A First Attempt at Something Else

November 15, 2018

To start off this three part series on “The Lists,” we try to learn what they were, why they were made, and if they are really so different from practices that have existed outside the Claremont bubble for some time.

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On October 4th of this year, Pomona College’s Dean of Students sent an email banning the use of anonymously-created lists that kept students out of campus events. Some people were furious, others were relieved, and many students were learning about the practice for the first time.

Though many specifics about these lists remain unknown—how long the practice had been in place, how many groups were using such lists, or how many names had actually been submitted—moral stances on “The Lists” became one of the most salient conversation in campus politics. The practice was first implemented so that survivors of sexual assault could name their perpetrator and prevent them from being at the same gathering, without fear of retaliation.

Critics, and ultimately the Pomona administration, seemed to fear these lists could be used for more insidious purposes as well. To start off this four part series on “The Lists”, we try to learn from students what they were, why they were made, and if they are really so different from practices that have existed outside the Claremont bubble for some time.

Content Warning
Sexual Violence

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Eli Cohen: [00:00] Hi, I'm Eli and this is DisCo. Short for Discussion Collective, DisCo is a political podcast about life at Claremont. That may seem a little bit weird. But hopefully by the end of the year, I'll have convinced you that most of what we do here is pretty political. The daily choices we make, the disciplines we studied, and the conversations we have with one another every day.

For Episode One, I want to start with a debate that has taken Pomona by storm over the past month. You might have heard about it but even if you have, you likely don't know too many details. The whole point was kind of to keep a low profile until the Pomona administration made that all but impossible. I'm talking about the email sent out by Pomona's Dean of Students, Avis Hinkson, and cosigned by Pomona's Title IX Coordinator Sue McCarthy on October 4. It said Pomona funded organizations which used a list to manage guest entry into their events would be punished. The email and part read like this.

Reader: [01:16] While we recognize many factors may have led to the use of such lists on campus--

Eli Cohen: [01:21] This obviously is not Dean Hinkson, just one of my friends volunteering some voice acting. These are not her views, she's just reading the script.

Reader: [01:30] --the practice of barring bullying or otherwise punishing students in this manner must end immediately, as it is inconsistent with the college's commitment to equity and due process. The use of anonymous allegations of misconduct to socially isolated or exclude students should not take the place of the college's established procedures which encourage reporting, provide support and ensure that all involved parties are treated fairly.

Eli Cohen: [01:54] That's right. Pomona funded clubs, Sigma Tau, The Pomona Events Committee, the Latinx Alliance, and others were all using Google Forms that encourage people to submit names of other students who they did not want to attend for any reason, anonymously. The event description for one Sig Tau party read like this.

Reader: [02:18] Safety is our primary concern at Boot. In order to make sure that everyone has a good time, we have a Google Doc, where you can submit the name of anyone who could potentially come to the event that threatens your or your guests safety. All answers are anonymous, and only one member of Sigma Tau has access to the list. If someone named on the list shows up, they will be asked to leave the event. Once a name has been submitted, it will remain on the list for all future ST events. We appreciate your work helping keep the Claremont community safe.

Eli Cohen: [02:47] And to be perfectly honest, when I first learned that these lists were a thing. At that moment, when someone showed me one of the party invitations and told me what was going on. There was a fleeting moment where I honestly wondered, could I be on a list? I mean, when I've been told to steer clear of people, for reasons ranging from violent assaulter or to shitty romantic partner ,to saying something stupid in class. I mean, yeah, we've probably all done the last one. And word of mouth may be one thing, but when any accusation can be codified into permanent consequence, without even having to justify why, that seems scary enough to me.

Now, by now, I know a lot of my fellow classmates will be 99% sure that I have no business talking about this issue. I'll agree, the way I have framed these lists so far is not the way you typically hear in our campus conversation. But you may be surprised just how many people have disclosed opinions like this in private, and I'm not just talking about the disaffected white guys either.

Now, on the other hand, if you are just thrilled with what you have heard so far? If you were ecstatic to have seen these blacklists go, then I'd also suggest you reevaluate your position. Because though the lists may have been banned, the problem which they were trying to solve: sexual assault on these campuses, is still just as real. And even if sexual assault is something you've never experienced, someone you know, has, I can, but guarantee it.

