Colgate Administration and the Sexual Assault Problem That Shall Not Be Named

Elli Ament, Assistant Commentary Editor

Colgate students received a broadcast email last Wednesday with the subject line, “The Use of Internal Lists.” The email discourages the use of “internal lists that identify alleged misbehaviors by specific Colgate students” being used to supposedly “deny benefits of membership, entry or participation in activities or events, and to isolate and hold the listed students accountable.” The email references how the supposed internal lists stand in conflict with university policies regarding nondiscrimination and anti-harassment. Vice President and Dean of the College Paul McLoughlin, the author of the now infamous email among students, takes issue with the “informal mechanisms” through which the students ended up on these conjectured lists. 

While I agree with McLoughlin that informal lists by student organizations have been historically used to discriminate against protected groups outside of Colgate, I would challenge Colgate’s administration to consider the conjectured lists in question not under the guise of discrimination, but rather through the prevalent and pervasive problem Colgate has with sexual assault. If we consider the speculated lists as true identifiers of students who have actively violated other students such that having them present is a safety concern, what does that say about our campus? What does that say about how our judicial policies around sexual assault are functioning? 

If we consider internal lists through the lens of safety concerns regarding sexual harassment, then really how fair and thorough are the university’s judicial processes? If these policies “follow practices and procedures that ensure community safety and values,” why is there even a need for student organizations to create supposed internal lists?

Either way you cut it, if internal lists are as prevalent as the email claims, students don’t feel safe on campus with just university policies to protect them. For McLoughlin to identify the student body not using official reporting systems as the culprit in this situation is a gross misappropriation of blame in an apparent attempt to free the Colgate administration from any culpability regarding the issue. Surely, Colgate’s judicial processes were present before any supposed internal list. I would challenge the administration to then consider that, if those judicial processes were effective, then no internal lists would need to be created at all. And if the judicial processes at Colgate are now suddenly as effective in maintaining campus safety as the email claims, then it is the administration’s job to re-earn students’ trust. Not to blame them for their attempt to ensure their own safety that the administration’s shortcomings created the need for in the first place. 

Moreover, if we consider the speculated lists as being related to issues of sexual assault rather than an issue of discrimination, the language of the email is not only tone-deaf, but disvalues efforts survivors are making in order to feel safe on campus. When read in the likely common context of the issue of sexual assault, the email seems to place the value of inclusion of sexual predators on campus over the right of survivors to feel safe within their own student organizations. 

This is not to say that the hypothetical lists could not be abused to discriminate against innocent members on campus. It is to say, though, that these lists could likely be a way students in organizations are trying to stay safe and protect each other from sexual harassment on campus. And if we approach them as such, or at least as a more complex issue than student inability to follow formal campus procedures as the email tries to do, we have a better chance of truly addressing campus safety in the most effective and comprehensive way. 

That being said, it feels that this email was extremely short-sighted toward the Colgate student body. Either the administration is so aloof to the problem that they didn’t think to consider the deeper implications of what they were writing, which I don’t believe, or they purposely overlooked the complexity and implications of the use of hypothetical internal lists in order to exclude themselves from their role in deeper issues regarding campus safety. I believe it is the latter.

If the Colgate administration is honestly concerned with campus safety and not just trying to exempt the administration from any responsibility regarding the issue at hand, then they must rebuild trust with the Colgate student body. The first step in that process, I believe, is issuing an apology email for this deeply problematic and offensive addressing of “the use of internal lists.”