Credit: Idil Demirdag

Students raised concerns about sexual assault reporting procedures and single-gender campus organizations to Penn's top leaders on Wednesday. 

Just a day before the biannual University Council Open Forum, The Daily Pennsylvanian discussed these same issues with President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett, who indicated at the time that they had not heard substantive critiques of the University's sexual assault reporting procedures and had no plans to ban single-gender clubs on campus. 

A Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Education and a member of Graduate Employees Together — University of Pennsylvania, Chloe Kannan, said graduate students are worried that Penn's current system for reporting sexual assault places their academic careers at risk. Earlier this year, four graduate students anonymously described incidents of sexual assault in a public survey. 

Engineering senior Carolyn Kearney agreed with Kannan, adding that Penn needs to do more to make sure that students who have been victims of sexual assault do not have to interact with their assailants while on campus.

Kearney also said the office has been dishonest to students about the laws governing the discussion of ongoing cases. 

"The reason you only hear vague statements about the failure of the process is because Penn lies to victims about their free speech rights," Kearney said. "Penn has never expelled a student for rape. Never." 

While the two students raised strong critiques of the current reporting system, Pritchett had indicated just a day before that he had not heard any significant negative feedback about the policies in place.

"I think our procedures [around reporting sexual assault and harassment] are, as Gutmann said, pretty good," Pritchett said in the interview on Feb. 20. "We haven’t had feedback that they are deeply problematic, so I don’t have an answer to your question about what else we’re going to do other than we’re investigating and we’re continuing to improve our practices," Pritchett said.

Credit: Mona Lee Wendell Pritchett, Provost of the University of Pennsylvania

The Provost also said during the interview that while the University was working to make existing procedures around sexual assault and harassment clearer and more accessible, the administration was not yet aware of significant criticism that suggested otherwise.

"One of the things we’re thinking of is, 'Is it easy for everyone to report situations that they are concerned about?' Again, I haven’t gotten feedback that it isn’t easy but we’re going to continue to ask that question," he said. "We need your constant advice about what else we could be doing to make sure that we’re continuing to use best practices."

Towards the end of the forum, Zubaida Salman, representative of the United Minorities Council and College sophomore, voiced her support for the improvement of Penn's sexual violence investigation policies. 

In response, University Secretary Leslie Kruhly said, “I think the point of the forum is to bring issues forward to be addressed by [The] Steering [Committee], which encompasses all our constituents and probably not to talk about the specific cases. But your comments are heard.” 

At the forum, which was held in Houston Hall's Bodek Lounge, seven pre-selected individuals were given three minutes to address the council. The council functions as a representative body consisting of students, faculty, staff, and executive administrators. While all the council members have the opportunity to provide an immediate response to each speaker, most opt not to do so. 

College senior Ilan Gold opened the forum advocating for the dissolution of the Penn's single-gender organizations on campus. Gold cited the events taking place at Harvard University, which has decided to mete out a range of punishments for students who continue to participate in single-gender groups. 

"Affording a subset of our population a primary real estate and an undue social influence simply due to their ability to drink, spend money, and pledge sends the wrong message," Gold said. 

He called on the University to address the issue and questioned why it has yet to act on the matter. 

"Consider that our own experience includes multiple deaths, racist holiday emails, and very misogynistic emails to name a few, are we in a place to disagree with Harvard's position?" Gold asked. 

In the interview Tuesday, Pritchett had said that Penn is a different institution from Harvard and therefore cannot be examined in the same way. 

"Harvard and Penn are just sort of different in this. I don't think there’s much for us to learn in Harvard’s experience," Pritchett said to the DP. "We’re focused on Penn in the kinds of things that we’re talking about."

At the open forum, no council member responded to Gold's comments. 

College senior Esther Jou argued that the discussion of the University's mental health policies should not rely solely on data collection. She added that Penn should focus on providing professional mental health training to residential advisors and graduate associates on top of reevaluating Student Intervention Services. 

"With the statistic of 14 suicides in the past four years, we need more than data collection and vague assessments. We need focus," Jou said. "And to invoke Professor Angela Duckworth's research, we need grit."

Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, administrative member of the council and vice provost for university life, responded to Jou, noting that the University already provides mental health training to RAs and GAs. 

Credit: Kelly Heinzerling

The final non-council member on the agenda was Fossil Free Penn's Outreach Coordinator and College sophomore Jacob Hershman. 

As Hershman was speaking, about a dozen FFP members stood holding up signs such as “Climate change causes over 150,000 deaths per year” in silent protest. FFP members have taken similar action at the last two Open Forums to condemn the University's continued investment in fossil fuels.

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