And I should say, now, I am not a survivor. I cannot claim their experience. And I hope this episode doesn't do that. I can attempt to understand. And in that capacity, I'll try my best to do this story justice. Because the story of sexual assault on these campuses, and everywhere is not new. It is always existed side by side with the abstract concepts of due process, innocent until proven guilty, and the likes. The only difference is today, survivors are speaking out. And people are starting to listen. So at least consider that these lists are in fact, very complicated. It's a personal subject, and at times, hard to hear, so listen at your own discretion. But I hope you walk away. appreciative that you did.

Becky Hoving: [05:58] My name is Becky Hoving, I'm a sophomore at Scripps. I'm from Westport, Connecticut, which is about an hour outside of New York City. And I'm the news associate editor for the student life here at Pomona.

Eli Cohen: [06:10] So let's just start with the basics then. As best you know, how many lists are there? To You know, how many names are on these lists? Who has access to them? All these kinds of things?

Becky Hoving: [06:23] Yeah, so um, obviously, it differs by organization, because there's no like "master list." Each organization like Sigma Tau, or the organization you put on Dezi Beats, different organizations that throw parties on campus have used these lists in the past, but they're just kept on like an individual organization basis for the Dezi Beats event, which was last year, they reported that they had zero submissions, which I'm not sure like, if that's an outlier, or if that like kind of represents like the other lists, but I think it definitely varies by organization.

Eli Cohen: [07:01] Had you ever heard any instances of like clubs, cross referencing lists with each other to try to like figure out that everyone's, you know, accounted for anything like that?

Becky Hoving: [07:10] Yeah. In terms of the vetting process, it seemed like student organizations hadn't really gotten that far in terms of like cross referencing. I'm not sure, like, legally, how that would like where that would fall. But no organization that I talked to reported that they had cross reference with any other organization, because I really think that it's kind of like, case by case basis where like, for this specific event by this specific organization, at this time, when you may not want these people.

Eli Cohen: [07:39] What about enforcement? And have you ever heard of how they can be enforced in theory, or any methods of enforcement that have been carried out?

Becky Hoving: [07:47] Yeah, so Sigma Tau, I talked to you most extensively about how they use their lists. And the President Ethen Lund mentioned that students and administration obviously agrees with this, that students don't have the right to bar other students from, like, on campus organization, hosted parties, like parties that are funded by the school, in a sense, students don't have the right to like completely bar someone.

But what they did do is like, if someone was on the list, they would reach out to them prior to the event and say, you know, your name appeared on this list, please don't come to the event. Like if you have any questions follow up, obviously, you could still show up, but you're kind of showing up with the knowledge that like you're not wanted there. So kind of like the social pressure versus actually being like, officially banned from an event.

Eli Cohen: [08:38] This idea of social pressure came up in a lot of my interviews. And I want to bring the topic up early, because I think it's central to understanding how these lists actually operate. Right? Because at the end of the day, Claremont is not the kind of place where these lists really could be enforced with any real certainty. You're not going to have the linebacker stand outside your club event like a bouncer and decide who can and can't get in. And they're not a legal process. That was the whole point, right? The formalized processes like Title IX weren't working in the first place. The lists by design were meant to operate in the sphere of social influence. And I think that's critical to understanding how they actually function

Emily Coffin: [09:27] Hi, I'm Emily. She, her, hers. I'm a senior at Pomona public policy analysis, chemistry major. I've been an advocate since I was the first year.

Molly Keller: [09:38] I'm Molly, I'm also she, her, hers. I'm a senior at Pomona majoring in religious studies. And I've been an advocate since my sophomore year.

Eli Cohen: [09:47] What role do you see the advocates playing on this campus kind of generally. And then also, in light of the email from Dean Hinkson, kind of the issues that have brought been brought up since then.

Molly Keller: [10:00] To respond to your question. First of all, we support survivors. And that's our biggest priority, always has been and always will be. So that direct survivors support is kind of our core, but then we're also really big on education, and conversations about rape culture, how other people can support survivors in the more day to day life, just in friendships. And then we also kind of act as a liaison, I think, between the student body and the administration, which gets more to the email in the forums. But that's something I think we've always kind of done, be in contact with the Title IX Coordinator, Dean of Students.

Emily Coffin: [10:37] Right. Yeah, I would say that our functions really fall into the three fold division is an important one. But I think that one way to look at it as well as there's two buckets, essentially, the first being the service that we provide, to the student body in the sense of we we have education and, and providing this peer support as the form of advocates, but then there's also the component of activism where we're proactively working with the administration on policy reform, looking, attending sort of these forums and whatnot, and really going over sort of these methods, methods and seeing which are the most effective, but also, which can come from true student organizing.

