Photo courtesy of Millikin University
Photo courtesy of Millikin University

Students Respond to Millikin’s Announcements on Sexual Misconduct

November 29, 2021

Warning: This article contains discussions of sexual misconduct that might be upsetting to some people. 

On Nov. 19, 2021, Vice President Raphaella Prange sent out a campus-wide email detailing a new plan to combat sexual misconduct at Millikin. This announcement has received a lot of criticism, both for the plan itself and for the tone of the email, which students say felt like victim-blaming.

The email explained that fraternities and sororities are on notice, meaning no guests are allowed in the Greek Life houses. Prange also asked students to refrain from attending unregistered events or events where alcohol is centrally involved. 

“The current environments being facilitated within these unsanctioned events are simply not healthy or safe and detract from the Millikin experience,” Prange wrote. “Students who decide to engage in or host events that violate our alcohol or event policies are subject to swift student conduct sanctioning up to and including suspension from Millikin…All students must take ownership of their personal behaviors and hold each other to a higher standard. Take care of one another.”

Millikin says the email was intended to combat sexual misconduct, but many students say they felt invalidated. Survivors and allies have voiced their dissatisfaction with Millikin’s response.

“I was really disappointed and upset that the issue of sexual misconduct on this campus was conflated with alcohol use,” student Grace Jegle said. “I was really upset that the first real action I’ve seen the university take like this in such a public way took the approach of an alcohol ban instead of, you know, anything else like resources, beefing up mental health resources, more preventative resources, or holding these people accountable.”

Since the email, students have called on Millikin to do more. They are pushing for the university to consider other policies and to reconsider Millikin’s stance on alcohol and sexual misconduct. 

Following students’ response, Prange sent a follow-up email on Nov. 22 in which she apologized and said she had recently spoken to many students about Millikin’s sexual misconduct policies. She outlined Millikin’s amnesty policy for survivors or witnesses who were under the influence when sexual misconduct occurred, and she encouraged students once again to come forward and report.

Please accept my clear and heartfelt apology for any indication that my message was in any way victim-blaming,” Prange wrote. “Let me clarify, unequivocally, that alcohol is not the cause of sexual misconduct, and alcohol consumption in no way relieves a person of the responsibility or obligation of obtaining consent…Survivors who drink are not to blame.”

While students unpack the announcements and conversations about sexual misconduct that are happening on campus, Prange hopes that her intentions are clearer after the follow-up email.

“That really for me was a heartfelt apology because I was personally devastated that students took the message to be victim-blaming, because at my core, I feel like I’m an advocate for survivors,” Prange said. “And so I never want any of my language, rhetoric, messaging to come across that way, because I believe each and every survivor that walks through this door…If the student is brave enough to come in and report to me, I’m going to believe what they have to say, because I don’t believe that students make false reports. I think it takes a lot of bravery to make a report about sexual misconduct.”

Prange’s comments on alcohol and unregistered events have started a lot of conversations about substance use and parties on college campuses. Many people are confused about the policies outlined in the email and what they mean for students. However, Prange points out that these policies are not new. 

“I’m not suggesting an alcohol ban or a dry campus,” Prange said. “So a change in the policy from that perspective will not happen. But we’d like to see students, you know, really be reminded of what our policies are as they exist, and be more responsible as they socialize together.”

According to Prange, Millikin plans to accomplish this through increased trainings. Freshman students attend First Week orientations on both alcohol and consent, and all students must complete Title IX training every semester. The university has also formed a Greek Life Task Force that will seek to reevaluate Greek Life at Millikin.

Prange hopes to make these trainings more extensive and to provide additional education about the reporting process. She believes this is especially important as students who are starting college in the COVID-19 pandemic might have less experience with sex, substance use, and dating.

She also notes that alcohol has been present in all of the sexual misconduct reports from this semester so far.

