PSC students organize walk out to protest college handling of sexual assault, bigotry reports on campus
PAUL SMITHS — Dozens of Paul Smith’s College students walked out of their classes Thursday morning to protest the college’s handling of a variety of issues, particularly its treatment of queer students, handling of sexual assault and harassment cases involving students and faculty, and reports of racist incidents.
The “Enough is Enough” walk-out was organized by students. Some faculty and staff also attended. Students there said they were willing to take “absent” marks for the day’s classes so they could gather and shed light on issues they feel the college is not taking seriously.
College Provost Nicholas Hunt-Bull attended and said he believes the students’ concerns are valid, but that he attended to listen, not to talk.
The Enterprise spoke with a group of six people connected to Paul Smith’s College earlier this week — students, faculty, staff and former staff. All six either said someone they know at PSC has experienced sexual violence on campus, or they themselves have experienced it.
Orion Miller, a psychology student in his senior year who is the head of the PSC Pride Club, said every year he’s been at the college, he’s been involved in some Title IX case, whether it be his own or someone else’s. Title IX is a federal law protecting students from sexual harassment and discrimination.
Miller told his story to the group of students gathered on the Great Lawn on Thursday.
Within the first month of classes, he said he was sexually assaulted by a student who later stalked and harassed him. That student was in the crowd while he spoke, violating a “no contact” order, Miller later said.
Of the 112 students who replied to a college-commissioned survey following the Spring 2021 semester, 35% reported experiencing sexual violence on campus.
This is higher than the national average. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 26.4% of women and 6.8% of men have reported experiencing sexual assault in college. This could mean coercion, threats, rape or intoxication.
Of the 112 students who replied to the survey, 42% — 28 women, 15 men and four non-binary students — reported sexual harassment by faculty and staff. Fifty-nine percent — 35 women, 21 men and 7 non-binary students — reported experiencing sexual harassment by students.
Sexual harassment is defined as a few different things, ranging from crude sexual remarks, which around half of students reported experiencing, to unwanted touching or coercion, which around 17% of students reported experiencing.
RAINN reports that 5.8% of students experience stalking nationwide. At PSC, 45% of students responding to this survey said they’d been stalked in some way.
Sophie Mayhew, a sophomore, said looking at this data as a queer woman, she believes there is a 50% chance she will be sexually assaulted by the time she leaves college. That’s a tough statistic to know, she said.
She said she carries a knife whenever she has to walk somewhere at night.
Less than half of the students who replied to the survey said they believed the college would handle reports of sexual violence, harassment or stalking fairly.
Colleges, Paul Smith’s included, often handle sexual harassment and assault cases internally, which means police don’t always get involved.
When the college finds someone “responsible,” or guilty, some students said they feel those people are rarely reprimanded to the extent they’d expect, and those people sometimes can continue taking the same classes as them or violate “no contact” orders without punishment.
Several students shared stories of being raped, groped or stalked by fellow students.
Gabriel Shippee said the college cannot take “both sides” on these issues, when that puts students’ safety at risk. He spoke about the sexual violence he experienced at college.
“‘He will stop touching me if I just have sex with him,'” Shippee said he thought to himself. “And so, I was raped.”
“Most nights a week I would hear my roommate and … their friends using ethnic slurs, and specifically the word ‘f*****’ used repeatedly,” student Nick Sliter said earlier this week.
Sliter is a member of the PSC Pride Club.
He wrote his roomate a note and informed campus officials. He said a Title IX investigation was never suggested and that roommate still lives in a room in his suite.
“I have to see him every f****** day,” Sliter said.
When the college does take action, students said it causes inconvenience to the affected students more than the perpetrators, asking them to move instead of the person demeaning them with racist and homophobic slurs.
During Title IX trainings in freshman orientation, many students said they heard other newcomers make light of date rape drugs, they/them pronouns or racism. Then, they spend four years attending classes and living on the same campus with those students.
Miller said if these trainings don’t change behaviors, they’re just a requirement met, not an actual effort to make campus safer.
“Trainings aren’t enough” to unlearn hate, Widnie Dorilas said. “You have to hold them accountable. … People rely on you to stand up for them.”
Dorilas said she’s experienced plenty of racism as a Black student, but she’s been fighting it her whole life and she knows how to stand up for herself. But as a student leader, she said she is surrounded by others who are being hurt by hate.
“I can stand up for myself, but there are all these people who can’t and won’t,” Dorilas said, then addressing the administrators attending the walk-out. “They’re expecting you guys to do that for them. It’s your job to protect them.”
The walk-out was attended by Hunt-Bull and Dean of Students Courtney Bringley, who were at times addressed directly by students.
“This isn’t the day for us to talk about what we’re going to do,” Hunt-Bull said. “This is a day, I think, for us to listen.
“I think we heard a lot of very challenging, upsetting stories that I think are very real,” he continued. “I don’t think we’re unique in having problems here on campus, but it’s our campus and we’ve got to do things about it.”
The college’s new president, Scott Dalrymple, was not at the event. In an email to students last week, he said he would not be able to attend because he had a scheduled meeting. Students wondered why he wasn’t able to rearrange his schedule to listen and speak with them, with advanced notice.
At one point, Shippee called Hunt-Bull and Bringley to the front of the crowd to listen. Several PSC staff members walked up and stood with them as students chastised them.
“The administration … seems to feel like they cannot even admit that there is an issue on this campus,” Grace Collins said.
“I’m going to be a pain in the ass about this until it’s fixed,” Sliter told them.
Members of Campus Safety were also there, and students had mixed things to say about the department, but most said the safety officers were doing a good job.
Sliter said campus safety members are doing their best, but are not funded or staffed enough to properly investigate all the cases that come to them.
“When there are people who actually want to do their jobs and help, their hands are tied,” Sliter said. “You’ll be punished for doing the right thing.”
Several students identified Campus Safety Sergeant and Title IX Investigator Greg Landon as being particularly helpful.
There are still a lot of reasons to love PSC, students said — good educations in specialized fields, excellent professors, a community of friends and, of course, all the beautiful nature surrounding them. But when they’re worried about violence or hate, these things get overshadowed, they said.
“No offense, but we are demanding that we feel safe in our home,” Collins told administrators.
They said they all applied to PSC because they wanted to be at PSC, but some said they’re leaving, or discouraging others from attending, because of the culture there.
Kristine Wolcott said she’s moving to Malone so she wouldn’t have to live on campus.
Wolcott is Puerto Rican and said she hears racist comments all the time.
“I hate it here,” she told the college administration.
Miller said they are forming a student union to better represent student safety in the college’s decision-making processes.
But students also pressured administrators to “do better.” They said it shouldn’t be up to students and survivors to come up with solutions.
“Our COVID response was exceptional, so I know we can figure it out,” Collins said. “We can implement that sort of uniteability on hate crimes and people getting verbally and physically assaulted.”