In October 2012, when I was a 17-year-old first-year student, I was raped at Williams College by a 21-year-old freshman hockey player. I reported the assault to the dean’s office, and an investigative panel was appointed. The panel found the perpetrator guilty of sexual assault, suspending him from Williams for three semesters. My rapist appealed the finding, and the second trial once again found him guilty of sexual assault. At the end of the three-month ordeal, my attacker was suspended for three semesters from Williams. At the time, neither my parents nor I focused on his being suspended rather than expelled; it never occurred to us that the suspension was merely administrative and that Williams would readmit a known sexual assailant. By coming forward and sharing my story, my intentions are to encourage the College to take the adequate measures to prevent another student from being put in the position that I was: victimized, threatened and overwhelmingly isolated.
After the assault at Williams, I took a three-week leave of absence to receive medical attention and emotional support at home in Boston. When I returned to Williams I met with the deans, who not only encouraged me to pursue disciplinary action, saying that they wanted him removed from campus “tomorrow,” and who also told me that other girls had complaints about or had experienced uncomfortable situations with the man who raped me. They explicitly encouraged me not to seek legal action, asserting that it would be a bureaucratic nightmare and that they, as the College, had my best interests in mind.
The events that followed suggested otherwise. Over the course of the three-month trial, multiple students were proven to have lied or altered their testimony and have since rescinded their statements. Although these statements were made under oath and with regard to the Williams College Honor Code, no disciplinary action was taken against the students. I was also surprised to find the College insensitive to my request for housing accommodations, specifically, that I not be placed in a dorm with members of the men’s hockey team. My fears were substantiated during the spring, when I was repeatedly harassed by members of the team and friends of my rapist. In one instance, they surrounded me, threw full beer cans at my head and chanted that I should have kept my mouth shut. When I spoke to the deans about the incident, I was told that everyone was “exhausted” from dealing with the case and that perhaps it would be better if we all just “took a little break.” Members of the men’s hockey team and my rapist’s friends continued to harass me for months on campus. I received no “break.”
My focus over the past 18 months has been on rebuilding my life. Between the harassment and administrative failures that occurred last spring, it became explicitly clear that Williams would not be a safe place for me. Ultimately I transferred to Columbia University, where I continue my recovery. In the meantime, it has become increasingly evident that the College had, and currently has, every intention of trying to sweep my assault under the rug. For my own conscience and for the safety of every other student on campus, I cannot and will not allow that to happen.
My attacker’s readmission has problematic elements beyond the fact that he assaulted me. During his suspension, my attacker was arrested for drug possession and chose to play on a hockey team called the MILF Hunters (Google it if you must, but rest assured it is misogynistic and offensive). The arrest for drug possession is a clear violation of the Williams College Code of Conduct, which “prohibits the unlawful possession of illegal drugs.” Playing on the MILF Hunters may or may not be a violation of the code, but it certainly shows a flagrant lack of remorse.
Despite the perpetrator’s indisputable violation of the code and his disturbing behavior, both of which President Falk and his administration are aware of, my father was told by Falk that the perpetrator had served his suspension and that the school’s disciplinary response was “just for a period of time.” When he was asked what standards of behavior a suspended student would be held to, President Falk agreed that a suspended student would have to abide by the code of conduct while serving the suspension and that drug possession was a violation of the code. When asked why the perpetrator was not held accountable, President Falk did not respond.
As part of a long Williams legacy, I grew up in an Ephs sweatshirt with a purple cow on my bed. Both of my parents attended Williams, in addition to my grandfathers, aunts, uncles and numerous other relatives. I will never forget the day my mom and I ran around my house, screaming and crying with joy after receiving my acceptance letter. I still hold Williams dear to my heart and would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the incredible support I received last year. I do not believe that the actions of a few individuals encapsulate the identity of an entire team or an entire college. To those members of the Williams community who have supported and continue to support me, I cannot thank you enough. I can honestly say that many of you have saved my life. To the beauty of the Purple Valley and the incredible professors whose classes sustained me: thank you. In a situation with so many bad components, it can often be far too easy to overlook the actions of good people.
By coming forward and sharing my story, my intentions are to encourage the College to take the necessary measures to prevent another student from being put in the position that I was. I am extremely uncomfortable – as are many other students, alumni and trustees – that the now 23-year-old (who is surely emboldened by the mere slap on the wrist he got after sexually assaulting me) may be back on campus this fall. A rapist does not suddenly change over the course of three semesters. The ramifications of allowing a known sexual assailant to return to the College extend beyond my particular case. By allowing a rapist to return to Williams, the College is not only making a bold statement condoning sexual assault but also silencing every victim on campus, while actively fostering a rape culture.
As members of the Williams community, I ask you to speak out against the policy of merely suspending rather than expelling those found guilty of offenses regarding sexual assault and rape in addition to the decision in my specific case: to readmit a rapist who has blatantly violated the code of conduct and acted without remorse. I encourage Williams College to take a leadership position in a matter that has been mishandled at too many other schools and is critical to the safety of its student body, as well as the reputation of the College.
Lexie Brackenridge is a former Williams student from Boston, Mass. She transferred and is a sophomore at Columbia.