On Monday, Kenyon College alum Michael Hayes published an open letter to his alma mater regarding the alleged rape of his sister, a current student. In the letter, shared on Facebook over 800 times, Hayes claimed Kenyon dropped his sister’s case despite overwhelming evidence of a nonconsensual encounter—including “documented injuries, a bed stained with her own blood,” and the fact that Chelsie identifies as a lesbian. She withdrew from Kenyon this week.
With her consent, Hayes wrote that his sister Chelsie was taken to the hospital following a November 7, 2015 assault, and criticized the administrative process that followed:
And now, at the end of April, the process has officially concluded with the rejection of an appeal by a 19-year-old young woman who was sexually assaulted in her dorm room—in and out of consciousness—after drinking a bottle of wine, a couple of beers at the Cove, taking her three prescribed medications, and falling asleep in a residence hall that I, too, had lived in when I was her age, by a boy who insisted to her and to others that she was “too cute to be a lesbian.” Despite her documented injuries, a bed stained with her own blood, her sexual orientation, and the combination of that much alcohol and prescription medication in her body, the college concluded—both initially and on appeal—that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that it was more likely than not that the college’s policy on sexual assault had been broken at all.
Hayes, who along with his sister was raised in Gambier, the tiny Ohio town housing Kenyon’s campus, wrote that Chelsie, who was a sophomore, was considering suicide following the alleged assault. “Kenyon has betrayed my trust—a trust with the strength of 23 years,” the letter concludes. “Kenyon failed my little sister in a way that I, with her permission, refuse to be silent about.”
(I should note that I’m an alum of Kenyon myself, but did not previously know any of the individuals involved here.)
In an email to Jezebel, Hayes added the process “infuriated” him because he believed there was quite a bit of evidence in his sister’s favor, including medical analyses that he said confirmed “Chelsie’s inability to consent given the reactions of her specific medications and alcohol consumption.”
One SANE [Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner] nurse read the initial investigative report and was floored when she detected dozens—literally dozens—of errors during her first read-through! An analysis of the wounds was straightforward and unambiguous, and it escapes me how a bed covered in blood did not merit due consideration in the final adjudication.
The rejection was issued on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that it was more likely than not that my little sister’s rapist (1) knew or should have known that she was incapacitated and (2) that he failed to obtain “mutual and affirmative consent for each sexual activity.” It took my breath away. Would a reasonable person believe that a 19-year-old young woman dismissed her sexual orientation for the first time in her life to consent under the influence to sexual activities that resulted in physical injuries and a blood-stained bed?
When reached for comment, Kenyon spokesman Mark Ellis declined to comment on the above allegations, as well as those raised by Hayes’ letter, citing federal privacy laws. Jezebel was unable to obtain documentation corroborating the claims in the letter.
Chelsie Hayes, who was on the women’s soccer team at Kenyon and has been dating her girlfriend for nearly two years, declined to discuss the alleged assault itself. She told me over the phone that “reliving that night is something that I’ve been trying not to do.”
According to Chelsie, she had very little motivation to take any kind of action following the alleged assault: “I didn’t have the strength to pursue anything, really.” Her girlfriend convinced her to go to the hospital, and contacted Kenyon’s Title IX coordinator on her behalf. Afterwards, she said, “I didn’t leave my room at all. There were a few weeks when I didn’t get out of bed. I just didn’t feel comfortable being around a lot of people.” She added that she didn’t feel safe on campus during the months-long investigation.
Chelsie said that she trusted the investigators during the process, and that the initial findings of the proceedings, and results on appeal, were like a “slap in the face.”
Hayes’ Wordpress post includes a number of comments from alums and parents of alums who shared similar experiences. One wrote: “I never reported and my rapist ended up becoming an SMA [Sexual Misconduct Advisor]”; another wrote that after surviving an assault in 2012, her daughter was discouraged by the police from pressing charges “and the hospital ‘lost’ all of the rape kit evidence.”
In a brief phone conversation, Cayla Anderson, Class of 2018, told Jezebel that Hayes’ letter has “helped to broaden the conversation on campus surrounding sexual assault and Title IX issues.”
Anderson and several other women on campus have organized a sit-in in the campus dining hall today; the Facebook invite reads that the sit-in was organized “to show our support for the many survivors of sexual assault who have been mistreated and silenced by the student body and administration alike.”
According to The Kenyon Collegian, copies of Hayes’ letter were seen posted to professors’ office doors in Ascension Hall, which houses several academic departments. The Collegian also reports that two students, Jackie Dicks and Hannah Farr, both Class of 2019, met with Kenyon civil rights coordinator Andrea Goldblum seeking a response to the letter. Goldblum reportedly explained the college’s Title IX policy, after which the students felt that “there are still a lot of unanswered questions.” (As of publication, Goldblum did not respond to a request for comment.)