“For me, that’s something that needs to be addressed, that there’s so much alcohol occurring on campus,” Prange said. “And that can create danger, like we said, in many ways. It isn’t the reason for sexual assault. People who harm other people are the reason for sexual assault. But when 100% of your cases are involving a pretty significant amount of alcohol, I feel like that’s information the university has that they have to act on…It certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t need to address every other aspect of sexual misconduct, including respondents and those who are accused and holding them responsible.”

Prange’s email also noted that survivors and witnesses who come forward about sexual misconduct will not face consequences for their own substance use. 

However, some students believe that talking about alcohol alongside sexual misconduct is missing the point—and might only cause further harm.

“What I’m scared about now, even though there’s these amnesty policies in place, is that this policy, it doesn’t really stop people from going out and drinking,” Jegle said. “And what happens when somebody does get assaulted now with this policy in place? What sort of guilt does that add to that experience? And how does that hold them back from reporting and coming forward?…I just think this policy is going to push these issues further into the dark.”

While most people agree that increased trainings and education will benefit campus, this still feels like an inadequate response to many students. These students are calling for more accountability and consequences for people who are reported for sexual misconduct.

“I don’t quite understand how you can suspend a student from drinking, but a student can have one, two, three, nine sexual assault cases and they aren’t asked to leave campus,” student Jared Scott said. 

Like many other U.S. colleges, Millikin employs a restorative justice approach, which means that the university seeks to redeem students who are found responsible for violations of the student handbook—including sexual misconduct—rather than punish them. 

But many students are confused on how this approach handles accountability and keeps people safe.

“I know that we dismiss students for academic dishonesty or, like, low GPAs that happen consistently,” Jegle said. “I know there’s people on this campus that have multiple cases, so I don’t understand why we don’t see consequences…What’s at stake for these people? If we have this restorative justice model, they’re still not being held accountable for the learning or the growing or the changing.”

Prange hears these frustrations, but she says that much of this accountability happens behind closed doors because of laws in place that require privacy during the reporting and student conduct hearing processes.

“That’s a lot of what’s in the works right now, trying to figure out how do we create increased opportunities for that information to be available and open and out there,” Prange said. “But I think the other part of it is that a lot of our process happens in private, because the cases are confidential in nature. And that is, one, to support survivor privacy. But it’s also according to Title IX guidelines…And sometimes to an outsider who’s not involved, it seems like nothing’s happening. But in fact, what that survivor needs is happening.” 

Following these announcements over the past few days, there have been conversations across campus about how to prevent sexual misconduct, support survivors, and hold accused students accountable. Students are speaking up about their experiences and their demands that Millikin do better.

On Nov. 22, three students appeared on a local WAND-TV news segment to respond to the announcement and talk about their own experiences with sexual misconduct. 

A petition, titled “Changes to Millikin University’s Sexual Violence Policy,” has also been circulating on Change.org. The petition calls for a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and sexual violence and a partnership between Millikin and Decatur’s Growing Strong Sexual Assault Center, among other things. At this writing, the petition has over 400 signatures.

Students are also working to revitalize dissolved student organizations that deal with sexual misconduct, includuing Millikin’s Sexual Assault Awareness Council and Planned Parenthood’s Generation Action. 

As students digest the announcements, Prange said she has had many good conversations with students in the past few days. Jegle, who had a meeting with Prange on Nov. 19 following the original email, also feels like it was a positive conversation.

But Jegle and many other students still call for change, including more resources for survivors. They point to the high reports of sexual misconduct on college campuses across the country—including Millikin—as evidence that something bigger needs to be done. And for a lot of students, the conversations from the past few days have been more overwhelming than healing.

“I think part of it that’s so taxing is that there are so many survivors on this campus, and it feels like we are the ones who are being tasked with finding a solution,” Scott said. “And where I find issue with that is…it’s like you’re putting the responsibility on us to solve the problem rather than addressing where the university is failing in their education of their students…I think the university needs to not only hold these perpetrators accountable, but they need to hold themselves accountable for the way that they’re failing their students.”

If you or someone you know needs support, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. There are also resources on campus and in the Decatur community, including the Growing Strong Sexual Assault Center and Heritage Behavioral Health Center.

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