Repairing in the Name of Beckett Brennan
Involving Spelman in Sexual Assault Epidemic
Sexual assault on college campuses has become a growing issue. One in five college students experience sexual assault during their college career. ‘One in Five’ has become a large statement placed in protests and organizations against sexual assault. The aftermath of a sexual assault is tough on the victim especially because of how universities handle it. When a sexual assault is reported to the university, victims expect administrators to complete their duties under Title IX. Title IX has always been about sports to most people, including me, but what many people may not know is Title IX is also a federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education. A college campus has the duty to ensure the campus is free of sex discrimination, and needs to have an established procedure for handling complaints of sex discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual violence. The university must help a victim of violence continue their education, whether thats therapy to help the victim, or protecting the victim from further abuse. Universities have to comply with all of these rules under Title IX. Understanding your rights can help victims get the justice they deserve from their school.
Now, around most campuses there are support groups and student services for victims. It gives victims someone that will hear their story. There are countless good people working in student services, but without the full support of their campus, they lack improvement. When it comes to the victim getting justice, or a crime getting recognized the institutions do what they can to protect themselves and not the victim. This completely goes against what it takes to protect students from sexual violence. Throughout the nation this is happening, and though the subject is becoming more recognized, universities are still protecting themselves. By shaming and blaming the victim, universities are able to hide the crime that was committed to promote their statistics on sexual assault. Though some offenders may be found guilty, most are not expelled or arrested, leaving the victim without restorative justice. There are thousands of cases of sexual assault across college campuses, but one that sparked my interest was of a student at the University of the Pacific, named Beckett Brennan. She was a student at the University of the Pacific and was sexually assaulted in 2008. Her story sparked my interest because of the amount of press that followed it. The way her case was handled is an example of the unjust system schools have for victims and offenders. College has become a hunting ground for young sexual predators. As this epidemic grew, Universities started to do less for their students. Beckett was brave enough to share her story after her college failed to protect her. Three boys that she trusted raped her on campus, and when it was brought to the University’s attention, they did more to protect the offenders than the victim. Not just this University failed their student, universities across the nation are not recognizing this epidemic. As you look at this problem from a far, the universities need to mitigate the stigma against women that is across campuses.
Looking further in, you can see the main problems causing and supporting this stigma: their in-school justice system, their student-to-university relationship, and their sexual assault code and punishments. Spelman touches on topics that could help strengthen universities; women, relationships, and restorative justice are large parts of how the repair of sexual assault on college campuses can be successful.
Beckett Brennan fully understands what is like to be disappointed by her university. Brennan was a very successful high school all-American basketball player, and was given a full scholarship to The University of the Pacific. The men’s basketball team was a successful D1 team, and the women’s program was growing behind them. She flourished freshman year, but one evening her life was changed forever. It was a Saturday night in May 2008, Beckett was drinking with her team and went to a party. Moving from party to party she looked for a ride back to where her friends stayed, which was a place on campus called the ‘Townhouses’. Beckett was offered a ride by two players of the men’s basketball team. She said she felt completely comfortable with the two players, and when they arrived to the ‘Townhouses’ the two players led her to an apartment where she assumed her friends would be. She was brought upstairs and raped by the two basketball players, with a third basketball player coming in later to rape her again. This horrific act caused a downward spiral in Beckett Brennan’s life. After the attack, at her dorm she found refuge in her friends, and explained her attack but what she didn’t know was one of her friends recorded her statement. On the recording you can hear her say, “And they were like taking off my clothes. I was inside the closet in the corner, trying to like, trying to get away. I don’t want anyone to find out. No, I don’t. I don’t want anybody to find out.” The recording was brought to her coach and he had to report it to the school (The Case of Becket Brennan, CBS Interactive Inc.). The reparation of the offenders was now in the hands of the university.
