Since the release of the 2016 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, Georgetown University has failed to adequately address the rate of sexual assault on campus. In order to become the safe space it should be, Georgetown must implement reforms to its investigation process to better protect survivors and the campus community as a whole.
Georgetown’s lack of action on behalf of survivors is evident in its understaffed Title IX Compliance Office. The office, led by the Title IX coordinator, is meant to serve Georgetown students who have experienced discrimination on the basis of sex, harassment or sexual misconduct on campus; however, a pervasive lack of regard for survivors’ well-being renders them inadequate. The university gave no notice of full-time Title IX Coordinator Laura Cutway’s June 2018 departure, leaving survivors without an employee devoted solely to hearing and helping them file their complaints.
Following Cutway’s departure, Title IX Investigator Samantha Berner took on the coordinator role, in addition to her own, on an interim basis until a permanent replacement could be found. Student groups rightfully questioned the decision for Berner to occupy both the investigator and coordinator positions, as the workload and importance of each necessitated devotion to one role at a time.
But even survivors who do access Title IX services do not always receive adequate support. An anonymous piece published by The Hoya told one survivor’s recollection of Berner interrogating and disrespecting them, implying that their version of events was incorrect. The office failed to notify the survivor of their legal rights, and its consistent neglect of the survivors’ needs ultimately led the survivor to drop their case — an outcome they felt the office had wanted all along. Berner has now been the permanent coordinator since July 2019, solidifying her role as protector of survivors’ rights, something she clearly has done a poor job of in the past.
To give some perspective, it took Georgetown about the same amount of time to hire a Title IX coordinator as it took to build the Empire State Building. A nationwide search led them to a woman on the Hilltop who was openly questioned by a survivor. Students deserve better.
Distrust of the Title IX office extends beyond one survivor’s experiences. Three years after the 2016 survey, sexual assault remains prevalent on campus. As of 2019, just over 20% of undergraduate women at Georgetown believed it was “very” or “extremely” likely that officials would conduct a fair investigation of sexual assault, compared to the national average of 40%. This figure, coupled with the doubling of students who believe sexual assault is “very” or “extremely” problematic on campus, leads to a distressing conclusion: Students are becoming increasingly concerned about sexual misconduct and, despite increasing awareness of on-campus resources, they have little faith in administrative support.
University officials have touted the expanded Sexual Assault Response Team of the Georgetown University Police Department and a full-time clinician in Health Education Services dedicated to survivors, yet the rate of sexual assault remains constant. And while the university has demonstrated interest in preventing sexual misconduct from happening on campus, this care does not extend to survivors once the misconduct has occurred.
Another example of the university’s disregard for survivor well-being was revealed in the mismanagement of civil cases against members of the visible and lucrative basketball team. Active Metropolitan Police Department investigations brought accusations of harassment, burglary and assault against players to light; lack of transparency, administrative refusal to comment on the issue and a seemingly preferential treatment of high-profile students even prompted Georgetown faculty members to write a letter to University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95). They proposed reforms such as clarifying Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act limitations on discussing ongoing Title IX investigations and allowing the university to remove members of sports teams from classes during investigations, but with no official response from high-ranking members of the administration, Georgetown continues to derail substantive efforts to better its treatment of survivors.
Mishandling of these cases was not a blip in the pattern — it is the pattern. Consistent lack of transparency and support for survivors is the culture Georgetown has chosen. The administration must take more tangible action to accommodate the needs of survivors. Five-hour bystander training for new students is not a panacea. Implementing the reforms proposed by faculty members is just the first step in addressing this issue. Fundamentally changing the administration’s culture of suppressing survivors must be the next one.
Amanda Feldman is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Adam Shaham is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Hilltop Voices appears online every other Wednesday.