Eli Cohen: [11:24] I really liked Emily's framing of there being these two buckets, though, in the time since we've talked, I've started to conceive of it slightly differently. She mentioned providing services and engaging in activism, which for me, feels related to the distinction between survivor support and responding to the incident. Because proponents of the list, often tout the benefits of creating entirely safe spaces for survivors, while critics cite the damage done to the individuals who are barred. We tried to discuss this entanglement support and response, and whether or not the two can ever really be seen as separate.

Emily Coffin: [12:07] I think that the decision to report, on a very, uni-dimensional perspective looks like it could be like "the right" decision, I put quotation marks around that as it is, as far as how the school can support you, you can seek, like consequences for a perpetrator because it's a policy violation. You'd like someone has essentially violated an institutional policy against you.

The issue of most Title IX violations and issues of sexual assault is that they're much more intimate, and much more painful than I think a Title IX policy violation gives them credit for. The process of Title IX itself is an entirely different subject where those cases are not tried in accordance to actual Title IX nine policy, whether it's timeline, whether it's the resources that are given to students, or spoken directly to students.

So as far as going through the reporting process, that's an incredibly tiring, exhausting thing to endure that might not even be "the right" way to heal. And like I use quotation marks again. And I think like that is what is critical and understanding here is that seeking justice through a policy violation isn't the cure, you know, like, that's not the end all be all of healing from an instant from a from an issue like this. And I think that is something important to understand as a community is like, if we're if we're talking about support and healing in these ways, we have to understand that that is a decision of the survivor and itself are themselves and I think that I the the role that the administration wants to take and really assigning what is sort of the right way to heal from one of these from an instance of sexual assault or violence. That in itself completely misses the point.

Eli Cohen: [14:20] If we could talk about a separate but related issue. I've heard that there is trouble with the funding for advocates as well, right now. And so I just I just want to hear it from y'all yourselves. What What is that looking like? Where Where is that headed? What's going on with that? As much as you'd like to say.

Emily Coffin: [14:41] There's multiple issues, I would say right now, I think the one I've been an advocate. Advocates has been very central in my experience at Pomona. I've been a part of it since the beginning of my time here. But I think the what has been really interesting to me is I took on the role of doing a lot of the work with the administration when I was a sophomore especially, and was kind of learning the ropes from older advocates in the organization. And you just notice burnout, really quickly from the people who kind of do that work. And I would say 100%, I experienced it myself.

It's really exhausting kind of working with the administration, this year has been sort of a new level of not only does it feel like what the work that we're doing isn't being recognized or isn't being really honored. It feels as if that work is kind of being under siege this year.

Eli Cohen: [15:44] What do you mean by that? Do you mean that the administration is keeping you from doing your job as you see it?

Molly Keller: [15:51] The the finances, in particular, I think, speak to what Emily was talking about, about the frustrations. So that's one area where we do have to talk to the administration, and where communication has been really bad. So advocates weren't paid until three years ago, right, and that's because advocates who came before us at advocated obviously really hard on our behalf to get that student labor recognized by the administration. But even since then, we've never been able to find out what our budget is. We're hired and we're on payroll, but we don't know explicitly where that money comes from that pays our paychecks. And it means that students have to pay out of pocket under the assumption that they'll be reimbursed, which doesn't make advocates as an organization as accessible as we'd like it to be.

We obviously want students from all backgrounds, all genders, all socio economic statuses, race, sexuality, etc. Because that helps us support as many people as we can. But when we have this financial issue, it kind of limits the extent to which people can participate.

Eli Cohen: [16:59] Later in the conversation. I asked Emily and Molly about a specific critique that I had been hearing a lot at the time, which wasn't even so much about the consequences to the individuals who were on the list. But that the lists themselves acted as a kind of social signaling, a sort of way to imply to people that if they didn't get on board with how people were thinking about this issue, they might as well not participate at all.

Molly Keller: [17:25] What I would say to that is, I agree it's a problem. And you should be able to come forward if you have kind of a new and nuanced perspective. But what I would say is a lot of the people who come forward criticizing the list don't propose an alternative. And so they join the conversation as a naysayer. And their point may be valid. And it may be valuable for us all to hear it and consider it because again, this isn't necessarily a perfect way of handling the issue. But what we're looking for is for them to say, here's my problem with the list, and with this process. Here's how I think could be better. Or here's an approach that I think might help keep survivors safe, and not be so alienating or not lend itself to the kind of potential misuse. So that's not something we see a ton. And I agree, it can be intimidating for people to come forward and say that stuff, but usually the people who do don't necessarily kind of engage further than the criticism.

