Guest Post: An Open Letter to President Roth

“You have no obligation to protect Scott Backer’s reputation. You instead have an obligation to support our community’s uncountable survivors, and they deserve to know the character of the man who judged one of their most painful experiences. They deserve to know, from you, how Wesleyan intends to do better.”

Roth at the forum on Monday

Roth at a forum on need-blind admissions in November 2012.

The following is an open letter from Andrew Trexler ’14 to university president  Michael S. Roth in the wake of campus turmoil caused by recently released information about the firing of former Associate Dean of Students  Scott Backer. The views reflected here are the writer’s own.

Michael et al.,

Wesleyan assures us that nationally recognized auditors “found nothing amiss” in Scott Backer’s handling of student conduct and sexual misconduct hearings. Although I am skeptical that Pepper Hamilton was able to thoroughly review years of case files in so short a time, this report is not unexpected. The reality is that the national standards for campus adjudication of sexual misconduct are, in the most delicate terms I can accurately put them, very very fucked. It is therefore no surprise at all to learn that Scott Backer’s handling of these cases meets national standards.

The truth of the matter is that the flaws I witnessed firsthand in three years as a process advisor for students and survivors—constant victim-blaming, hostile questioning practices, inconsistent training of panelists, acceptance of character witnesses, to name a few—would not, I suspect, be of interest to Pepper Hamilton. They were not of interest to Wesleyan’s Title IX Officer when I raised them at the time. The “checks and balances” and sparse appeals system are no help to a survivor who’s told her rapist gets to stay on campus because she was wearing a pretty dress that night and his buddy says he’s a good guy.

Most of us, I think, are quite tired of Wesleyan continuing to live comfortably in this circle of higher education institutions that are striving to bring their survivors’ resources up from nothing to almost nothing, from abysmal to very poor, and asking for gratitude from the survivors they put through a cold hell. Every institution mentioned in The Boston Globe’s ongoing series is immediately interchangeable because nobody is doing anything substantially different from the rest. They all try to quietly make cautious incremental improvements, fire when they must but never denounce, avoid a ruckus, avoid attention, avoid appearing to violate a known violator’s propriety. Avoid looking too critically at what they could do better.

Is that who you want Wesleyan to be?

Let us be very clear: you do not owe Scott Backer anything, and you never did. This cyclical system will never change while we continue to protect perpetrators from the consequences of their harms. When the thought of public disclosure makes you uncomfortable, try imagining instead the violation survivors now feel knowing that they sat across the table from Scott Backer while he adjudicated their case against their assailant. They will always wonder whether their case might have turned out differently without him. Wesleyan has provided no way for them to ask.

Adding insult to injury, you chose to protect Scott Backer and keep our community in the dark. You have no obligation to protect Scott Backer’s reputation. You instead have an obligation to support our community’s uncountable survivors, and they deserve to know the character of the man who judged one of their most painful experiences. They deserve to know, from you, how Wesleyan intends to do better.

Your legal counsel protested disclosure, no doubt, in fear of a defamation suit. The Globe chose to take that risk. Wesleyan, too, has the resources to handle such a suit should it arise, which is to say that Wesleyan has the resources to do right by its community. As you know, I spent the better part of my Wesleyan career reviewing University financial documents and I can state that with some authority.

I hope, vainly, that this will never happen again. We all know that it will, sooner or later. When that time comes, I ask that you have the courage to be honest with our community, immediately and without reservation, about what has transpired and how you intend to prevent its recurrence in the future.

For the present, Scott Backer’s firing does not absolve you of the responsibility to make much needed improvements to Wesleyan’s resources for survivors. Taking a closer look than Pepper Hamilton did would be a good place to start.

I am, as always, ready to help our community make this right. You know how to reach me.

— Andrew Trexler ’14

 

Trexler is a former editor of Wesleying and a graduate of the class of 2014.