After Suspension, Pomona Sexual Assault Survivors Advocates Hit Back at College Administration

After Pomona College’s administration announced that it would suspend the Pomona College Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault (Pomona Advocates) program—a student-run group which aims to support survivors of sexual violence and promote consent—on grounds of legal and confidentiality issues, both the Advocates and the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), the student body government, criticized the lack of transparency in the decision. Pomona Advocates issued a statement on its Facebook page, and ASPC held a forum with Pomona administrators—including Title IX Coordinator Sue McCarthy—who were involved in the decision.

Pomona Advocates stated that “over the summer we were informed that our confidentiality status was in jeopardy and that Advocates would need to complete a 40-hour Project Sister training in order to legally remain a confidential resource. We were told by Title IX Coordinator Sue McCarthy that the training would take place in October and were given dates and times.”

However, the training never took place because of an error in scheduling:

“Several Advocates designed their Fall Semester schedules to accommodate this training before learning that McCarthy had given us the wrong information. As such, no Advocates were able to complete the training thus stripping us of our confidentiality status.”

As a result, the Advocates said that “[they’ve] not had access” to the Advocates budget.

“We are a nonhierarchical organization that currently operates with four subcommittees, only one of which requires its members to have confidentiality status. By revoking their support of the Advocates, the administration is actively opposing programming, peer-to-peer education, and on-campus activism,” the statement added, also accusing the administration of lacking transparency in the decision:

“As a member of the SVIP Support Subcommittee, this decision was never discussed or even alluded to in our meetings.”

At the forum held by ASPC—which was attended by approximately 100 students and many Advocates—the student government stated that no ASPC members knew that the announcement to suspend the Advocates program except from the Director of Title IX.

McCarthy stated that when Pomona College’s President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Violence Intervention and Prevention (PAC-SVIP) was conducting research on sexual violence on campus, concerns about the confidentiality about how the Advocates operated arose. McCarthy stated that the administration worked with the Advocates over the fall semester “to make sure they have the privilege of confidentiality,” adding that the privilege of confidentiality exempts the Advocates from the Clery Act on campus security disclosure.

The administrators also emphasized that the decision was not made lightly, adding that there were “more specific concerns of highly confidential nature” that they could not share relating to the accountability and support for the Advocates.

“These concerns aren’t specific to Advocates… [they are] problems that presently revolve around a lack of structure for support and supervision,” McCarthy continued.

McCarthy stated that “we need to pause to re-establish these things..we will in fact get more funding in the future [for the Advocates program]…we [do not] want students to lose jobs [through student employment in the Advocates program].”

When an Advocate attending the forum questioned whether this decision would help survivors of sexual assault “navigate an already complex system on campus,” McCarthy responded by saying the “process will be collaborative…things that have to be in place like complying with laws.”

“At every turn we tried to communicate with this administration…We will continue to support every survivor we can even though we’ve been put in this position,” an Advocate added.

“How can you say you support survivors, but you are disbanding the organization that support survivors,” an Advocate questioned.

McCarthy shot back, saying that “I want it to be clear the program isn’t being disbanded. We’re taking a step back and looking at recommendations. We can hire advocates this spring, train them a week before school starts, with housing and meals provided.”

“There is a law about whether someone can be confidential or not if something went to court,” McCarthy added. “There is institutional advocacy and community advocacy—very different and important not to conflate when supporting a survivor…anybody providing counselling requires supervision.”

However, a main grievance of the Pomona Advocates was that the administration lacked transparency when making the decision. “You probably could have told the Advocates in advance. In fact some found out through email, it’s laughable, it’s disgusting,” one Advocate told McCarthy at the forum.

McCarthy concluded the forum by listing off alternatives to the Advocates program, such as Monsour Counselling, the EmPOWER Center, and the Project Sister Family Services. However, Advocates pointed out that these services are often underfunded.

“Avis Hinkson and Sue McCarthy, among others, decided to make this announcement without adequate preparation for what the alternative might look like. We believe that a deeply-rooted lack of trust in the Pomona College administration will compromise Dean of Students’ ability to serve students in the same way that the current Advocates program does,” the Advocates stated to conclude its Facebook statement.

Liam MacDonald contributed reporting.

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