Dear Dean Irish, President Hanno, DEAL Co-Chairs: Stephanie Daniels, Shaya Gregory-Poku, and Raquel Ramos; and Title IX Coordinator Caraline Mulholland,
We call upon you, members of the administration, to clarify the ambiguity of the clause “hostile environment” for bias incidents.
The Student Government Association will always serve as a realm of debate. We pride ourselves in offering an esteemed platform for student advocacy, namely our Senate, that encourages respectful argumentation. The Student Government Association recognizes the importance of the rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and the way that these values are reflected in our campus community. In fact, our own proceedings and initiatives would be impossible without them. It is these very protections that allow us to fulfill our oath of advocating relentlessly for all Wheaton students as we have challenged existing campus norms and policies in pursuit of improving the student experience.
However, the recent bias incident regarding the Simone Francis Podcast has illustrated that the freedom of speech seems to trump the consideration of immense harm done to our community in the student conduct process. There is a preponderance of evidence that suggests that the words and actions of the student hosts of this podcast constitute “harming behavior” (i.e. hostile environment) under our current conduct policy. Given the public nature of the case, and its broad reach enabled through social media, the harm it caused is extensive and cannot be considered an overreaction to expressed political beliefs.
The comments of concern expand beyond mere difference in political ideology. As defined in the Bias Incident Reporting Policy, a bias incident is “an act, whether intentional or unintentional, consisting of conduct, speech, or expression, that is motivated by bias and personally directed against an individual or group based on perceived or actual characteristics such as… sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression.” Under this definition, misogyny is not to be tolerated, especially if it unreasonably interferes with a person’s educational benefits, academic opportunities, and/or participation in college programs or activities.
Statements that were made in the podcast questioned the humanity and independence of women. One of the podcasters asserted that women were only useful for “sex, sandwiches, and silence,” and that “A woman can be CIA [confident, intelligent, assertive] in the corporate world but NOT in my household.” Furthermore, they claimed that men are losing their power due to women gradually occupying more roles in society that are traditionally held by men. These claims are not relating to different lived experiences or world views. These statements are not political. They are discriminatory and degrading.
Additionally, these comments were made directly to a female Wheaton student. While she may have willingly entered into dialogue with the podcast hosts, she repeatedly expressed her discomfort and questioned the motives behind their words. Women, especially women in our community, should not be tasked with the full burden of addressing misogyny when there are systems of accountability in place. They should not be forced to sit, listen, and educate in instances of discrimination and harm. Women should never feel as though they will be ridiculed for not fitting an unrealistic expectation as defender of their gender, and we hope that these are statements that you all agree with as campus leadership. We would like to recognize the harm directly experienced by the guest of the podcast and applaud her for her persistence and strength in the face of prejudice.
As student leaders and advocates for all students, including the women of our campus, we are disappointed by the lack of direct institutional accountability for the actions of these men and for the lack of institutional recognition of the harm their words have caused. As representatives of the student body, we prioritize the feelings of safety and wellbeing of our constituents. Therefore, it goes without saying that we are writing this letter on behalf of those that have openly expressed their newfound fears for their personal safety in a community where comments such as those uttered by the men on the podcast go unpunished. Some have gone as far as to express that they have been unable to sleep and no longer feel comfortable traversing the campus unless accompanied by another student.
We believe that the podcast is antithetical to the values of our institution, founded with the very intention of uplifting and educating women. The impact of these words is felt by the entire community; anonymous student feedback reveals that they have engendered a deep sense of fear and mistrust. The Student Government Association condemns sexism, gender-based violence, and discrimination in all of its forms.
We realize that it is not within our jurisdiction as student leaders to define the threshold for “hostile environment.” We call upon you, members of the administration, to clarify the ambiguity of that clause. If overt discrimination and degradation do not satisfy that threshold, then what kind of behavior and language will? What example will this incident set for our community if no action is taken? Wheaton students hold their peers accountable in order to promote a truly inclusive environment in which all identities are celebrated, not to promote malice or infringe upon their individual rights.
We hope that you will consider our concerns above. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
The Student Government Association
Categories: Politics and Economics