On giving rapists a Williams degree: Why the College fails to do its job when it readmits offenders

Abby Lloyd

My friend and I are sitting on the couch of our apartment. We’re discussing the week to come: our schedules, our classes, our meetings. 

I have to go to bystander training on Monday night as a representative for my club. I went to bystander training last spring in preparation for living off-campus this year. My roommates are RASAN-trained. We attended bystander training a week ago as part of our captain’s training. We are the captains of a women’s team on campus. Our sisters have been raped. Our friends have been victims of dating violence and abuse. I have been sexually assaulted. 

By the end of my college career, the number of workshops I’ll have attended on sexual assault will be more than the number of semesters that Yoonsang Bae was separated from the college for sexually assaulting a woman on campus. 

Sometimes I feel like I’m screaming at a wall. Sometimes I am literally screaming at a wall, disgusted by the behavior that we accept and the responsibility that we shirk and the women (and it is, by and large, women) that we fail by pretending that a college suspension is at all a commensurable punishment for the violence that they have endured. 

Students are asked to leave Williams for acts of academic dishonesty and plagiarism. Students with mental health issues or those who are on leaves of absences are prevented from continuing at or returning to the college to receive their education and degree. Students with weapons on campus are liable to dismissal from the institution. Students who rape and assault other students are given suspensions until the victim of their crime has graduated (or left campus altogether for inability of functioning on a campus on which they were violated). Students who rape and assault other students often have the opportunity of returning to campus to receive their Williams education and degree. 

Yoonsang Bae returned to Williams in 2016 after serving his four semester suspension. He was awarded his degree in the spring of 2017. Welcome to the Alumni Association, we hope you donate accordingly. 

We talk a lot about privilege on this campus. We talk about what an amazing opportunity we students have in front of us, being at Williams and all. We talk about the responsibility we have to make our time here meaningful. We also talk a lot about how to not screw that up; don’t skip too much class, don’t drink too much alcohol, don’t have any mental health issues that can’t be fixed within four sessions of health center-provided therapy. What about sexually assaulting other students? Rape? How big of a dent does that put into the college careers of perpetrators? As long as they pass 151, I’m sure they’ll be fine. 

Sometimes I am tired. I’m tired from classes, from practice, from social interactions and obligations. Mostly I’m tired of feeling helpless. I don’t feel like attending my tenth bystander training for an institution that does nothing to really punish those who commit the crimes that we’re trying to prevent. I don’t feel like reliving instances of rape and sexual assault and trauma so that the College can say it did its job. Allowing perpetrators of sexual misconduct back on campus is not the College “doing its job.” Extending the benefits of a Williams degree to a known assailant deters no one from these crimes. Bystander training and First Days conversations fall flat in the face of an administration unwilling to punish, in any meaningful way, those who commit crimes of sexual misconduct against other students. 

A Williams College degree is a privilege. I am lucky to be on my way towards one. I wonder if Yoonsang Bae felt the same as he returned to campus to enjoy all that Williams has to offer. 

Abby Lloyd ’20 is an English and political science major from Hightstown, N.J.