By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Earlier this year, on February 17, Kiera Feldman wrote a revelatory piece for The New Republic detailing how Patrick Henry College (PHC) has handled sexual assault cases. Feldman’s story, entitled “Sexual Assault at Patrick Henry College, God’s Harvard,” caused an uproar among homeschool alumni, PHC graduates, and others. (Though it was not the first time someone publicly mentioned sexual assault at the so-called “God’s Harvard.” PHC alumnus David Sessions had already mentioned the fact the previous year, saying “Girls have been raped while attending Patrick Henry College: girls who I sat next to in class, by men who I sat next to in class. Other women I know were at different times mercilessly harassed, stalked and frightened—all on the campus of Patrick Henry College.”)
A day after Kiera Feldman’s piece was published, PHC fired back with a “Statement by Patrick Henry College to concerned alumni and students about article in The New Republic.” The college’s statement was disseminated that same day to alumni and a day later to PHC’s general student body (where it was met with student applause). The statement, which you can read here, claimed that, “PHC earnestly sought to do the right thing in each instance, did not attempt to cover-up any sexual crimes, and did not seek to blame women for the improper behavior of male students.”
PHC also stated that it had “commissioned a specialized legal firm to undertake an audit of our sexual harassment policy and procedures, both to review past events and to recommend further improvements.” In response to both the New Republic story as well as PHC’s statement, the college’s official alumni organization — Patrick Henry College’s Alumni Association (PHCAA) — issued their own statement to the college’s Board, Faculty, and Staff. As I reported at the time, “PHCAA said it condemned all acts of sexual abuse and harassment and ‘categorically rejected’ any form of victim-blaming. Without commenting on the particulars of the recently publicized sexual assault cases in Kiera Feldman’s piece in the New Republic, PHCAA stated that (1) it is a fact that students have experienced sexual mistreatment and (2) the college needs to provide better victim care.”
PHCAA also requested the college be “far beyond reproach” by allowing “an independent review of the New Republic incidents, and those propounded by any other past allegations of sexual assault, either in this audit or a separate one.” The college agreed to this request; on February 19 the PHC Independent Review Committee (IRC) was commissioned. The IRC consisted of 8 PHC alumni: Chair Megan Kirkpatrick, Jenna Lorence, Daniel Noa, Matthew Roche, Lindsay See, Holly Vradenburgh, Brian Wright, and one additional member “whose employment prohibits disclosure” (according to the IRC). The IRC later added one final member, Jordan Wood Benavidez.
Several days ago, on August 1, the IRC privately released their final report and recommendations. Today that report and recommendations were distributed to the PHC alumni community. You can view the “Final Report” here and the “Recommended Sexual Misconduct Policy” here.
The final report — addressed and sent directly to PHC Chancellor Michael Farris — reveals disturbing facts. Some of these facts include:
• The college administration tried to stonewall the IRC’s investigation:
“In early March, the Chair asked to interview College officials about past policies and instances of alleged sexual misconduct. On March 26, the Chair received an email from Dr. Walker directing theChair to abide by certain guidelines for the interviews. The same day, the Chair objected via email and provided a list of possible parameters for the interviews. According to Dr. Walker, College staff refused to be interviewed unless the Chair agreed to refrain from asking questions about the New Republic article and the incidents detailed therein.”
• There are serious discrepancies between the administration’s claims about the number of reported assaults and the students’ own claims:
“Dean Corbitt responded in writing on May 1, indicating that there had been only four (possibly five) instances of alleged sexual misconduct at PHC between 2006 and the present, along with brief answers to the other questions. On April 23, the Chair sent the College a survey for distribution to current students… The survey responses revealed a radical difference between the allegations of sexual misconduct that students and alumni claimed to have reported and the small number reported by Dean Corbitt on May 1.”
• The majority of the current PHC student body, as surveyed by the IRC, does not understand sexual assault:
“50.5% of respondents agreed or were neutral to the statement that someone has to fight back or tell someone to stop for a sexual encounter to be non-consensual.”
• At least 28 alumni — 2 of which were minors at the time — have been sexually assaulted or harassed during their time at Patrick Henry College. (Furthermore, this number only includes incidents from 2006 on. The college was founded in 2000.)
“28 respondents said that during their time at PHC, they were sexually assaulted or harassed in some way (including but not limited to stalking, harassing emails/phone calls, inappropriate touching, groping, being recorded/photographed without consent, and rape), and 2 respondents said at least one of the persons involved were under the age of 18.”
Again, you can view the “Final Report” here and the “Recommended Sexual Misconduct Policy” here in entirety.
Update, 08/06/2014: You can read PHC Chancellor Michael Farris’s response to the report and recommendations here.
I can’t speak for PHC, as I have never been there. But I think there is a huge problem of sexual predation and cover up in fundamentalist Christian communities. And I don’t know that the cover up is intentional, or that the predation by young men is unavoidable if the religious teachings were more carefully given to educate young people about what abuse and rape is.
Some of it is due to victim blaming that their culture sees as normal, where the harlot seducing the godly man is too normal of a trope. A lot also has to do with naïveté, that any guy trusted in their Christian circle could never be a predator or assault women, and so they default to the assumption that the woman is exaggerating, since that’s easier to reconcile in their worldview than that they are harboring a rapist. Also, in my experience, some extreme Christian guys were sexually abusive because of their interpretations of what they’d been taught. I don’t think the older adults always realized the young adults and teens interpreted teachings to mean women always owing them sex, saying no equaling leading them on, etc in the way that they did. But when you have immature and selfish young men raised in the tendency to paint women as temptresses, it gives them justification for it. I think there’s also a lot of unaddressed anger in many young men in this environment, when they see hypocrisy, are abused themselves etc, and instead of turning away from their abusers or the problematic beliefs, they take it out on women because many fundamentalist teachings suggest such an angry view of women, where any woman not the perfect virginal Christian is a temptress and deserves their anger and frustration.
Again, I don’t think it was intentional from the adults who gave various teachings. I think it’s what the entire culture mixed together resulted in. Take out any of those problematic pieces, and maybe there’s be less of a problem. That was my experiences with the young men who hurt me in various ways anyway, both sexual and otherwise. If you paint women as out to tempt men, ignore young men displaying emotional aggression, and close your eyes to predators in your group and blame the woman so as to not wreck your feeling of safety, this is what you get. And the saddest part is that the adults honesty don’t think they are enabling abuse, meanwhile young women’s lives are being ruined. (I haven’t touched on anything outside of non traditional gender roles, since I haven’t seen that play out personally.)
“Both the College’s responses to Committee inquiries and its communications to the media and public were insufficient to give Committee members confidence that the College appropriately handled past reports of sexual misconduct.”
Same song, different verse. Kuddos to the IRC for doing their job in spite of the stonewalling.
I want to commend the panel for this report. All but two of them I knew personally during my time at PHC. I would have expected many of them to do the right thing on this project. But, based on my knowledge of them from many years ago, I would NOT have expected a few of them to sign off on a report like this. Most of the members of this panel are PHC “superstars” in terms of top law school admissions and post-PHC success. Overall, this was a highly-qualified group of people and I am very pleased by their work on this issue.