By: Shalom Maleachi ‘17
On Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2016, students and faculty of Gordon College received an email in their inboxes titled “It’s On Us” and Gordon College. The email, sent by Vice President for Student Life Jennifer Jukanovich, intends to notify the campus community about an impending Boston Globe article focused around the issue of sexual assault on Gordon’s campus. In it, students and faculty are directed via hyperlink to a media statement the College has pre-emptively issued in response to the yet-to-be-released article.
An article published on such a sensitive topic would certainly cause some disquiet—and understandably, College officials may desire to ‘buffer’ the impact by preparing students of what to expect. This is acceptable and potentially helpful. Yet, I find something just as disquieting in the way Gordon College has elected to do so, as the notice sent to students and faculty was not a helpful notification, but an apologetic defense instead.
First, to note: I am not here to question the good work and commitment to improvement the College has pledged to—these things will prove their quality in due time. What I am here to question is why the College felt the need to issue a statement in response to an article that no one, to the date of the email, has even glimpsed. Why the need to state from the get-go that the College “may take strong issue with the narrative and the viewpoints that are likely to be expressed in this article”? Why the need to direct the student and faculty perception one way or another from the outset? This feels akin to writing a book review based merely on a reading of the cover summary.
What might drive our College to assume a defensive posture prior to any provocation? Perhaps, we can start to discern what underlies by analyzing the points of the defense offered before us. In the interest of the word limit, only two significant points will be offered below, though much more could be said.
The first point revolves around the College’s need to assert their inability to correct “several significant inaccuracies” that the Boston Globe has presented to them in an email sent on September 30th (note: it is ethical for newspapers to notify and seek comment from every party involved in an investigative journalism piece).
It is quite true that FERPA limits what the College can and cannot say at a legal level, and it is quite understandable that the College may find itself in a difficult situation when certain points are pressed. That said, to jump from such situation to claim that it is likely that whatever is produced in the article overall will prove untruthful is a logical stretch.
Furthermore, there seems to be an assumption made by the College that they themselves have a full account of student narratives, ignoring the fact that students—particularly survivors—may be more comfortable, if they have indeed been dissatisfied with their experience with Gordon’s internal investigation, to speak to a third party. For the College to discount the validity of a yet-to-be-published article that was crafted with numerous students’ input feels, to many of my contributing peers, delegitimizing and rather dubious.
The second point revolves around the College’s need to assert that they are “grateful that reported incidents here fall well short of what many secular institutions grapple with regularly.” There is no doubt that a low rate of sexual violence, though not as ideal as a rate of zero, is something to be proud of. What the College fails to seemingly recognize in making this statement, however, is the fact that Gordon College, as a Christian college, has some peculiar factors that arguably make it harder for students to come forward with reports of sexual assault. This is a struggle not unique to Gordon College—many other schools within the CCCU, too, have struggled with an atmosphere of non-reporting and shame heightened in part by an unhealthy presentation of purity culture (something which is a wider issue in Christian circles).
From personal knowledge, I can attest to the fact that there are still many incidents unreported, with reasons for hesitance ranging from distrust in the administration to complex social pressures. To compare Gordon College with a secular institution is a vacuous point, and one that smacks as disingenuousness to many as it can be read as a tactic of misdirection, as an unwillingness to squarely deal with student dissidence.
All in all, to the disappointment of many students, our College administrators seemingly fail to recognize the environmental and historical context surrounding this issue at Gordon College. The issuance of such a defensive and seemingly face-saving statement in response to an unreleased article comes across like a slap to the face of survivors at this school to whom mishandling was the felt reality.
Ultimately, if past wrongs do exist, they need to be admitted to and not glossed over if significant steps forward are ever to be made. If our College is unable to admit to wrongdoings committed (intentionally or unintentionally) in the past and sincerely seek forgiveness—or at least, if they are unable to approach with humility and openness reports from parties that feel let down—any efforts to improve will ultimately be overshadowed by an unaddressed distrust.
To end, I would invite us all to hold our College to their own words: if it is true that the College has “established meaningful relationships with our campus community,” and if it is true that they “take great pride in working with our students to address these issues,” then they should feel secure in trusting both that the community can think and ask questions for themselves, and that any confession will received in grace and truth.