Community, Features

BU student publishes second open letter to University about sexual assault on campus

Prisha Sujin Kumar couldn’t wait to be a Boston University Terrier. BU was a school she loved, where she felt comfortable and trusting of its leaders.

Boston University student Prisha Sujin Kumar wrote a second open letter to BU Jan. 10 about her experience with sexual assault on campus and the University’s handling of sexual assault cases. ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH YOSHINAGA/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

But it was also a school that let her down.

Kumar was assaulted by a fellow student in March 2019 and posted an open letter to the University June 30, 2020 via Instagram and her Medium page. The letter detailed her assault, personal reflections on the incident and the University’s handling of her case, followed by a request for a “serious change in policy.”

Six months later, on Jan. 10, she wrote a second letter to the University about her experience with sexual assault on campus, condemning the University’s treatment of her and other survivors.

“I had signed on to go to a university that I thought would put my interest as a student first, and in reality, all I saw was that they did not care about me as much as I cared about them,” Kumar said, “and it was horrible.”

In her initial list of demands to BU, she asked administration to institute policies in the new Title IX ruling, including a 60-day time limit for BU to complete sexual assault cases, prompt responses to student reports despite the pandemic and ensuring LGBTQ+ students have equal access to care.

After posting the first letter, expecting a few hundred likes, Kumar was astounded by the overwhelming response on social media. Six months later, despite that Instagram post receiving more than 6,700 likes and 1,200 comments — as well as several messages from past and present students sharing their own sexual assault stories — Kumar was unsatisfied with the University’s response.

“In my first letter, I had outlined pretty small changes that they could add on to their Title IX policies that I thought were really fair,” she said. “Nothing was acknowledged.”

Kumar’s assaulter was suspended for a year as punishment, according to the letter, which Kumar said she thinks is insufficient for the crime he committed and trauma he inflicted. Now, a year after starting the process, she said she is still fighting for the removal of her grades from the semester the assault happened.

Beside these unresolved issues, Kumar was motivated to write a second letter after a Boston Globe article about a 2015 sexual assault quoted BU lawyers writing that the victim “was given the tools to assure her safety, a door with a sturdy lock, but she elected not to use it,” and the University could not promise to keep students safe.

“I’ve been talking to so many other survivors from BU, the fact that I know so many other survivors itself is awful,” Kumar said. “That collective anger made me go like, ‘Okay, I should probably post a second letter.’”

That second letter, which has reached more than 2,600 likes and 520 comments on Instagram, specifically addressed the University’s “lack of empathy towards survivors,” neglect of Title IX accommodations and inaction against organizations with repeated offenses. The letter also mentioned how Judicial Affairs is not representative of the diverse BU community, and survivors had to wait months for investigations to resolve.

“Every survivor I know has stated that while their rape was horrible, the response and condescending attitudes from this institution have been much worse,” Kumar wrote in the letter. “How many more rapes will it take for you to change your policies?”

Since its release, Kumar’s letters have gone unanswered by top University officials — she was instead redirected to Associate Provost and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, whose responses she wrote, “fell flat.” After suggesting policy changes at panel discussions and openly discussing her assault, Kumar said she felt BU administration “didn’t really care.”

Elmore and Title IX coordinator Kim Randall did not respond to multiple requests for comments.

BU spokesperson Colin Riley wrote in an email the Dean of Students responded to Kumar to offer assistance, make referrals and correct any falsehoods. Kumar said though Elmore reached out after the first letter in June, she said she has yet to hear from the administration since.

Riley added the office saw the letter as an opportunity to reexamine the University’s sexual misconduct procedures and as feedback to help increase student reporting.

“Rather than responding via social media platforms, the practice is to respond to individual concerns about sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct,” Riley wrote. “For students with such a concern, they should contact the University’s Title IX Coordinator or Dean of Students office.”

Kumar’s trauma on campus was not a unique student experience. After her assault, she, along with other victims, created the Campus Survivors Instagram page — a platform that invites survivors at Boston-based colleges to share their experiences with sexual assault.

Since its creation in May 2020, 173 stories have been posted, many of which mirror Kumar’s own case.

