We are the leaders of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a student club on campus that works to educate students and advocate for issues surrounding gender equality. With the Department of Education actively removing protections for survivors of sexual assault and the #MeToo movement taking hold across the country last February, we organized SBUToo, a march in support of the #MeToo movement.
Our goals for the march were twofold: to raise awareness on campus about the issues of sexual harassment and assault, and to pressure the Stony Brook administration to enact specific policies that support the rights of survivors of all genders. Despite Stony Brook’s purported commitment to gender equality, with its frequently touted HeForShe university status and Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, we had deep concerns about Stony Brook University’s history of mishandling sexual misconduct cases. During December of last year, following reports that the Stony Brook Hospital had settled three sexual harassment cases, President Stanley said in a widely posted video that he was “standing up for women in the fight to end sexual harassment.” We created the march in part because we intended to hold him and the university to that commitment.
Stony Brook has a long and sordid history with alleged Title IX violations. In 2014, Stony Brook was one of 76 universities that the Department of Education said it was investigating for possible Title IX violations. In January 2015, SBU graduate student Sarah Tubbs sued Stony Brook for Title IX violations, alleging “deliberate indifference” from Stony Brook officials during the disciplinary process for her sexual assault. Among her more disturbing allegations were complaints about the Title IX process at Stony Brook, including University Police Department (UPD) officers saying she did not fight back sufficiently during her assault, Community Standards officers asking her to cross-examine her attacker during the disciplinary hearing and taking almost twice the standard 60 days to conduct and conclude the investigation.
This January, both Stony Brook Women’s Swimming and Diving Head Coach, Janelle Atkinson, and Assistant Coach, Jordan Bowen, were quietly let go without explanation. These firings followed reports that Atkinson had, for months, subjected her players to verbal, emotional and mental abuse, telling players that they were faking their mental illnesses, ignoring players’ physical injuries during practices, threatening to take away players athletic scholarships and spots on the team and making light of a player’s previous sexual assault. Despite numerous complaints from players to Stony Brook Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron over three months, nothing was done.
Most recently, Stony Brook University has been the subject of another Title IX lawsuit brought by former SBU graduate student Erin Mosier. In it, Mosier has said that her advisor, SBU history professor, Lawrence Frohman, repeatedly sexually harassed her in class, mocked her intelligence because of her blonde hair and gaslit her in private, denying he made inappropriate comments. After learning of Mosier’s Title IX complaint against him, Frohman hired a private investigator to harass her friends and smear her character. After being told by the Title IX office that “we can’t guarantee your safety,” Mosier resorted to having friends escort her around campus and eventually transferred to SUNY Old Westbury to finish her program.
Particularly upsetting is that, in all of these situations, these students did nothing wrong. Tubbs made an official report of her assault to UPD within two days of her assault and went through the university disciplinary process to prosecute her assailant. Members of the women’s swim team repeatedly had meetings with SBU Athletics Director Shawn Heilbron to complain about Atkinson’s misconduct. Mosier, after telling both Frohman and her department chair that his comments were inappropriate, went through the Title IX disciplinary process in good faith.
The process failed both Tubbs and Mosier, and in retrospect, Tubbs said she encourages other survivors of assault at Stony Brook to go to outside police forces rather than reporting through the internal Stony Brook process. Both have expressed hope that their lawsuits will help other survivors reporting their assault or harassment through the Title IX disciplinary process. If Stony Brook is unresponsive to the complaints of students and faculty, as well as the widespread impression that the Title IX department cares more about the university’s liability than justice for survivors, perhaps they will be more receptive to alumni, donors and prospective students who press them on this issue.
It doesn’t have to be this way for survivors at Stony Brook. We could recommend steps that the university can take, including the re-installation of in-person trainings on sexual harassment, implicit bias training for all faculty and staff and amendments to the Title IX process in the Code of Student Conduct to make it more student focused. A common complaint of both Tubbs and Mosier’s lawsuits, one shared by many students, is uncertainty about the disciplinary process and investigations that, often without explanation, take much longer than the prescribed 60 days. This results in both the accused and accusing parties having their lives put on hold for months at a time, even over multiple semesters, with the Title IX office often failing to respond to questions about the status of one’s case and when the investigation is expected to end.
We deserve transparent and responsive Title IX and Community Standards offices that give affected students updates on the time length of their investigation, explanations for as much as they are able to disclose about why an investigation will take longer than 60 days and a thorough explanation of the entire process. Additionally, a mandatory class on consent should be created for those found guilty of lower level sexual misconduct offenses who are not expelled or suspended. Instead of the currently allowed mere written or verbal warning, this would be a response that directly addresses the underlying misconduct as is standard with academic dishonesty and drug offenses, one rooted in the principles of education and restorative justice. Stony Brook could, as suggested by faculty groups such as the Concerned Women of College of Arts and Science, refuse to give professional benefits to faculty credibly accused of misconduct and establish greater diversity within the higher levels of Stony Brook administration. A campus dedicated to supporting survivors would have one or more specialists at Counseling and Psychological Services explicitly advertised for their expertise in treating trauma from sexual assault. As modeled by the creator of the #MeToo movement, the incomparable Tarana Burke, we could create spaces where survivors can come together for solidarity, a chance to share their stories and heal. Together, we could go far beyond.