McLoughlin’s Email Regarding Student Use of ‘Internal Lists’ Sparks Dialogue on Forms of Accountability and Safety Surrounding Sexual Violence

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains discussion of sexual assault and sexual violence.

Some names and other identifiers have been removed to ensure the safety and anonymity of student sources.

Student discourse around formal and informal mechanisms of accountability for sexual violence on campus escalated after Dean McLoughlin’s March 23 email to the student body on “internal lists” which he said are “being used to deny benefits of membership, entry or participation in activities or events, and to isolate and hold the listed students accountable without a fair and impartial judicial process.” Discussion in response to the communication from McLoughlin — Colgate’s Vice President and Dean of the College — sparked a multitude of emotions from students who feel informal student accountability provides a survivor-centric form of justice the school’s official procedures lack, though many pointed out the potential and actual harms of the use of these internal lists.

In an interview with the Maroon-News, McLoughlin defined “internal lists” as ones “either curated, managed, disseminated or used for an individual student,” further noting their origin as a means to combat or limit sexual assault and violence on campus in specific spaces. Additionally, he stated that his email was not a product of one “precipitating event,” but rather due to the frequency and prevalence of reports made by students and administrative deans regarding the use – or misuse – of these lists. 

McLoughlin also explained that he believes the use of these lists has been prevalent not just within fraternities and sororities but as well as frequently used by student-run organizations, clubs, and other campus groups.

“I really, truly mean not just fraternities and sororities. One of the most recent stories that I’ve heard is that there is a prominent student organization that also hosts student events … and students have been disinvited to those events,” McLoughlin said, “I think that it was the sort of prevalence of those reports to me both directly and indirectly.”

Each greek life organization appoints or elects internal Sexual Assault and Prevention Chairs that serve as support resources, as well as facilitate trainings within their organizations to educate members on issues of sexual assault and violence on Colgate’s campus and nationally. The Sexual Assault and Prevention Chairs (SAPAS) for fraternities and sororities unilaterally declined to comment on the allegations regarding their use of these ‘internal lists.’ 

While McLoughlin’s said his email was intended to raise awareness and condemn the use of these lists to discriminate against students based on gender identity, race, or sexual orientation, several students have expressed frustration with the lack of acknowledgement that these lists provide an alternative route for survivors to take action without enduring official or legal proceedings (Title IX reporting processes) in response to instances of sexual assault and violence. 

“The use of these lists is incredibly useful,” said a member of a non-university recognized social organization, who spoke with The Maroon-News on the condition of anonymity. “They allow survivors to air their concerns and have safe spaces without having to go through the trauma of officially reporting to Colgate and having nothing be done about their complaint.” 

A student unaffiliated with Greek life expressed a similar sentiment, saying that informal lists offer a far “more preferable way” to report instances of sexual assault and violence than Colgate’s mechanisms. This student also spoke with the Maroon-News on condition of anonymity. 

“There [are] pros and cons, but you don’t have to justify [an experience]; you don’t have to explain every single detail, which can be so traumatizing for sexual assault survivors,” the unaffiliated student said. “And if [the use of internal lists are] overcompensating, I would prefer that we overcompensate in that direction, rather than doing what I feel the school does, which is to completely ignore the problem.” 

“I have the ability to understand how difficult, in part, it is for sexual violence survivors,” McLoughlin said, acknowledging this perspective — one shared by many students. But he pushed back as well, saying that these lists are also being used in discriminatory – and potentially illegal – ways. 

“Lists throughout history have been used for all sorts of exclusionary reasons for people of religion, race, sexual orientation,” McLoughlin said. “I wanted to call people’s attention to a practice that I think has become normalized without people understanding the implication on an individual by adding into such a list.” 

A member of Greek life, who spoke with the Maroon-News on the condition of anonymity, echoed McLoughlin’s concerns regarding the misuse of these lists to not only enable discriminatory practices, but as a means to potentially exclude individuals on minimal to no grounds. 

“It used to be, like, the only people that were on the blacklist were people who’ve done heinous stuff and it was an issue of safety. And I think that [now] blacklists have more so been used as a means of attaining comfort in social situations,” the Greek affiliated student said. 

Several of these students, in addition to Dean McLoughlin, called attention to an alleged practice in which individuals are being put on internal lists with a “no-questions-asked” policy, when an individual makes a complaint regarding placing someone on a list for allegations of sexual assault and violence. 

“It’s so hard because going for a victim of sexual assault, going through the process, a trial process of any of any sort, is really traumatizing … but at the same time, it kind of has to be done that way in order to make sure that it’s being dealt with properly,” said the student affiliated with a Greek Letter Organization. “And so while I think placing someone on a list, no questions asked, can be a very good thing, it can also lead to a lot of confusion and a lot of hurt.” 

On the note of a “no-questions-asked” policy, McLoughlin also said he believes that this alleged practice removes any potential education or legitimate consequences from reconciling and handling situations involving sexual assault and violence. 

“For a lot of people who’ve come to me … they don’t even know why they’re on the list so there has been no education. And on the one hand, it protects students, they believe that it protects them in space,” McLoughlin said. “There is a cost to that for the other person that there has been no due process, no educational value, no understanding and that mental health and trauma that again … is experienced, and I’m not sure people recognize that.”