Emily Coffin: [18:27] The thing that I find great about the list is that it is like the least in your face performative method of activism that has come across this campus in a while. And I think like it is a very silent action. And it allows for a message of solidarity, especially being given by peer groups or organizations and whatnot. But it is not a place to be up on your soapbox spewing like whatever your opinion is, like and it really is not a tool used to silence the naysayers or silence the people who might have a polarizing view. It is a very, like quiet piece of activism at the end of the day, I find it and and I think that is like what, what it's intended to be in a lot of ways. And I think that it really is is made that way to further protect and center survivors. Understanding this is an intimate issue that people do not want to be put on blast and Claremont.

Eli Cohen: [19:29] So it is 945. I just checked. So I'll stop asking questions. But if there are things that you thought of that you think are really important that haven't been said, or or thoughts that have come up in the course of the conversation, as seriously, I mean, if if I've got I've got nowhere to be. So yeah, shoot.

Molly Keller: [19:50] I think just a couple things. To make clear. I mean, we said this in the forum, but advocates doesn't hold list. We're not against the practice. We know that organizations do hold like concrete, written lists. We don't do that because of the very liability reasons that have been raised by the administration.

And then another thing is that just Emily, and I don't stand to speak for the whole organization. We're also two white advocates, so I think that's worth saying. So we don't want it to seem like we're speaking on behalf of everyone in the organization.

Eli Cohen: [20:26] I really enjoyed my conversation with the advocates. They explained their view of the situation lucidly and convincingly, so much so that actually had a little bit of trouble understanding why this issue was so contentious. The following week, I interviewed both Dean of Students, Avis Hinkson, and Title IX coordinator, Sue McCarthy. I don't have any recordings because they asked to be off the record. But I started to see subtle yet important differences in the way in which different groups on campus view this problem of sexual assault.

In a later conversation I had with Molly, she put it in really cogent terms: "It's a matter of the administration pushing a legal technicality. She said out of liability fears. Whereas because we put survivors first, we are committed to confidentiality, in spite of whatever policies may or may not prohibit that. There is a fair amount of legal ambiguity for the administration, that is something to fear. For us, that seems like an opportunity to capitalize on a gray area that could help advocates better support survivors."

And if we're going to talk about the law, we have to talk about the people who are going to get the final say.

TAPE (Leahy): [21:58] What is the strongest this memory you have? The strongest memory of the insert something you cannot forget? Take whatever time you need.

TAPE (Ford): [22:12] Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and they're having fun at my expense.

Eli Cohen: [22:29] The other part of this that we can't forget about, the email banning the lists was sent exactly a week after the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing. An FBI investigation had just ended, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused of sexual assault by three different women, was confirmed the following day. Here was Pomona asking survivors to play by the rules, go through the process, trust that the system is fair, all while the country was appointing an alleged assailant to oversee the systems. Quite literally, were Title IX to be legally challenged and appealed to the Supreme Court. Judge Kavanuagh would get to be part of that ruling, and we all can guess where his sympathies would lie.

Plenty of people can have and will continue to quarrel over Kavanagh's legal faculties, but the political signaling matters in and of its own right. In the wake of this confirmation, a lot of us wondered, why didn't the republicans just pull their nominee, find someone with a clean record, maybe they could have even been more conservative. And likely, they still would have been nominated without a hiccup.

But it's possible that Kavanaugh ended up being nominated, not in spite of his allegations, but because of them. The message could not be more clear. Speak out all you want, but see what actually changes.

TAPE (Fisher): [24:06] So we were all comparing notes, and there were a handful of names we all came up with right away.

Eli Cohen: [24:11] That's Molly Fisher, the host of the cut on Tuesdays, you're listening to a section right now.

TAPE (Fisher): [24:16] But less than 24 hours after that, I got an email that I'm still thinking about a year later. It had a link to a Google spreadsheet called shitty media men, and when you opened it up, what you saw was a list of men's names with anonymous accusations entered next to them. These ranged from things like sending creepy messages to sexual assault, so it was a pretty wide range. At first there weren't that many names. A lot of them were the same ones my friends and I had come up with right away, but by that night and included dozens of men, and all the women I worked with were talking about it.

Eli Cohen: [24:51] You should really listen to the whole episode produced by gimlet media. But here's just another small section of Molly and other journalists that she knew discussing their initial reactions to the spreadsheet.

