New Paltz Accountability (NPA) and Take Back the Night (TBTN) hosted a public forum on Thursday, Nov. 18 to restate their demands of transparency in how the school handles sexual assault and to give students a space to voice their concerns about the administration’s response to sexual violence.
Attendees filled the SUB 62/63 room, with many sitting on the floor or standing when all the seats were taken; many students gave speeches, asked questions and Title IX representatives spoke to explain their side of things.
The student-run club has had a strong presence on campus since the beginning of this semester as they advocate for better sexual violence policies and holding abusers accountable. They’ve been tabling for the cause and encouraging students to sign their petition all semester.
Members of NPA reiterated their three demands at the forum: that the school publishes the number of sexual violence complaints they receive, the type and the resulting number of expulsions. Attendees talked about how the school’s lack of transparency with the number of reports have harmed them personally and how the majority of the student population is uninformed about this growing safety problem.
Currently, the NYS Department of Education lists that there were 49 complaints of sexual violence made to SUNY New Paltz Title IX coordinators in 2019. Out of those 49 complaints, only 7 were reported as official crimes by students. The number of reported sexual violence crimes can be found on the school’s website, but not the number of complaints made. NPA members say that the higher, more inclusive number of total complaints made, should be published and easily accessible on the website. The school is required to report those numbers to the state, but not legally required to publish these statistics on their website.
“Transparency is critical to student safety… Hiding numbers that are essential to evaluating the safety of the school causes students to go on about their lives, uninformed about the reality around them,” NPA said in a statement to the Oracle.
NPA has tried to take matters into their own hands, by compiling the available statistics on sexual violence from the NYS Department of Education and SUNY New Paltz’s crime log in a shared Google Doc linked to their instagram bio (@newpaltz_accountability.)
NPA told the Oracle, “Sharing these numbers would permit students to accurately assess the school’s handling of sexual violence cases, and therefore gauge whether or not they can trust the school to protect them. Hiding these numbers is harming students. We have the right to know this information and ensure our own safety considering the school will not do more to ensure students’ safety on their own.”
One of two SUNY New Paltz’s Title IX Coordinator, Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, explained to the public forum that she does not object for more sexual violence data to be out, but she believes “data with context is critically important.” She says, “when they give information [she] wants it to be as clear as possible and as informed as possible.”
One of the public forum organizers, third-year visual arts major Karl Velikonja, responded to their claims at the event, “I’d just like to say that it is not that hard to put context next to numbers. And that the excuse that information needs context? I agree, but it’s not going to take a year,” he said. Velikonja continued to pose the question,“Where are the 2021 fall numbers at the end of this semester? We, on our Instagram, have the [sexual violence incidents] numbers to the best of the context that we have. They’re there and they’re understandable. So it is not that hard.”
A month before, at the “Hot Chocolate With the Presidents” open forum, NPA asked SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian about how the school handles sexual assault. Pres. Christian replied, “this is not a place to have a discussion about a complex topic like this.” Invitations to the open forum were sent to Pres. Christian and other members of administration, but the president declined the invitation.
Representatives from the Title IX department were in attendance. Assistant Vice President Robin Cohen-La Valle, Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator Tanhena Pacheco Dunn and LGBTQ and Title IX Coordinator Emma Morcone were all in attendance.
Amélie Fauquot, second-year student, expressed their anger about President Christian’s lack of concern. “The fact that he responded to our invitation until this morning shows that he does not care about being honest with students,” they said. “He does not care about making students safe.”
Pres. Christian says the school is not hiding numbers. “I’m fully supportive of educating students more fully about these matters and about the resources that are available and I think that’s an important step… what we’re trying to help the New Paltz Accountability group and others understand is that what they’re asking for may not be in the best interest of serving students in the best way.” He also stated that, “the different numbers reported may be raising some of the suspicion that we’re hiding numbers, which we’re not doing.”
NPA believes that the administration is purposefully minimizing the issue of sexual violence at SUNY New Paltz by not making statistics available on their official website to protect the school’s image. The organization stated, “We are angry at the administration for mishandling sexual-violence related issues and for giving us ingenuine responses in hopes of silencing us to protect themselves and the institution.”