Pomona College Dean of Students Avis Hinkson called for an immediate end to “the practice of barring, bullying or otherwise punishing students” through anonymous submissions to electronic lists, according to an email co-authored with Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean Sue McCarthy sent to Pomona students Oct. 4.
Student organizations who continue to use the lists, which in the past have been attached to event invitations, would be subject to disciplinary sanctions, Hinkson wrote.
The announcement has been met with pushback from organizations like Pomona Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, who see the list as a tool for community accountability.
“The function [of the lists] is to allow community members some agency in naming individuals who have in the past made these spaces unsafe for people,” Pomona Advocate member Emily Coffin PO ’19 said. “The stakes of having someone missing an event for one night with the benefit of having a community of survivors feel like they’re secure and safe and validated, to me, that cost-benefit is easily weighted in favor of survivors.”
Banning at recent events
At a student forum Oct. 5 hosted by Hinkson, Coffin described Hinkson’s email as “reckless.”
“[The email] was ill-informed of institutional memory and part of that is because of turn-over in the administration,” she said. “[The email] demonstrated that there was minimal collaboration between Dean of Students and student organizations who really had teeth in this issue.”
The lists, which vary in practice and in format by organization, are typically Google Forms attached to Facebook event invitations where students can make anonymous name submissions of guests that would threaten their own safety or the safety of others, Coffin explained.
Most recently, Sigma Tau linked a Google Form on the Facebook event page for “Squeaky Boot: a spongeboot,” an event at Pomona’s Doms Lounge Sept. 27.
Sigma Tau’s most recent usage of the Google Form included an option for students to explain the intention of their submission, along with information about the listed individual, such as school, year, and contact information.
Sigma Tau, one of Pomona’s oldest fraternities, has been using these kinds of anonymous Google Forms since spring 2017, Sigma Tau President Ethen Lund PO ’19 wrote in a message to TSL.
According to Sigma Tau’s Facebook post, only one member of Sigma Tau has access to the list, submissions are anonymous, and submitted names will remain on the list for future Sigma Tau events. In the posting, Sigma Tau emphasized the practice as a tool for safety and stressed that submissions must be legitimate.
“This form is only for people who would threaten your and/or guests’ safety at Boot. Submitting the name of a person you simply don’t like is incredibly disrespectful,” Sigma Tau stated on its Google Form. “Please please please do not undo the work we’re trying to accomplish with this form.”
The post and Google Form also noted that if someone named on the list were to attend the event, they would be asked to leave. When asked how the lists are used, Lund said the lists aspire to normalize a culture of accountability and community.
“The information [of the submitted names] is used to build awareness and vigilance of potentially dangerous circumstances,” Lund said.
While Sigma Tau members can request an attendee on the list to leave, Lund said that “students at the Claremont Colleges have no power to bar or remove other students from events.”
Lund declined to comment on the number of students on Sigma Tau’s list.
South Asian Student Association used a similar electronic list for Desi Beats, an event the organization hosted in March. Krithika Rao SC ’19, one of SASA’s co-presidents, said SASA noticed other student organizations using the lists and wanted to follow their lead.
“SASA’s intention was to put survivors first,” Rao said. “Simple as that.”
But, Rao noted SASA used the list practice solely for the Desi Beats event. According to Rao, SASA received zero submissions of names for the event and, at the request of Pomona’s administration, complied with discontinuing the list’s use for future events.
Concerns from administrators and Title IX
Hinkson said that to her knowledge, the practice of electronic lists has been in place for at least 18 months. But, concerns of discrimination brought forward by students to Title IX Coordinator McCarthy is what led to the co-authored email announcement, Hinkson said.
“There [has] been a small number of students coming forward to express concern about the fact that their names appeared on the list,” she said.
According to McCarthy, the lists could be cause for discrimination under Title IX if a pattern emerges where the lists are disproportionately impacting particular people based on gender and/or other identity factors.
“The essence of it is that the college is obligated to laws around non-discrimination,” McCarthy said. “Every student has an equal right to participate in campus events that are sponsored by the campus or are in campus spaces that are funded by money that is generated by the campus.”
McCarthy said those rights can’t be restricted without some sort of due process. Because Sigma Tau, SASA, and other similar registered student organizations are funded by the college, they are legally mandated to comply with Title IX protections.
Both McCarthy and Hinkson said they didn’t think the lists were made with malicious intent. Instead, McCarthy said that the list was a way for students to take agency in establishing safe spaces and that the practice had unintended results.
“In part, [the lists] met its intention because I heard from survivors at the forum that they felt safer in spaces, but there was also unintended harm caused to individuals who may or may not have been appropriately put on that list,” McCarthy said.
She could not comment on specific examples of students being removed from events, but stated there have been instances of students receiving correspondence from groups indicating that the respective students should not attend the event.
Accountability, discrimination, recommendations
McCarthy noted from the lists, there is no way for her to know whether or not a person’s placement on a list was actually for a behavior they had been found to have done.
She said the potential for the list to cover a broader array of community members — and not just perpetrators of sexual violence — escalated her concern that students placed on the list were being discriminated against.
“I was becoming more concerned that we could be in a situation where a student harmed themselves because of the experience of thinking they were on the list or knowing they were on the list and receiving particular treatment as a result of that,” she said.
But, Coffin believes that improper usage of the lists are rare, and that there are more pressing measures that must be addressed before hypotheticals are considered.
“The vagueness to [the lists] is a nod to the fact that they are there as a tool of protection, a tool of security, and a tool of accountability in a lot of ways,” she said. “I really would like to believe that the instances in which these lists are abused are really few and far between, and that those submitting to these lists do not owe any level of explanation as to why they are submitting a name.”
McCarthy, who co-chairs the Sexual Violence Intervention and Prevention Presidential Advisory Committee, which is composed of students, faculty, and staff, said the committee is undergoing an extensive review of Pomona’s current policies regarding Title IX and sexual misconduct. The committee hopes to provide recommendations to Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr at the end of this academic year.
Sigma Tau did not comment on how the organization ensures the legitimacy of its submissions.
But in a statement to TSL co-authored by Lund and Sigma Tau Vice Presidents Kate Miller PO ’19 and Isabel Durham PO ’19, Sigma Tau recognized that its practices “may be imperfect interim solution[s] to a much larger problem, but we will continue to find ways of ensuring safe social spaces until the administration puts forth a more accessible and comprehensive policy for greater community accountability.”
Coffin believes that an alternative should be presented before the lists are dismissed as a tool completely.
“Dean Hinkson said [at the forum] how problematic these methods are or how problematic the lists are, but as it stands now, with [the lists’] absence, what’s the alternative?” she said. “It’s problematic that we have perpetrators who aren’t being held accountable on campus. It’s problematic that there’s going to be assaults that continue to happen at these parties. So, as students, we’re kind of saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ and taking some action on our own accord.”