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Loyola students address gender violence in letter to Linnane

Loyola students address gender violence in letter to Linnane

On July 6, a group of Loyola students posted a letter to social media, addressed to President Rev. Brian F. Linnane, regarding the University’s role in opposing gender violence. Posted to a chapter Do Better Campaign Instagram account attributed to Loyola students, the letter appeared alongside a petition titled “Do Better Loyola – Letter to Father Linnane,” that offers an opportunity to sign the letter in support of its items. 

The letter is signed by seven past and present Loyola students: Flor Paniagua-Peart ‘21, Julia Hendricks ‘21, Lauren Cassella ‘21, Lea Petratos ‘23, Emma Sarazin ‘22, Kelley Chan ‘22, and Michael DiBianca ‘18. Additionally, these authors emphasized that additional students and community members can sign the letter in the form of the aforementioned petition. 

The authors explained that the systems in place to address gender violence are outdated and need to be reformed. 

“Survivor-centered, trauma-informed response efforts along with multifaceted and intentional change at social and institutional levels must be prioritized,” they said.  

In the letter, it is mentioned that a statement was released by the Title IX office on June 29 that addressed the recent outpouring of experiences shared by present and former Loyola students via the Do Better Campaign’s official Instagram. In this statement, the University’s Title IX representatives said that they “hear and acknowledge” the experiences and plan to undertake prevention efforts. 

“What this message fails to do, however, is put the real problem into words: that college campuses— Loyola in particular— have broken cultures perpetuated by broken social environments and administrative processes that make cases of gender violence hard for survivors to come forward,” the authors said.  

The letter further explained that problems cannot be addressed without taking proper steps, including acknowledging the existence of gender violence and the trauma it causes. The authors directly called on Linnane to use his position to set a different tone on campus. They explained that the presence of rape culture on campus must be dismantled in place of a culture that prevents abuse and protects survivors.

“We believe that a statement from you [Linnane] acknowledging these issues as they relate to gender violence on campus, expressing commitment to the specific demands outlined below, and setting a consistent tone of condemnation and honest acknowledgement is essential to positive, sustainable changes. We are publicly challenging you and Loyola to do better,” they said. 

The letter included actionable items for the University to consider moving forward. The following is a summary of the proposed reforms: 

  • It is requested that survivors who share their stories be given validation as a first response. The letter explained that the University’s administration and Campus Safety have allegedly used victim-blaming language in the past. The authors called for a new focus, instead: prevention efforts and punishing perpetrators. 
  • The Counseling Center should be required to meet with survivors along any timeline, rather than being restricted to 8 weeks. 
  • Every time an incident of sexual assault is reported to the Title IX office, an alert of that report should be sent to the community. It is said anonymity should be maintained, but alerts will remind students to stay vigilant, respect others, and emphasize that sexual assault is a crime. 
  • It is requested that Loyola invests in trauma-informed training for Campus Safety, faculty, staff, and students. Additionally, the authors asked that Loyola invests further into expanding the crisis management team and confidential resources for survivors on campus, as well as provide more funds for sexual health resources.
  • The authors asked that advocate-oriented resources be expanded, namely The Women’s Center. More staff should be trained to advocate for and validate survivors, enforcing the concept that reaching out to an advocate is a legitimate first step. 
  • Campus Safety should be more representative of the community by having more officers of color, women officers, and officers with experience with working with trauma survivors. It is suggested that more officers with backgrounds in social work be hired rather than those with formal police training. 
  • It is requested that campus police actively patrol buildings across campus in an effort to deter perpetrators from targeting those who are alone. 
  • The authors suggested that students under Title IX investigation be temporarily suspended from their roles in campus organizations during the course of the investigation and appeal process and permanently suspended should they be found guilty. 
  • Student leaders of organizations and athletics should communicate allegations of misconduct to the administration. The authors also requested more engagement from athletic programs in the fight against gender violence. 
  • It was also proposed that there should be greater academic support for survivors. This includes extensions and the ability to remove perpetrators from classes. The letter noted that support should also exist outside of academic settings, and that advocates should be available to report sexual violence to, enabling the option for survivors to not be alone. 
  • In acknowledgement of the elimination of the Title IX guideline that required schools to enforce a 60-day timeline for investigations, the letter urged Loyola to still commit to a reasonable timeline for investigations. It was also ruled that campuses are no longer required to investigate misconduct that occurs off-campus. The letter noted that this poses a problem for Loyola students, as gender violence can occur at bars, off-campus housing, and other locations. In addition, updated Title IX rulings allow schools to opt out of Title IX requirements if they claim religious exemption. The Department of Education also now allows universities to define consent. The letter urged Loyola to define consent as something that can only be given as a “Yes” and that is provided in explicit, sober, and informed circumstances. Additionally, the authors called on the University to enforce  more rules of conduct with their students than what is currently being required at the federal level.
  • The letter also requested more funding that supports gender violence prevention and education. This funding can be used to facilitate training for faculty, staff, and students on topics such as sexual education. It was also proposed that more funding and resources be devoted to red-zone awareness programming at the beginning of each year, as many of the allegations that surfaced on the Do Better Campaign’s Instagram account occurred early on during a student’s first semester or year at Loyola. 
  • The letter proposed that there should be a conversation on power, privilege, and oppression by an expert in gender violence during First-Year Fall Welcome Weekend. Furthermore, the authors suggested that a larger conservation take place regarding consent and gender violence in small groups during orientation, rather than the large community presentation that normally takes place. 
  • The writers also requested that educational efforts recognize and address the role that hegemonic masculinity plays in rape culture. 
  • The letter proposed that the changes outlined should be made in consultation with experts in subjects such as trauma-informed care and prevention.
  • A request was also made that Linnane, in addition to faculty, staff, and the administration, read the ​stories posted by the Do Better Campaign
  • The last actionable item outlined in the letter was a request for a meeting with Linnane to facilitate a conversation about changing the culture at Loyola. 

The conclusion of the letter reiterated the University’s recognized commitment to its members, and the need for student voices to be centered. 

“The systemic issues that perpetuate gender violence exist whether we are in our home towns and cities or on the Evergreen campus. The difference, though, is our Evergreen campus uniquely belongs to us, and we have the power to radically influence every corner of it,” the authors said.

The letter noted that Loyola prides itself on Jesuit core values and their commitment to fighting injustice. 

“It’s time to see Loyola University Maryland enact this when it comes to the way we treat students affected by gender violence,” the letter said.

Students and community members have the opportunity to find the full letter and sign it in the form of a petition by clicking this link.

Keep up-to-date with The Greyhound for updates on this story.

UPDATE 7/11/2020:

On July 9, the following was posted to the Loyola-affiliated Do Better Campaign account, @dobetterloyola, regarding edits to the original proposals:

“In our recent letter to Father Linnane we included multiple demands regarding public safety/campus police. We recognize it was not our place to make demands regarding public safety/campus police without consulting Black, Indigenous, and POC led organizations on campus. We also recognize that our clarifications were hollow, and the correct course of action is to address the reasons why that clarification needed to be made in the first place.

We are retracting our demand for more active officers from both our petition and letter. Currently we are taking steps to become more inclusive and will continue to do so. This feedback was and is necessary for the betterment of our movement and its intersectionality. We are genuinely grateful.”

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Loyola students address gender violence in letter to Linnane