The Fall Semester kicked off with a bang at Texas A&M with the Administration producing new policies, procedures, and sanctioning that would be put into place in order to ensure better processes for sexual assault, civil rights and Title IX reports.
While Texas A&M’s Administration has been staging impressive political theatre, the 12th Woman has been working quietly and diligently to hold them accountable, all with great disappointment.
There have been multiple meetings with the administration of Texas A&M and members of the 12th Woman continue to draw attention to major issues that seem to be left unacknowledged.
For starters, Hannah Shaw has met with President Young and Provost Fierke and asked for meetings with the swim coaches to bring to their attention that Austin is still on the swim team and allowed to represent the university after being found responsible for sexual assault. Coach Holmes and Coach Calanog were aware of the sexual assault charges against Austin, writing him character reference letters he used during his appeal panel and subsequently inviting him back on the team. Despite initially arranging a meeting so Ms. Shaw could seek restorative justice, the Provost’s office was subsequently required by general counsel to cancel at the last minute since Austin is currently in the process of suing the University. In other words, a victim of sexual assault was denied an opportunity to be heard because the University would rather protect both the assailant and itself.
We remain disappointed by the lack of accountability within the Corps of Cadets. A member of the 12th Woman shared her sexual assault to the leaders of the administration and exposed many issues including subpar security measures in the residence halls and failures in the leadership reporting system within the Corps of Cadets. Yet, none of the newly implemented policies or procedures address any of these concerns. Female cadets should never have to report their stories multiple times to male military leadership in a one-on-one setting or any setting where she is the only female in the room. Where are the trauma-informed protocols for the Corps?
The current corps leadership has made no attempt to hide that they are more focused on PR and growing their Corps than on the safety of their current cadets. We have received reports that women are encouraged not to report, and even when they do, accusations are rarely handled seriously or in a timely manner. The unsafe/potentially dangerous situation the coed/ unsecure dorms have provided for all cadets for years is an open secret, yet no steps have been taken to retrofit the dorms or address safety concerns for female cadets. Simply adding automatic locks, security cameras near doors/in hallways, or any combination of these would help protect the over 500 women living in the Corps dorms and we urge the administration to implement these necessary safety precautions.
To illustrate the culture of white male dominance within the university’s system, a member of the 12th Woman has now filed a report against Vice President Dr. Danny Pugh, for his inappropriate actions during meetings with the 12th Woman (i.e., winking at a member following the recounting of her sexual assault) and for offering gifts, such as field tickets to a football game, in an attempt to woo the women of the group over. This investigation is still underway but there have been no actions from the civil rights office regarding this report. The 12th Woman was told that more than likely, there would be no civil rights case and it would need to be handled by management, which in turn is another white male: President Young. Promising.
bell hooks asked the question we all continue to ask the administration: “How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” The answer to that question still remains unknown for those of us involved with Texas A&M’s administration.
In a recent meeting with representatives from the 12th Woman, Provost Fierke readily admitted that there are three student areas with the highest rates of gender/race discrimination, sexual harassment and assault: the Corps of Cadets, Athletics, and Greek Life.
A recent study found that the sexual assault rate in fraternities is 300% higher than in the regular campus population. We urge the administration to meaningfully address these cultures of misogyny.
Throughout the past few months, the 12th Woman continues to hear horror stories from current students, faculty, and staff about the way they are mistreated when they seek justice and support despite President Young making it well known that he wants a campus “where everyone feels respected, where Aggies are loyal to one another and every person is free to pursue excellence.” These seem like empty words since there remains no plan of action to communicate the “trauma-informed” protocols to those on the front lines, such as those in Student Life.
Similarly, the administration appears to think that issues of racial discrimination and harassment are somehow distinct or separate from gender discrimination, sexual assault and violence. Indeed, ignoring our numerous requests, the administration does not appear to have a plan in place to address systemic and interrelated issues, including those which affect racial and sexual minorities across the university. Harassment, assault, and discrimination are all violations of civil rights and should all be treated with care and trauma-centered support.
To this point, we have recently become aware of a troubling conflict of interest in the establishment of the new office of civil rights, which falls under the purview of the office of risk, ethics, and compliance. This office, despite out pleas to inform survivors that they have a right to representation before they give a statement, appears to only inform victims that their intake interview is the same as their investigative interview AFTER charges have been finalized. This lack of communication with victims on what they can expect after they report seems unethical at best and duplicitous at worst. Indeed, as one of our members astutely pointed out to the office of civil rights, it seems antithetical to expect an office whose sole purpose is to protect the university’s interests and mitigate risk to meaningfully advocate for women and minorities--those who civil rights laws protect from the very institutions that have historically marginalized, abused, and oppressed them.
As you can see, the smoke and mirrors from this past August by Texas A&M was charming and enthusiastic, but produced little-to-no actual results for the faculty, staff, and students who live, work, and study here.
In an attempt to demand change elsewhere, a member of the 12th Woman was able to meet with Senator Kolkhorst as we continue to press for change on a legislative level. Together with Senator Kolkhorst, we hope to address the problematic rule that rape kits “have one home.” This rule forces survivors to either allow their rape kit to be used as evidence in their Title IX case at the university or handed in to the police.
We have also been demanding change on a national level through the leadership of Congressman Ted Poe. In July, we visited Congress in person to back multiple bills including the Megan Rondini Act, the Bipartisan Campus Accountability Act, and the HALT Act, all aimed at increasing resources for survivors and holding universities accountable for adhering to Title IX and safety reporting standards.
(Press Release Video: https://www.facebook.com/JudgeTedPoe/videos/1838968696149460/)
Additionally, in September, Congressman Poe introduced the H. Res. 1064, the "12th Woman Resolution" encouraging institutions of higher education to provide critical information and services to all victims of on-campus sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, as well as inform them of their rights under federal and state law.
(Press Release: https://poe.house.gov/press-releases?ID=9EB7053E-80E8-4841-A0A1-EC020036D68C)
The 12th Woman hoped the changes this summer were the beginning of monumental change and a chance for the University to take ownership and be a leader amongst universities, however, we are quickly discovering that is not the case.
Despite all of these setbacks and disappointments, the 12th Woman is not giving up. We are still pushing forward and will continue to demand actual change and improvement not only for the students, faculty, and staff but within the administration. The people making the policies need to lead by example, and until they do, we will not rest.
There is an inconceivable amount of improvement still needed to be done by the university and it starts with Chancellor Sharp and Michael Young. When they decide to make these changes a true priority, and not simply a performance for public consumption, we will begin to see true change. Until then, we will press on, and not let up. Stay tuned.
The 12th Woman