In addition to the issue of lacking education associated with a “no questions asked policy” and the subsequent bans of individuals from certain spaces, there has been concern among students that this practice then allows perpetrators the ability to inflict harm in other social spaces – outside of the ones from which they may be actively banned. 

“It’s not necessarily that putting a stop to someone’s actions, it’s putting a stop to someone’s actions in a specific spot,” another student who disaffiliated from a Greek Life Organization said in an interview with the Maroon-News on the condition of anonymity. “Predators who inflict violence or assault on individuals aren’t getting held responsible for their actions and are not being held accountable because it’s a hidden list only specified to specific organizations to keep that specific organization safe. That doesn’t necessarily seem fair to the rest of the Colgate community, and in my eyes, how can you only keep these individuals safe and protected against this known perpetrator on campus?”

When considering the use of these lists moving forward, the unaffiliated Greek life student also stressed the importance of utilizing these lists in such a way that allows for integrity and standards to be maintained, advocating a more clear distinction being made between uncomfortable and unsafe – especially making this distinction clear beyond only those who make these lists.

“This is a list for protection, and for making sure that people feel safe. And if we want this to continue being something that we we use, that we need to be making sure that we’re using it when you feel genuinely unsafe – which is not to say that we don’t want you to trivialize something that’s happened to you, or we don’t want you to think that that’s not important, it’s just that we need to make sure that we’re highlighting and creating a safe community for other students.” 

Several students also urged reflection on the need for SAPAS Chairs and the use of these lists in the first place as a means to report instances of sexual assault and violence without utilizing official university or criminal proceedings. 

“I think that the university needs to take more responsibility … because you’ve [university officials] essentially said, here’s a problem that we’re going to do nothing about that makes several students on campus feel unsafe, or go through traumatic incidents, and we’re doing nothing about it. And so you’ve essentially pushed the burden of doing something onto students, and then are now punishing them for how they will react to that burden being presented to them,” the unaffiliated student said.

Senior Nicole Weiss — co-founder of the Instagram account @shareyourstorycolgate, a platform for survivors to anonymously submit stories of sexual violence — said Colgate’s university standards and Title IX reporting processes are “inaccessible to many students and don’t go far enough to substantively protect and ensure justice for survivors.” 

“It argues that we shouldn’t believe survivors unless they’ve gone through a process that is not survivor-centric, such as Title IX. As a Share Your Story admin, should I not post submissions unless the survivor has gone through the Title IX process?” Weiss asked. “Students deserve the right to keep each other safe, as the university legally cannot do so.”

Examination of the use of these lists and how to better support students through these processes is of the utmost importance, Dean McLoughlin stated.

“My goal is really to work on creating solutions rather than thinking about punishment. My goal, believe it or not, is to work with students in a very positive space … I’m not here to get people in trouble; that’s so not fun for me. What I’m really wanting to do is to try to help people talk with one another and to work through these situations, to hold people accountable if they’ve done something wrong,” he said.

Among calls for evaluation and increased education for students, McLoughlin also mentioned the potential idea of creating a task force consisting of students, administrators, Haven professionals, and others, to make “interim measures” and resources better known to students. 

While there are efforts to improve these processes for both survivors and perpetrators, McLoughlin, along with several other students, expressed the notion that when dealing with such traumatic and harmful experiences, no process, policy or route of action will be entirely positive or beneficial.

“I think it’s inherently a process that just feels inconclusive even at its end, you know when it’s final, because it doesn’t remove the assault, right? And it either feels too harsh to the perpetrator or not harsh enough to the survivor,” McLoughlin added. 

Dawn LaFrance, assistant vice president of counseling and psychological services and director of sexual violence support, further echoed the feelings of many in remarking that the multitude of perspectives on the issue points to a need for change. 

“The internal lists have been used for many reasons, and in many groups. I know that the lists were originated to protect survivors, and that is a central mission of Haven’s work. However, the current challenges we are facing on this campus call for a different approach. I want justice for all survivors, as do my colleagues throughout the administration,” LaFrance said. “I also know that some students do not trust the systems in place to help them. I think that we should work together to better understand what processes are legally in place and where there is room to improve our ways of responding to sexual violence.”

For the unaffiliated student interviewed, the imperfections of official reporting procedures and of informal student processes point to a desperate campus-wide need for greater education on consent and sexual assault. These could come in the form of extensive sexual assault training for both students and administration, or even integrating these points into other aspects of the student experience such as core curriculums or orientations.

“While the lists aren’t perfect, obviously, neither is the university’s response currently to sexual assault, and I would prefer the list to what the university is doing,” the unaffiliated student said. “There’s gonna be issues with any approach. … I think that the idea of being like, ‘we’re going to crack down on lists,’ to me, feels like a very empty gesture.”

McLoughlin also encouraged the use of campus resources and a continuation of the dialogue currently ensuing. 

“Come talk to us because no contact orders are a possibility,” he said. “All these other options and interim measures are possible. And they’re making perhaps incorrect assumptions that this is their only recourse.”