We Need To Talk About… Protest For Justice For Sexual Assault Victims

AMANDA CIROCCO

 

COURTESY OF KIERTSEN GAULIN

COURTESY OF KIERTSEN GAULIN

Freshman Kiersten Gaulin feels as though she has experienced an injustice with regards to her alleged sexual assault case at Manhattanville College. Students of the College have shown Gaulin support, which lead to a peaceful protest that took place on Mar. 9.

In her interview with Touchstone, Gaulin, who has publicly voiced her story, gave the newspaper permission to print her name and shared what she states were the details of her case. However, Touchstone cannot independently verify her story. Additionally, while Touchstone doesn’t report the names of sexual assault victims, in this specific case Gaulin has decided to make her story public.

While Gaulin is able to voice her story, the College is prohibited from discussing specific cases, as this would violate FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) regulations. Although FERPA prevents the College from commenting on a specific case, in a statement released by President Geisler on the day of the protest, he assured students that the College “does not tolerate sexual discrimination in any form, which under the College’s Title IX policy includes sexual violence and sexual assault.”

Title IX states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded
from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Colleges are required to investigate allegations of sexual assault under Title IX.

The information for the protest was shared on several social media channels, encouraging posters and for students to wear red. Senior Chanda Pen Sar participated in the protest because she said she would hate to see her soon-to-be alma mater go through an investigation for mishandling Title IX.

“The protest was meant to stand in solidarity with all  sexual assault survivors across all college campuses,” said Pen Sar.

Senior Meghan Hughes also a ended because “I call myself a Valiant, and a Valiant supports what is right.”

Since the College is unable to directly discuss Gaulin’s case, there are several allegations Gaulin reported in our interview that the College has been unable to respond to. Geisler clarified in the statement:

“Several members of the Manhattanville community have recently asked about the College’s response to a case involving a student who has spoken out about how our Title IX office handled her sexual assault complaint…In terms of commenting on individual cases, however, the College must remain silent because of Title IX confidentiality requirements,” said Geisler.

Due to the tight deadline in releasing this issue, Touchstone will be following up with Manhattanville officials to discuss the allegations that Gaulin has expressed; a more in-depth story in regard to allegations and the Title IX investigation process will be published in the next issue. For this issue, Touchstone is strictly reporting on the events that have taken place.

While Gaulin has voiced that she feels her case was mishandled, the College is defending its decision. In Geisler’s statement he also stated, “In the case that has been referenced, I have no evidence to suggest that our Title IX office deviated from stated procedures at any stage.”

Pen Sar stated she extended a personal invitation to the protest to Vice President of Student Affairs Donna Eddleman, the Title IX Coordinator at Manhattanville. Pen Sar stated that Eddleman declined. Eddleman’s response via email as to why she declined was provided by Pen Sar, in which Eddleman stated:

“I support survivors of sexual assault, and I have a commitment to, and responsibility for the welfare of all Manhattanville students. I hope that, while I have not been here long, you and others have begun to see both of these things in the work that I have been trying to do. I hope too, that because of this work and my commitment, you will extend understanding and grace to me as I decline your request to take part in tonight’s protest. Your voice is a powerful voice, and I support you and others using it. I look forward to engaging in meaningful conversations as we move forward.”

While Pen Sar stated she thought it would have been great to have the presence of the Title IX Coordinator at the protest, according to Gaulin no faculty or administration participated in the protest.

“I only planned it [the protest] less than 24 hours from when it happened so it was hard to spread it around,” according to Gaulin.

Some students are wondering why the statement wasn’t sent out sooner, since Gaulin posted a petition over a month ago, and why it was posted on the College website, instead of being e-mailed to the students and faculty.

“UGALL [emails directly sent to all students and faculty] e-mails are more receptive to students, rather than the official Manhattanville website. I was disappointed that a statement in regards to sexual assault was not made via UGALL…. As a Communications student, not addressing this issue was a huge public relations mistake,” Pen Sar stated.

A College spokesperson was able to comment and address students concerns in the following statement:

“After receiving a couple of emails inquiring about the case in question, President Geisler wanted to make sure the community was fully informed about Manhattanville’s policies, procedures, and legal obligations. He decided the best way to do so was for him to swiftly release a public statement. That statement was posted on the College website on Mar. 9,” said a College spokesperson.
Gaulin organized the peaceful protest; according to Gaulin and Hughes roughly 100 people participated. However, a College spokesperson stated there was an official count of 25 to 30 students on the lawn outside of Reid Castle. Videos and photos surfaced on social media of the students chanting. The posters they carried during the protest were left outside of President Geisler’s house. The posters included taglines such as “stop blaming the victim,” “let our voices be heard,” and “you can’t ignore us.”

Gaulin alleged that she was raped by another student on Feb. 2 on campus grounds and allegedly reported on February 3rd. Specifically, in her case, Gaulin stated that the College said there was “insufficient evidence,” which kept her alleged rapist on campus. Due to the strict laws under FERPA, the College can’t con rm that Gaulin specifically reported this incident. While Gaulin didn’t mention Harrison Police’s involvement in her online petition, she told Touchstone that they alleged perpetrator was later arrested by Harrison Police, though Touchstone wasn’t able to independently con rm the arrest.

Gaulin took matters into her own hands; On Feb. 24 she published a public petition on change.org, “Stop Blaming The Victim’s [sic], And Start Blaming The Rapist.” When Gaulin’s petition was posted it immediately gained the attention of not only the Manhattanville community, but an array of supporters ranging all over the country extending their views on her case. As of Mar. 20, there
were over 860 electronic signatures. Additionally, there are accusations stated from several users commenting that they’ve had an issue of sexual assault mishandled while at Manha anville, but these speci c accusations have not been addressed by the College.

Touchstone is working diligently to speak with Manhattanville officials for the next issue addressing these accusations.

Hughes added, “I saw a student who needed help, and I couldn’t be afraid to speak up because if I were in her place, I would want someone to speak up for me. No one should have to be told there ‘wasn’t enough evidence.’ I’m a little confused about what Manhattanville considers ‘enough evidence.’’

Gaulin noted the petition was a “last resort,” and that she didn’t want this to be a public a air.

“I felt like I had no other option. This is not just about me,” said Gaulin. In her personal Facebook post, after the protest Gaulin thanked those who showed up, “Words cannot express how grateful I am to have the kind of support system you guys have given me…This isn’t the end.”

“This school prides itself on inclusion and activism, and I would be doing it a disservice by keeping quiet about something that I didn’t feel was right. It doesn’t ma er if you know the person or not, the best thing about Manhattanville is the sense of community, and we have to keep that alive by supporting each other,” Hughes said.

In the next issue, Touchstone will be conducting interviews with more Manhattanville officials in order to gain a clearer insight into the allegations by Gaulin and others, Title IX/ FERPA laws, and how Manhattanville looks to further communicate with the student body about sexual assault.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KIERSTEN GAULIN

PHOTO COURTESY OF KIERSTEN GAULIN

 

 

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