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Adequately Address this Student Safety Issue

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Last semester, four law students were drugged at house parties thrown by their peers but instead of addressing the issue, Syracuse University College of Law is trying to keep the reports under wraps and is spreading misinformation. This is not only hurting the survivors but it is also hindering witnesses from coming forward and thus keeping the authorities from completing a thorough investigation. Please sign this petition to urge the university to present a factually accurate account of the events and to promote an environment in which survivors are not shamed into silence to save the university's reputation. #WakeUpSULaw #YesAllWomen #NotOneMore #VictimBlaming #CampusAssault

During the F​all 2014 semester four Syracuse Law students were drugged at off-campus parties hosted by third year law students (3Ls). I was one of them. While there were non-law students present at the parties, none of the same non-law students were present at all three parties. This fact alone leads to the nearly inescapable conclusion that these law students were drugged by fellow law students.

The 3Ls who were victims of this crime only have a couple of identities in common: we are all female third year law students holding varying degrees of leadership positions at Syracuse University College of Law (“SU Law”).

This appears to be a horrendous attempt to intimidate women in visible positions, an offense which may, in this case, amount to a hate crime. Another daunting possibility is that this could be the aggressor’s precursor to sexually assaulting a potential victim. To date, none of the survivors have reported sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Regardless, the disempowerment, oppression, and harm to female students has been the intention and the result. Affected students have reported complete bodily arrest and lack of mobility, loss of memory from the night they were drugged, vomiting, physical tremors and seizures, rapid drop in body temperature and loss of consciousness.

Although campus police have opened an investigation, there are no suspects at this time. As such, attending classes has become unsafe because the aggressor is highly likely to be present on campus. Since many official law school functions are held at bars, networking and socializing with peers has become a triggering task.

SU Law’s Student Life Office has agreed to hold an hour long forum, inviting the the University’s Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) and Counseling Services, to discuss this issue specifically, but this is not an adequate response to these attacks. The school has shirked its duty and given the class presidents and the Student Bar Association (“SBA”) the reigns to organize the forum. It was the SBA that sent an email out to inform the student body of the attacks, but SU Law’s administration has yet to officially address the student body about this safety issue. The SBA executive board and class presidents have taken the stance that any information students receive about outreach programs, including access to medical, legal, and mental health resources must be handled by the University’s own campus police and counseling center. The SBA President specifically informed me that they want to keep this issue “in-house.” This is problematic because the University has a limited ability to address this growing issue and students will continue to be uninformed about needed resources. As such, this continues to wrest agency from survivors who may wish to seek them.

To compound this problem, the University has reduced and complicated on-campus sexual assault services and Crouse Hospital, the closest hospital to campus, stated it does not have the resources for testing for date rape drugs and can “only test for cocaine.”

In this instance, the SBA executive board have refused to allow a Planned Parenthood (“PP”) representative to speak to students about the resources available in the Syracuse area for victims,despite the fact that the PP speaker was approved by the Student Life Office’s Senior Assistant Dean, Tomás Gonzalez. They feared that a speaker from PP would isolate conservative leaning students, however, our school cannot afford to lose sight of a united initiative because of perceived partisanship.  This effectively conceals critical resources from those who need them most.  

After failing to persuade the executive board, an alternative speaker from Vera House was offered. But even here, the SBA has neglected to act responsibly in that they have only allocated a negligible amount of time for the speaker, only “5-10 minutes” or whatever time is “left over” after school representatives speak. This and other factors makes one question the school’s sincerity in addressing this matter. Dean Gonzalez recently told Above the Law, a source on law schools and the legal profession, that the administration is only aware of one reported incident of drugging. This is not true. While, due to confidentiality concerns, only one survivor filed a report with campus police, three other survivors did inform Student Life that they were drugged at these parties.

Since the Above the Law piece was published, some SU Law peers have stated that leaking this information “depreciated the value” of the institution and ruined its reputation. This victim blaming rhetoric enforces a campus culture that condones such heinous acts. The aggressor is the one to blame for “making the school look bad.” By shifting the blame to the survivor, the survivor is made responsible for violence against herself, over which she had no control. This kind of violence in fact relies on taking that control and agency away from victims. Recognizing this and reorienting blame to the real issue, the attacks, is key for prevention.

Survivors have a right to safety and security and are entitled to an environment meeting these standards for all students. The school needs to provide students with a more transparent and accountable response to this growing issue. Four 3Ls being drugged by someone who is likely a classmate is a serious problem that needs to be addressed through serious action.

Our Specific Demands:

1. SU Law’s Dean, Hannah Arterian, must directly address the student body to accurately inform us of what happened, with survivor confidentiality, encouraging students to report any information that would be helpful to the open investigation and provide a list of resources. The Dean must also work with SU’s Chancellor, Kent Syverud, to inform the greater SU community as well.

2. The School’s administration must work to combat victim blaming by making it clear to students that the druggings themselves are the problem and are a safety issue. The School must work to combat the idea that shedding light on this problem reflects poorly on the School itself because such attitudes minimize the severity of our problem and shift the focus away from what should be our number one priority, student safety. 

3. The School’s administration must work to keep this conversation open and on going so students remain engaged about this matter and so students feel comfortable, not only coming forward with related information, but also doing simple things like attending classes. The School can do this by offering resources within the school, which is like a second home to most students. Such resources can include pamphlets in the Student Life Office and the periodic presence of representatives at Dineen Hall from outside resources such as Vera House or Planned Parenthood.

This petition seeks to rally a solidarity initiative with the Syracuse University community, with students from other law schools, and with the greater public, to demand that Syracuse University College of Law fully addresses this issue.

We must pressure SU Law’s Student Life Office, the class presidents, the SBA executive board and the student body to be accountable for their students. The silence and concealment are perpetuating the continuation of these heinous crimes. This is unconscionable. Let’s #WakeUpSULaw

Thank you.



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