“I saw a lot of the posts were strictly with the way that a survivor’s university or institution handled the problem versus the actual experience,” Kumar said. “And I felt that particularly strongly with my experience.”

According to a 2019 study by the Association of American Universities — of which Boston University is a part — the rate of nonconsensual sex for graduate and undergraduate students was 13 percent. For undergraduate women, this number was 25.9 percent.

Amarri Harrison, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, has posted anonymously on @campus.survivors about her assaults. Harrison said she supports Kumar’s mission — both with her letters and her Instagram page — especially because of her own disapproval of the University’s treatment of sexual assault cases.

“Her letters, plural, are extremely necessary.” Harrison said. “Content wise, I’m not surprised, especially having had my own experiences with the University and their process that’s quite, excuse my language, but f—— up.”

Harrison said she has experienced two incidents of sexual misconduct, but was reluctant to report the second because of how BU handled her first case, which involved a BU professor.

“When I had filed my complaint,” Harrison said, “the whole time, basically, I was on trial.”

Harrison said she initially reported her sexual harassment in late March, issued her written statement in May and got the results in August. The professor then appealed the results, and Harrison received them in October — a timeline she said was very upsetting to her.

“It is emotionally scarring and it changes the rest of your life,” she said. “They have to approach that with the severity that it is.”

That professor is still teaching at BU, Harrison said.

Other students praised Kumar’s letters, including CAS senior Victoria Huang, who particularly resonated with its sections on the BU Police Department and student safety.

“You can’t say that you’re not responsible for student safety when we’re paying $80,000 a year,” Huang said. “What are we paying $80,000 a year to if you guys aren’t there to keep us safe?”

Huang, a survivor herself, also said she trusted the school to take care of her. Similar to Harrison, Huang said her statement “took weeks to process” because of COVID-19.

Huang did not want to participate in a hearing and see her attacker. Because of this, Huang said she felt as though she was at a legal disadvantage and no one would work with her to find an alternative solution.

Additionally, Huang said she noted discrepancies on what the University said it was going to do and what it actually did.

“A lot of the stuff that [BU] said on the Title IX [website] that they would do,” Huang said, “they just don’t follow through with it,” she said.

Huang said she hopes the University listens to Kumar’s letters, pours more funding into BU’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center and promises to uphold all the guidelines and accommodations they list.

“I hope that they will implement new resources to help students,” she said. “Even through small things like making a class credit or no credit, being able to talk to people or just not getting berated when you’re trying to explain to Judicial Affairs your own story.”

BU’s Kappa Sigma fraternity — which was addressed specifically in Kumar’s second letter for “countless stories of assault and harassment” — released a statement on Instagram two days after the letter was published vowing to combat sexual assault and harassment through education, training and publishing resources on their website.

Albert Kelleher, president of the chapter and a sophomore in College of General Studies, said this semester’s executive board was crafting a statement about sexual assault before the letter was published, but decided to release it early after reading Kumar’s letter. Kelleher said he also spoke with Kumar over the phone to discuss her concerns.

“Stepping into this role as president, I want to do things a bit differently,” Kelleher said. “We haven’t really had statements in the past like this, so this was something different for us.”

Kelleher said he is “actively working” on instituting these changes, and pledges to have them in place by the time Spring semester begins. He added the Greek Life leaders on campus met Monday night to discuss how to work together in educating and creating new policies around sexual assault.

If the school administration does not change the way they approach sexual assault, Kumar said she will go to “more definitive action,” writing and advocating for awareness and change.

“At this point, BU’s been given an unlimited amount of chances,” she said. “Each time, they deny it and they do not prioritize these issues, and that is not enough.”

For survivors, Kumar said she recommends SARP, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Victim Rights Law Center as a resource to find advocates. She said she wants survivors to know they are not alone and to not stop fighting for themselves.

“There is support around you,” Kumar said. “Whether you find it within other survivors or just mentors around you, there will always be people who believe you and trust you. And you should never feel like anything, at the end of the day, has been your fault.”

Boston University’s SARP is a free, confidential resource for students who have survived traumatic events.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that Greek Life leaders on campus met Sunday night instead of Monday night. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.

 

Comments are closed.