The other side of sexual misconduct programming

Audrey Blumenstock, ’22, says being on the SPEAK executive team made her feel “muzzled” by the administration


Kevin Remington

Students walk down the colonnade at dusk holding lit candles as part of SPEAK Week’s programming. Photo by Kevin Remington

Jenny Hellwig, News Editor

Content Warning: This coverage includes references to rape, sexual assault and violence.

Candles illuminated the colonnade as sexual assault survivors and supporters gathered last Thursday during Take Back The Night, the culmination of SPEAK Week programming.

Prior to the candle-lit walk, multiple survivors shared stories and poems to a crowd of around 60 students gathered in the science center.

Survivors described the difficult process of regaining control of their lives after their assaults.

One speaker started crying as she detailed the disappointment of her experience filing a formal complaint. The Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Board, the university body that judges sexual misconduct cases, concluded there was insufficient evidence in her case.

SPEAK, the student organization that hosted the event, is “committed to raising awareness of the occurrence of sexual misconduct on college campuses,” according to the group’s Facebook bio.

Members of the administration were also present, including Title IX Coordinator Lauren Kozak and Director of Health Promotion Jan Kaufman, who is the advisor for SPEAK.

At Washington and Lee, SPEAK is the only organization dedicated to raising awareness of sexual misconduct on campus. But the group doesn’t have complete control over their programming. 

‘I felt like I was running in place, constantly’ 

Former executive member of SPEAK Audrey Blumenstock, ’22, joined the organization hopeful to get sexual misconduct policies changed at the university.

But Blumenstock found herself in communications with administration members that she felt had a primary interest in curating a positive image for Washington and Lee and the Title IX office. She said it was “really frustrating” to work with the administration.

“I was constantly fighting with them to do the bare minimum on campus. I felt like I was running in place, constantly,” she said. “I was not working with people that I felt wanted to help and wanted to make this issue better on our campus.”

The Title IX office and the administration have also faced outside pressures in recent years. The university was sued in 2019 for “anti-male discrimination” in a Title IX case, the Phi reported. The student was suspended after being found responsible for non-consensual sexual penetration.

In another suit filed in 2014, the university agreed to settle a lawsuit with a student who claimed he was unfairly kicked out of Washington and Lee due to an allegation of sexual assault.

“I think they’re trying to protect themselves from further lawsuits,” Blumenstock said. 

‘Culture of safety’

Blumenstock said that ironically, being part of SPEAK made her feel “muzzled.”

During her involvement with the club, all the programming and events had to be approved by the Healthy Sexual Culture Committee and Kaufman specifically, both Blumenstock and former SPEAK President Mansi Tripathi, ’22, said.

While tabling for SPEAK during orientation week last year, Blumenstock wanted to share information about the “Red Zone,” which is the first six to eight weeks of the semester when more sexual assaults take place than any other time.

First-year students are particularly at risk during these weeks as they lack established communities on campus and knowledge about reporting sexual violence. But according to Blumenstock, Kaufman told her she couldn’t talk or post about the “Red Zone,” referring to the concept as a “scare tactic.”

According to Washington and Lee’s Healthy Sexual Culture guidelines, sexual misconduct programming at the university is not supposed to “rely on victim testimony or fear” and should instead “convey a culture of safety.” And while sharing her story of assault at the SPEAK event Take Back the Night last year, Kaufman told Blumenstock in an email that she should not include the first names of her assaulters, even those who attended different schools.

Former president Mansi Tripathi, ‘22, confirmed that changes to speeches were made to remove the names of people or specific fraternities. Tripathi said that although she understood why survivors would want to share names as a form of accountability, she felt it might undermine the event.

“W&L has a problem with gossip culture enough that I think it wouldn’t be productive in the way that people think it would be,” Tripathi said.

In 2020, students sent a document titled “Reimagining W&L” to the administration. Among other initiatives, students called for the university to publish data gathered from its sexual misconduct survey. The survey data was not published at the time.

Kozak said she shares the most recent survey data, collected in March 2021, in training presentations and with relevant student organizations. The next survey will be done in spring 2024, Kozak said.
A graph of sexual assault statistics sourced from the Campus Climate Survey March and April 2021. Numbers are all during time attending Washington and Lee: 27 percent of women said they experienced sexual assault since attending Washington and Lee. 8 percent of women said they experienced penetration without consent. 11 percent of men said they experienced sexual assault. 12 percent of male and female students said they experienced kissing without consent. The graphic also features a central pie chart showing the 27 percent statistic.

Tripathi sent the March 2021 survey data, which she asked Kozak for directly, to the Phi. According to the results, around 27 percent of Washington and Lee women and 11 percent of men reported experiencing sexual assault since attending the university. Eight percent of female-identifying students experienced a form of penetration without consent. 

Programming is limited for upperclassmen

Under the Clery Act, universities are required to provide sexual misconduct prevention and awareness programs on an introductory and ongoing basis. Greek life sexual misconduct prevention training was implemented for the first time last year, Kozak said. But there is not any training required for upperclassmen students, except for those who are athletes.

Outside of those groups, the only programs available for students are optional ones—such as attending SPEAK events.

In 2020, Blumenstock pushed for a standing committee on sexual misconduct within the Executive Committee. In an email to then-president Chase Calhoun, ’21, she said that the committee could bring attention to sexual misconduct issues on campus.

Calhoun said his successor, James Torbert, ’23, would be sent to Healthy Sexual Culture Committee (HSCC) meetings instead.

“I believe this development will serve the same purpose as would appointing a standing committee for sexual misconduct,” Calhoun said in an email reviewed by the Phi.

Torbert said there are no current plans to create the standing committee, but confirmed that he continues to attend HSCC meetings.

“I think those are very productive,” Torbert said. “Generally, we discuss ways to make the social culture safer.”

A renewed conversation

Sexual misconduct has become a bigger topic on campus after local police arrested two former students for charges related to the issue last month.

Lauren Kozak and Dean Evans sent separate school-wide emails addressing the subject on March 7, a month after former student Daniel Selby pled guilty to sexual battery.

Blumenstock said that because student organizations are limited in what they can say or do, students should build awareness around the issue outside of organizations.

“When students come together and demand change, I think that’s something that the school can’t control,” she said.

Washington and Lee should disperse the power given to administrators, Blumenstock added.

“A lot of Title IX offices don’t have just one person working for them, like at our comparative institutions,” Blumenstock said. “We should be bringing in new people with new ideas and new perspectives. Putting all of Title IX on one person is asking a lot of them.”