Throughout the past month, the public controversy surrounding sexual misconduct policy at Skidmore College has escalated. Students have been speaking out against Skidmore’s current policy via social media platforms, at the widely attended Readmission Protest on Friday, and at the open forum on Tuesday, March 24. However, the school administration has remained strangely silent in direct response to the protest.
It is commonplace for Skidmore students to learn more about the happenings on their own campus through local news reports, rather than from their school’s administration. This is not the first time Skidmore has remained quiet throughout conflict--this summer’s campus safety officer’s arrest for sexual assault went unaddressed by the school for months. The recent student break-in and robbery of Case Gallery and Skidshop went without comment, as well. And now, Reina Kiefer’s sexual misconduct case and readmission protest have been met largely with silence.
We recognize that Skidmore College is in a very challenging situation. No official statement will come anywhere close to resolving the issue at stake, but saying nothing is also saying something. The school’s silence insinuates a disconnect between the student body’s concerns and the administration’s awareness.
This lack of acknowledgement is because Skidmore is legally constrained in what they can and cannot say. Regarding ongoing investigations on campus, the school cannot confirm or deny that these investigations are even occurring. This is understandable. What is perplexing is why Skidmore doesn’t just very clearly express to its community that they cannot say much. If they simply explained why they couldn’t elaborate more on the issue, the Skidmore community would likely be far less critical of what the administration does say.
For example, on the evening of March 15, the day of the readmission protest, Skidmore’s official Facebook page posted the following update: “Today, Skidmore students gathered to raise awareness about sexual and gender-based misconduct on campus. We are proud of our students when they give voice and visibility to issues they feel strongly about. Skidmore has a strong sense of community, as evidenced by today's gathering.”
This status update was met with a largely negative response. In response to the school describing the protest as a “gathering to raise awareness,” Facebook commenters said the wording was “opportunistic and disingenuous” and “appalling,” and that they were “controlling words” but “too little too late.” They mocked Skidmore’s mention of their “strong sense of community” in light of the protest being an expression of students’ mistrust and dissatisfaction with the administration. Commenters also noted that sexual and gender-based misconduct on campus is an issue portrayed as something “they” (the students) care about, not something the administration cares about. Commenters also noted that actions speak louder than words, so the school being proud of students is irrelevant, and is simply “soft-pedaling” the issue. A few commenters agreed that the post was a “PR nightmare.”
This is an incredibly negative response to what appears to be a fairly vague, harmless Facebook update. If this were not the first time many students, community-members, and alums had heard a peep from Skidmore about the issue, it likely would not have received so much vitriol.
In a comment responding to the question of what the result of the readmission hearing was, Skidmore said “Federal privacy laws prohibit us from commenting on any specifics related to proceedings such as these.” So, why make a vague post skirting around direct acknowledgement of the issue? Why open up a conversation about the protest when they are aware they cannot follow through? And furthermore, why not just address these federal law constraints in a post itself--not in a comment?
Furthermore, it seems that many of Skidmore’s students and alumni do not recognize that according to Skidmore’s policy, they must offer suspended students a chance at readmission. The hearing held on March 15 was not a unique situation--it was done because of Skidmore’s protocol. Skidmore should acknowledge and explain this too. The Skidmore News recently published an article explaining Skidmore’s Sexual Misconduct Policy in detail, since we felt students were widely misinformed and confused about the school’s policy. More deliberate full disclosure on behalf of the school would surely dilute some of the animosity directed at Skidmore and would help students feel less in the dark about the goings-on of our own campus.
In the Facebook post, Skidmore addressed the protest about as supportively as they could have. However, without the knowledge of Skidmore’s legal constraints, the post did come across as exploitative of the protest, condescending to its participants, and certainly opportunistic in the way they did not acknowledge it as a protest directed towards the school, but still used it to reflect positively on the school’s student body and “sense of community.”
Skidmore has not altogether neglected to take action in the wake of student outcry. The school is hosting an online conversation about their sexual misconduct policy with alumni and parents on March 31, and they hosted an open forum for students on Monday, March 24. They have responded well to the student body’s concerns, but we would all benefit from more transparent statements from the school.