Students petition, discuss anonymous op-ed with administration
Following the recent anonymous Thresher opinion and the ensuing campus conversations on sexual assault at Rice, students crowdsourced a petition and spoke openly with one another and the administration at the town hall held by the Student Association Senate.
Students met in the Will Rice College Private Dining Room Thursday night to compose a petition in response to the Thresher opinion, which described how the alumna’s assaulter had been allowed to graduate after being found in violation. Izzie Karohl, a sophomore at Will Rice, organized and mediated the event.
“I was planning on kind of writing it on my own, getting some friends to help, but then I kind of realized in the midst of getting these five or six or ten people from this one GroupMe that I’m not the voice for the Rice student body,” Karohl said. “That’s kind of when it turned into okay instead of just a petition that I’m going to write and send out and have everyone sign, I want a co-creative process.”
Students at the meeting reflected on the issues brought up by the opinion, then broke into small groups to discuss the changes they want to see from administration going forward. The second half of the meeting was devoted to crafting the petition before being released by Karohl the following morning.
“I’m hoping that in creating this petition, we’re keeping things actual and forward-thinking, and that it’s something that we can share with the broader Rice community,” Karohl said.
According to Karohl, by the following Monday, the petition had 952 signatures by current students, alumni and community members.
The SA Senate also held a town hall open to all students this past Monday at Farnsworth Pavilion. Also in attendance were representatives from the SAFE Office: Interpersonal Misconduct Prevention and Support, Associate Dean of Undergraduates Allison Vogt, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman and other administrators.
According to SA president Grace Wickerson in the first part of the town hall, administrators in attendance were asked to just listen to what students had to say and not to respond initially.
Wickerson and Kusha Gupta, Student Association Director of Interpersonal Violence Policy, a new temporary committee within the SA, sent an email out beforehand to inform students of this event and outline its purpose.
“We seek to create an open, respectful and supportive dialogue,” Wickerson and Gupta wrote. “This event is the start of a longer conversation.”
Students voiced their own experiences with sexual assault on campus and with Student Jucicial Programs’ policy, along with other questions and concerns related to these topics.
Frank Frankovsky, a senior and Rice Health Advisor at Hanszen College, said he believes that student distrust of SJP will also make it difficult for them to speak up to RHAs and Students Transforming Rice into a Violence-Free Environment liaisons.
“When I have people come to me about stalking or about sexual assault or something, I would like to tell them confidently that the best route to get justice could be through SJP,” Frankovsky said. “But this [opinion] coming out affects the RHAs and the STRIVE liaisons in ways that I will never know about because people will no longer come to me seeking justice, they will stifle their own experiences and get through it a different way.”
According to Laney Baker, the executive director of STRIVE, students should understand that there is a distinction between SJP and the SAFE Office.
“The SAFE Office is not SJP,” Baker said. “If you experience interpersonal violence or gender discrimination ... you can go to the SAFE Office, it does not mean you are in communication with SJP...The SAFE Office is there solely to support students and help guide them into resources that are correct for them.”
Emily Garza, the director of SJP, said that when she and Carrie Willard, the associate director of SJP, came into their positions, their top priority was making their office more approachable for students.
“We don’t want it to be like our office is just some black box; I heard that for years while I was here at Rice,” Garza said. “And I felt like we were making some headway, but clearly we’re not doing as much as we should be doing.”
Clara Kraebber, a sophomore and STRIVE liaison at Sid Richardson College, said that moving forward, SJP should find a way to improve the process of an SJP investigation for accusers.
“I think maybe a little bit more credence to the fact that survivors are probably triggered by going through cases of their assault is really important, especially if we want to encourage people to actually come forward,” Kraebber said.
Ashley Fitzpatrick, a sophomore and SA senator at Martel College, said protesters were quick to exclude student leadership from their plans out of fear that the leaders would inform the administration about them. According to Fitzpatrick, she and student leaders were upset by this automatic exclusion.
“We are all first students at Rice. A lot of us have been personally affected by this issue, some of us are survivors as well,” Fitzpatrick said. “It can be very disheartening to hear that these messages went out to private channels that say specifically ‘do not send this to your college presidents, do not send this to SA [executive board members], do not send this to your [chief justices] because they are not invited.’”
The petition was shown at the town hall. Students in attendance reviewed and discussed the demands listed on the document.
Baker said she was concerned about the idea of survivor support groups, which was mentioned on the second demand on the petition.
“I want to be careful when we talk about creating survivor support groups because to be quite frank, a lot of survivors do not want to be [revealed] as survivors,” Baker said. “Realistically, this is a small campus and as much as you can say who is in here stays in here and what is said in here stays in here, it’s a really gossipy campus. And so as we’re just thinking about this going forward, I want to make sure everyone is really keeping survivor privacy and survivor rights as our number one thing.”
According to a representative from the SAFE office in attendance, the SAFE Office has tried support groups five times in the past with only two total participants. She said, though, that they would be willing to try again in the future if it was what students wanted.
More from The Rice Thresher
Last month, a group of Black students published a list of demands for the administration to “address the systemic oppression and inequity that is embedded within Rice’s history by acknowledging and amplifying voices, experiences and communities that have historically been unheard.” One of the six demands is to remove Founder’s Memorial, the statue of William Marsh Rice found in the Academic Quad, on the basis of Rice’s enslavement of 15 people and involvement in the cotton trade. This demand received particular attention with “Down With Willy,” a student-led social media campaign to demand the administration remove the statue.
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Students returning to campus in the upcoming fall semester will have to adjust to a number of precautionary changes all subject to change, such as rearranged housing, bathroom schedules and mandated COVID-19 testing, implemented in efforts to protect against the spread of COVID-19, according to an email sent July 1 by Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman.