or at a college-sponsored event. Given the stigma and trauma associated with sexual assault, it is presumptuous to assume survivors can easily disclose their experience to others and seek support. Therefore, it makes sense that they would seek support from those whose jobs it is to provide it: sponsors and mentors.

In my time at Pomona, I have been an Advocate for Survivors of Sexual Assault, a sponsor, a head sponsor, and now an AAMP mentor. I have sat through Teal Dot training, Advocates training, sponsor training (twice), and AAMP training. I have led discussions for sponsor groups on the sexual assault presentation/Drawing the Shades performance during orientation (three times). With all of this experience, I know first-hand how explaining consent, much less supporting a survivor, is drastically different from merely listening to how it’s done in a presentation—I still struggle with knowing what to say to those who disclose to me.

Yet I am often in positions where sponsors, mentors, and other students come to me unsure of how to support survivors in their sponsor or friend groups. I am eager to help them; however, I do not believe the burden of passing on this knowledge should fall on me when the resources and information are already there. People only come to me when the survivor has already disclosed, and from the way they respond to the disclosure, they have already influenced how the survivor handles and processes the situation. The Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey also shows that at the 5Cs, 59.4 percent of respondents knew how to access resources for sexual assault, and only 37.7 percent were familiar with procedures the colleges use to investigate sexual assault. At this rate, how many would be able to inform survivors of resources and reporting? Here, our tendency to care only about things we have a personal stake in becomes damaging. When it is not a priority to us, it is easy to miss or fail to process scheduled events, trainings, and information sessions—but when we realize the gaps in our knowledge as we finally realize the proximity of the issue, it is too late.

In my experience, sitting through some form of sexual assault training is far from enough. It takes continual effort and active learning to be able to confidently support and empower survivors, and I simply do not see this effort among sponsors, mentors, and the Pomona community. I often hear that there is a lack of knowledge, but there are events specifically geared towards becoming more familiar that are not attended. I wish to emphasize that it is not sponsors, mentors, or students’ jobs to carry the weight of supporting survivors on their own, but support and empowerment are still things we should care about, which brings our priorities into question.

People at Pomona are always busy, but they make time for the commitments they care about. Why can’t survivor support be one of those things? It can be easy to assume that the changes Pomona is making to our policies and reporting process are steps forward, but how will we know—and how will we know how to navigate these systems—without being alert and present?

Actions we can take: Engage with consent weekend; review the data from the Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey; come to the HEART Center to talk to an advocate and ask questions, visit the EmPOWER Center (1030 N. Dartmouth Ave) and talk to Rima Shah while picking up resources and lip balm; attend TealDot training and encourage others to do so, as well; visit Callisto and read up on information on the reporting process while also walking through how to report on Callisto; read the Title IX policy revisions and understand how they will affect survivors; check in with friends and learn to ask ways to support them; start conversations about/point out instances supporting rape culture in everyday life; emphasize your openness to discussing sexual assault; LISTEN!

Lucia Ruan PO '16 is a psychology major at Pomona College. She is involved in the Women's Union, the Asian American Mentor Program, and the Associated Students of Pomona College.

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