“Of course I respect rights to privacy and the laws that are in place, and I don’t intend on demanding Kenyon break them—that would be absurd,” Farr wrote of their conversation with Goldblum in an email to Jezebel. “At the same time, it is frustrating to know that I can’t help fix dissatisfactory policy without knowing for sure where it is broken.”
In an email to class representatives obtained by Mic on Tuesday, Kenyon College president Sean Decatur declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations:
“Over the past 24 hours, the Kenyon community has been made sensitive to issues regarding sexual misconduct. I and no other College administrator can comment on any student conduct case of any type. To do so violates the rights of privacy, and would, in turn, multiply the pain felt by everyone involved. This may seem to some that the College is hiding behind the law, but I believe that this is simply the right thing to do.”
Decatur went on to say that “sexual assault is absolutely unacceptable, here or anywhere,” and that “each Kenyon student has the right to pursue their education, growth and development without obstacles created by sexual assault.”
“I understand the sensitivity of these cases, and how discussing instances of assault can often violate the privacy of those involved. But if the president of the college will not take responsibility, who will?” sophomore Carolyn Ten Eyck wrote on campus blog The Kenyon Thrill. “There is clear evidence, over and over again, that cases of sexual assault on this campus do not result in fair outcomes for those attacked.”
Just under 10 percent of 338 Kenyon students (Kenyon’s total population is about 1,600 students) who responded to the HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate survey in 2015 reported having been the victim of sexual assault at Kenyon; of the approximately 150,000 students who participated in the survey at universities across the U.S., nearly a quarter of undergraduate women said they had been physically forced (or threatened with force) into nonconsensual sexual contact.
In 2014, Kenyon was one of 23 schools that advocacy organization Know Your IX accused of violating the The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, an amendment to the Clery Act, which requires universities to track and disclose the number of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking reports they receive annually. The Collegian disputed that the College was in violation of the Clery Act, while administrators cited miscommunication as a possible cause for reporting discrepancies; a Kenyon representative told The Huffington Post that the school “will continue to work with federal officials to make a good faith effort, as required, to include incident reports required by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.”
The latest annual security report, which included eight cases of rape on Kenyon’s campus and in student housing in 2014, can be found here; the report does not include any further details on these incidents, including how the complaints were reported or adjudicated, or what the outcomes were.
As Mic points out, Hayes’ letter is just one of a number of recent examples of students publicly protesting the circumstances surrounding their schools’ sexual misconduct adjudication process, from Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress project at Columbia to the posters that recently dotted Yale’s campus, accusing the basketball team and administration of “supporting a rapist.”
Accused students are becoming increasingly vocal as well; according to CBS News, at least 75 men accused of sexual assault have sued their schools since 2013, including the accused perpetrators in the Columbia and Yale cases mentioned above (Paul Nungesser, found “not responsible” for Sulkowicz’s rape, is suing the school for allowing her to protest against him; Jack Montague, who was expelled for sexual assault in March, announced plans to sue Yale in order to “vindicate his rights”). A similar lawsuit against Kenyon was dismissed in 2014.
In a second email sent to Kenyon’s student body on Wednesday evening obtained by Jezebel, President Decatur announced an audit of the College’s Title IX policies and procedures:
We have confidence in the Title IX policy and procedures that were put in place on July 1, 2016, and developed with input from all corners of the campus community, with the help of legal counsel and experts in the field and with the approval of the Campus Senate, the Faculty and the Kenyon College Board of Trustees. Notwithstanding this, over the past two days, some have raised serious questions about our policies and practices, and I believe that the best way to respond is with an honest, independent and thorough assessment. To accomplish this, Kenyon will engage an independent firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of the College’s Title IX policy, procedures and outcomes. Findings and recommendations from this review will be shared with the community at the conclusion of the process.
In the announcement, Decatur noted that direct input from the Kenyon community, including students, will be included in the audit, and added that “Although this audit will confidentially review case files, such an audit cannot be a reinvestigation and existing decisions will not be overturned. I also want to emphasize that the privacy of everyone involved will be carefully maintained.”
Chelsie—who is now applying to Ohio State University and plans to pursue a nursing degree—told me that her peers at Kenyon have been hugely supportive since the letter was published, albeit in a way that underscored how much has been left unsaid on campus.
“I’ve had I don’t even know how many people message me, telling me that they were sexually assaulted as well,” she said. “That was kind of eye-opening. You hear of lawsuits and stuff, but you don’t hear about the little cases, people don’t talk about it. So when people were telling me that this happened to them, I was just like, ‘Really?’ I had no idea, I really had no idea.”
Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly attributed a quote to Jackie Dicks instead of Hannah Farr. The post has been updated to reflect this.
Image via Flickr/Larry Miller.