Thursday’s official release of the Margolis, Healy & Associates (MHA) report was heavy on cliches and light on specifics. MHA, hired by the College last spring, is a consulting firm specializing in “campus safety, security, and regulatory compliance.” In other words, they reap a profit off of Title IX confusion and by encouraging more labyrinthine university bureaucracies.
For months, the Swarthmore administration has avoided answering basic questions on the details of its sexual assault policies and adjudication process. For over a semester, the College has operated without a clear judicial policy for resolving alleged assault cases. At an open meeting in December, Dean of Students Liz Braun urged frustrated students to be patient and wait for the official report from MHA. Well, at long last, the MHA report is out. Let’s just say its advice is less than earth-shattering.
The assessment calls for conducting a “review” of college policies, creating yet another “taskforce,” and hiring more administrators. Name the problem – sexual assault, alcohol abuse, or Title IX violations – and MHA recommends one of these tired courses of action without bothering to go into much detail. It’s a wonder they were able to fill a 31-page report.
MHA also recommends “develop[ing] a comprehensive training plan” for “all members of the College community” to make sure students, faculty and staff are fully sensitized to issues surrounding sexual assault and are aware of “statements and behaviors that [might be] perceived as victim blaming.” Considering that we live on a campus where advocacy of free speech and due process is often perceived as victim blaming, the community should have cause to be wary of such a training plan, which seems eerily reminiscent of last year’s re-educative “teach-ins.” Who would be designing this training plan? Who would be running the training sessions? What other colleges, if any, have implemented this sort of plan effectively? MHA leaves these questions unanswered.
In its interviews with students, MHA claims that they heard frequent calls for “a set of articulated community values as part of a visible proclamation about the Swarthmore ethos.” The College should “work to ensure [the core values] are ingrained into every facet of College life,” including but not limited to Orientation, admissions materials, and student publications (hmm…including this one?). The language about permeating “every facet” of Swarthmore is downright creepy. It sounds an awful lot like a recipe for allowing the administration to punish students without actually charging them with any wrongdoing. We’ve been here before: Remember when Phi Psi allegedly infringed upon Swarthmore’s unwritten “values” and was suspended from holding social functions for half a semester? So we ask Margolis & Healy: What’s the advantage of using “values” to keep our community in line, instead of clearly articulated rules? Some of us are old-fashioned enough to have assumed the student handbook meant something.
Students should be outraged at the egregious waste of tuition dollars that went into the MHA report. After investing in a Dilbert-esque consulting firm that provided no new ideas, the administration is back to square one on overhauling its sexual assault policies and adjudication processes. How long will it take before the administration gets serious about reform?