An open letter to Mullen

From an alumna concerned about Title IX and sexual assault on Allegheny’s campus

Dana D'Amico, Contributing Writer

Editor’s note: After The Campus published a story about the sexual assault allegations made by two first-year women against Trey Serbin, ’21, on Nov. 9, 2017, Dana D’Amico, ’13, contacted The Campus to inform them about an open letter she intended to send to Allegheny College President James Mullen. The Campus has decided to publish this letter due to its relevance.

I am an alumna of Allegheny College, now nearly five years into a career in the Twin Cities. My undergraduate training has been a crucial part of my success, and just last month I flew in to talk to current students about their own budding career paths. I enjoyed my experience at Allegheny College. But for too many, the primary takeaway of their college careers is a trauma inflicted by a peer.

I am deeply disappointed with Allegheny’s inaction towards sexual assault allegations — most recently, its lack of meaningful comment on a series of assaults committed by a male student. Every day I see the college growing its own reputation as a safe harbor for sexually violent young men. This is an epidemic for Allegheny College, and one that is simply not being addressed at scale by the administration.

On Nov. 9, 2017, The Campus reported that one of two women to receive a Protection From Abuse order against Trey Serbin, ’21, said in her court hearing, “I did have faith in the school until they told me we had to be treated as equals.” I cannot pretend to know what college staff communicated to that young woman in private conversation, but I can say that any student who receives two PFAs but no letter of expulsion is being treated with extraordinary tolerance.

As our society begins to reject abusive men en masse, it has become painfully clear that there have been many more parties enabling their abuses over time. The enabling can be indirect: an inadequate response to a complaint. For Harvey Weinstein, it meant an entire industry looking the other way; for Allegheny College, it means an administration re-traumatizing survivors through bureaucratic process and ill-suited advice.

I do not know how this administration can look at the female students of Allegheny and tell them that their problem is too difficult — for it seems with every botched Title IX complaint that the college has given up. I do not know how my alma mater could place the onus on a woman to avoid her perpetrator. A PFA is not an expulsion, and the plain truth is that a woman on a campus as small as Allegheny’s can live in fear of stumbling into the person who traumatized her at any moment. In fact, according to a report in the Meadville Tribune, even the judge who delivered the second PFA acknowledged the practical limits of the order. “You need to be a participant in becoming safer,” he told the plaintiff, advising her to develop strategies to avoid contact with her assaulter. This is not acceptable.

Each Saturday, I mentor a first-generation high school sophomore on her journey to college. She is extremely bright, with a promising future ahead of her. In our last session, she asked me what college I attended as she searched for places to apply to herself. I told her the answer, but not without disclosure: this administration does not prioritize the safety of its female students. This was a shameful admission for me, but one that I stand behind. As an instructor at the University of Minnesota, I have taught both rapists and survivors. I have seen the rapists graduate and the victims drop out.

I assure you that this problem can be addressed. Last year, I commended our university’s president, Eric Kaler, when he moved to suspend ten football players in advance of their Holiday Bowl game after it was revealed that they had assaulted a young woman at a party. The public pressure against suspension was immense, but Kaler did not back down.

Allegheny College can, at this moment in public turning of opinion, become a leader in thought and action — a progressive beacon for a young woman’s right to a safe educational experience. But nothing will change until the administration stands up for its students. And alumnae like me will continue to recommend other institutions to our mentees, friends and peers until you do.