TAPE (Fisher): [25:02] Sorry to bug you. There's a breaking story I think we need to address she writes, Hi, I'm in London, I read Oh, fuck, there's a list being generated of men in media who have done shitty things to women. And Rebecca said, I'm looking now and they said oh, man, do you think we should cover this? She says I don't know. It's such a weird mix of I had shitty lunch date with this dude to man hits woman.

TAPE (Spencer): [25:23] I remember looking at it and feeling like I shouldn't even be I shouldn't even be looking at my list.

TAPE (Fisher): [25:29] That's through Spencer, another editor at the cut. Why not?

TAPE (Spencer): [25:32] Because it felt like watching whispers happening live in real time. And also it was a story that was as live as it gets, like watching a spreadsheet get filled in like that. Well, yeah. really unbelievable. All the different cells lighting up with different colors, you know, just seeing the different avatars and the top right hand corner.

TAPE (Fisher): [25:50] Anonymous marmoset. Anonymous, aardvark, they got to the really obscure animals because so many people were looking at.

TAPE (Spencer): [25:56] And just watching it happen. It was it was totally overwhelming was like, I don't even know what this is yet. Yeah, like thinking about it as a story. But also, what are we even talking about? What is this document? Yeah, I remember I saw on the list the name of somebody who had sexually harassed me at a previous job, but I didn't put him on the list. But the allegation that was next to him was what had happened to me. And I remember thinking, like, you know, I knew people were sort of aware, but like, wow, the whisper network really is alive. Yeah, have enough so that, you know, women are actually adding allegation stuff has happened to me, you know, we're all really aware of what has happened to each other.

TAPE (Fisher): [26:34] But had you ever talk to anyone about it before? Had you ever worn anyone, just sort of people that I used to work with who all who all new, but I hadn't. I hadn't been like advertising it by any means.

Eli Cohen: [26:48] For a little bit more context, the list they're discussing existed for about 12 hours on October 11 of last year, it was created by New Republic editor, Moira Donegan. Here she is describing her rationale. In an interview she did with the New York Times.

TAPE (Donegan): [27:08] I created a Google spreadsheet called shitty medium, and that could be shared and anonymously edited. The idea was that women could use it to name somebody who had behaved badly towards them, whether through sexual assault or rape or harassment. I shared it with some women colleagues and friends in my industry, whom I knew had stories. And then from there, they sent it to people they knew had stories, and they sent it to people they knew had stories. And by the time I was forced to take it down to about 12 hours after I created it, there were more than 70 men named and 14 had their names highlighted in red to denote that there were more than one woman who were accusing that particular person of violent physical assault.

If you are accepting this as just the way things are, then you're sort of accepting that you're going to be treated badly, and your colleagues are going to be treated badly. And you know, women you've never met are going to be treated badly. And I didn't want to accept that anymore. So I decided to make a first attempt at trying something else.

Listen, I made the decision to create this spreadsheet. So its flaws are my fault. But there was this obstacle because the conventional reporting avenues for women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault or rape, or really not good once the document that I made was designed to be private, but it very quickly went viral.

I want to emphasize that I don't even know who saw it, who had added to it those women are anonymous to me as well. But at the same time, I could see that what was going on on this the spreadsheet was also this act of real solidarity and community among the women who work in this industry to attempt to keep one another safe.

Eli Cohen: [29:14] To be sure, the spreadsheet made by Donegan, and the lists which have been used here in Claremont are not the exact same, but I do believe they fill a similar purpose. As Donegan said, a first attempt at something else.

They are not meant as malicious hit jobs, or celebratory exposures. They're meant as calls for protection, born out of a threat of very real danger. And like any first pass at making something better, there will be other damages rendered along the way. We look into that and part two of this series. But for me, making part one did make one thing crystal clear. Just reverting to the way things were is not an option.

These will be the fastest credits you have ever heard in your life. The songs in this episode were Agitations Tropicales by L'Impératrice. Eyes Closed by BadBadNotGood. Long Ride Home by Zane McFarland. He's a Pomona grad, he makes amazing music and he's releasing an album soon. It's gonna be awesome. The audio you heard was provided by The Student Life, CSPAN, Gimlet Media, and New York Times. And of course, thank you to the following people for absolutely crucial support as PC Senate for help with funding, Jeremy, Sabine and Soleil, for willing help and sage advice. Erica Tyrone KSPC for unwavering assistance. And of course, Susan McWilliams for spiritual guidance, sanity saving dark humor, and allowing me to actually call this my senior thesis.