Letter to the editor: Can you hear me now? A survivor responds to the chair of the board of trustees

Editor’s Note: Due to the private and personal nature of this letter’s content, the author asked that their name be withheld. Though the general protocol of The S&B is to not publish letters anonymously, after discussing this matter, the editors decided that the author’s concerns were legitimate. The S&B’s publishing of this letter does not imply an endorsement of the author’s views, but instead a desire to continue this discussion without disrupting the author’s personal and professional life.

Last week on April 10, The S&B published a letter written by Clint Korver ’89 in response to Cid Standifer ’07’s call for the resignation of President Raynard Kington in her April 3 letter to The S&B. In his letter, Korver tries to negate Standifer’s arguments, allotting the most space and attention to a meeting Kington had with a student in the spring of 2012. I am that student, and I would like to set the record straight.

The sequence of events as outlined by Korver is not in dispute. But Korver and I have drawn from it dramatically different conclusions. Korver writes in his letter: “The facts shows [sic] that President Kington responded to a difficult situation appropriately, while expressing compassion for students who were clearly angry and in emotional pain. Consistent with his role as the president of an educational institution, he viewed it as his responsibility to educate students and model for them how to initiate discussions on difficult topics.”

After those meetings, the last of which took place on May 9, 2012, a friend advised me to write down what I remembered of the meeting in case my memory of it should ever be questioned. Now, three years later, my account of those meetings is being publicly dismissed by the trustees. I wrote my recollections only a few hours after the second meeting, when Kington’s words were still echoing in my ears. A full copy of that account is available in the online version of this article. Printed here are the most relevant passages. For privacy purposes, all names throughout the account have been changed except those already offered by Korver in his letter. Where written, “I” refers to my own perspective and actions, unless noted as Survivor XXX, as Korver identifies me in his letter. Survivors A and B refer to the other survivors in the room during the first meeting on May 8, 2012. This is my own recollection and interpretation of the events.

Survivor’s Account of Second  Meeting Between Survivor XXX, President Kington and Angela Voos

“This morning [May 9th, 2012] I arrived at [Kington’s] office at 10 a.m. and was asked to take a seat in the lobby. A few minutes later I was approached by a woman who asked if I was Survivor XXX and shook my hand. As I entered Kington’s office with her, I greeted him “Good afternoon … or good morning rather I should say.” He responded, “Yes, afternoon.” The president then identified the woman as Angela Voos, Special Assistant to the president, and said that he had asked her be present today. Once I had been seated the president spoke saying that he had considered not having this meeting at all but finally decided he must. He said that he did not wish to hear me speak and would not listen if I felt I needed to respond. He then said that in his two years at Grinnell College he had never felt more insulted by a student. He said that he was disgusted that I had reached my senior year at Grinnell without ever learning how to speak to authority figures with respect. He then told me that if I ever spoke to him or entered his office again he would throw me out and I would be finished at Grinnell. He then told me he was done speaking with me and I should get out. I then picked up my belongings and left without saying a word. I went directly to the office of [a trusted adult mentor] and waited until [they] returned. The meeting had lasted fewer than 10 minutes.”

When I first began working towards a safer Grinnell for survivors in the fall of 2011, I did so believing in the good of the Grinnell community. I was confident that once we exposed the problems, change would be swift and just, in keeping with Grinnell’s ethos. But during my final semester at Grinnell, I came to fear social justice was just a slogan and real change was just as difficult at Grinnell as anywhere else. Nonetheless, when the four of us went to Kington’s office on May 8, we did so with a renewed hope that the president could help us—and the whole community—find justice and safety.

But, instead of “respond[ing] to a difficult situation appropriately, while expressing compassion for students who were clearly angry and in emotional pain,” as Korver writes, I felt that Kington became defensive and angry. When I told him I lived in terror on campus, was too scared to attend social events and couldn’t even step foot in the dining hall without risking running into my assailants, he accused me of holding him accountable for sexual assault on campus and of putting words in his mouth. He responded to a group of survivors looking for solutions by intimidating them in both word and tone.

Korver also writes that, “Consistent with his role as the president of an educational institution, he viewed it as his responsibility to educate students and model for them how to initiate discussions on difficult topics.” I can only assume that this is in reference to our second meeting on May 9, the one requested by President Kington. Korver’s letter says I did not respond to Kington’s lecture, but that I “made it clear that [I] was not interested in listening to his perspective.” This was because Kington’s first order after I greeted him was to tell me not to speak. My awareness of being silenced, not just metaphorically but literally, has never left me. As far as I could tell, the sole purpose of the meeting was for him to assert his power and authority over me. His power to speak, while I must remain silent. His power to threaten my future at Grinnell while I sat terrified, taken off guard by two adults in positions of authority, ganging up on a young woman alone. And his privilege to ignore sexual assault while creating the illusion of action, using his office as president to congratulate himself on supposed improvements in institutional policy while personally belittling victims.

The fact that the head of the board of trustees parroted Kington’s account, admitting that he lectured me on manners and respect when all I did was stand up for sexual assault victims, is symptomatic of Grinnell College’s attitude towards sexual assault and survivors in general. Grinnell puts on a charade of change while focusing its time and resources on protecting itself from criticism. Kington is a brand manager, not an activist, and this is imminently clear in every decision he makes. Kington’s treatment of me is just a symptom. This is just one of the many, many accounts I have heard where the administrators’ responses to survivors have been defensive and angry, rather than, in Korver’s words, “compassionate.” The College, both its direct leadership and other lower level administrators, has a history of negating, invalidating, targeting and silencing survivors on campus. I entered this discussion in the fall of 2011, and since then the school has repeatedly made it clear that it does not want to hear survivors speak. The College again tried to shut down discussion by minimizing survivor’s concerns before the March 3, 2015 Huffington Post article was published. Korver’s vitriolic response to Standifer’s letter is simply one more data point.

Dr. Kington, I hope you hear me loud and clear right now: I love my alma mater, but I love my fellow survivors and the pursuit of justice for all those who have suffered sexual assault at Grinnell under your leadership far, far more. It is now time for you to be quiet. It is time for you to listen.

—Written by Survivor XXX, Survivor A and Survivor B with the hope for a safer Grinnell