Though she didn’t report the assault at first, when proof of an assault was brought to the university’s attention they, under law, had to act. It wasn’t unusual for the victim to not report her assault, “95 percent of victims of sexual assault on college campuses don’t report it (The Case of Becket Brennan, CBS Interactive Inc).” The police pressured her away from filing charges, saying the involvement of alcohol wouldn’t make it a strong case, and the trial would be hard. Beckett brought it to a school judicial hearing, with her parents because they were scared for her safety and mental health. Beckett said the trial shamed her for her drinking. The three boys involved were found guilty of violating the school’s policy against sexual assault. One was expelled, another suspended for a year, and the last suspended for a semester. The expelled student then got a full scholarship for basketball to another university. The two suspended boys came back after their suspension was over. Beckett Brennan resigned from University of the Pacific. Was that justice for the victim?
A student must feel safe on their campus especially when they are about to call it their home for the next four years. In doing so, the relationship between a student and their university is precious. They need to be available to victims of assault and be educated on how you must handle sexual assault. Though Universities don’t have the right to act as parents to their students, I believe the sense of community of a university should make it a family. The University should protect its student like a family would protect one of their own, When Spelman talks about relationships in families, it can be directly related back to the student-to-university relationship, “Because the variety of ways in which humans are called upon to mend themselves, other, and the relationship they are in, they need some kind of rehearsal for and training in that long before and certainly during their school years (Spelman, 35).” In Beckett Brennan’s case, her offenders’ fate was chosen by three teachers, and two students. These people were not educated on sexual assault, and had no training giving them the right to make that decision. A way that we can mend the student-to-university relationship is educating faculty on sexual assault, and having specific faculty who are trained to help sexual assault victims. These educated faculties are the only possible people who have gained a right to be on a school justice panel.
For Beckett Brennan, the university failed her by not getting the justice she deserved. They were required by law to give Beckett a trial, which they gave her. This is more than a lot of colleges have done in the past. Even though they gave her a trial, they helped the offenders more than the victim. A small punishment gave the offenders a break from school, and let them come back and continue to play basketball. The boy expelled was back on another college campus three months later. These three boys are sexual predators, and like many universities across the country, The University of the Pacific decided to ignore this fact to protect their image. Spelman’s definition of restorative justice would not fit into the way the University of the Pacific handled Beckett’s case. As a victim her trauma was not taken into consideration, and as a student the University destroyed its relationship with her. If universities chose to take these accusations seriously, sexual assault would be seen as a punishable crime, not just a slap on the wrist.
As we begin to patch up the universities justice system, we also need to patch up the wrong they have done in the past. “Under normal circumstances the work of tending to relationships calls for noticing, acknowledging and empathizing with the feeling of family members and patching up quarrels, and soothing hurt feeling (Spelman, 35).” Universities need to acknowledge their wrong doing so the victims left unnoticed can start to mend. This could start with an apology. Spelman believes in the power of an apology:
“A genuine apology thus involves a rather raw exposure of the apologizer: Having done the deed, one now not only reiterates having done it, but strips away any suggestion that there are extenuating circumstances that could relieve one of blame; it must be clear that he regrets what he has done and feels sorrow over what he has wrought. He doesn’t just wish things were otherwise; he fully acknowledges his role in bringing them to this sorry state. Moreover, apology is inappropriate if what one has done does not really constitute damage. If what I have done to you is something to be apologized for, it must be something that harms you (Spelman, 83).” With an apology, each university can strengthen their relationship with students, so students can start to feel safe on their campus.
With an apology helping the victim recover, strengthening a university’s relationship can only be completed by strengthening their sexual assault violation code, and then following through with its punishments. Two of Becket Brennan’s offenders had a small suspension, leaving her on the same campus as her rapists. The other offender was on another college campus in three months, putting the women on that campus in danger. Spelman says, “The victim may well feel that the state is more interested in creating its own version of how she was wounded than in hers, that she has become in effect a vehicle by which the state reaffirms its own authority and power rather than the real focus of the state’s concern (Spelman, 57).” Universities creates its own version of the assault, by playing it down. Sexual Assault is a punishable crime outside of the university, and so the police should be brought into each assault with a full investigation. To help the school’s justice system police and the university should reconcile in creating a clear sexual assault violation code. Punishments need to be clear and each student needs to sign a contract agreeing to it, this will make an expulsion viable.
Having a sexual assault victim live on campus with his or her offender is not restorative justice, “The idea is not so much making the punishment proportional to the crime but doing repairs appropriate to the various harms inflicted” (Spellman, 65). Expulsion is necessary in each case of sexual assault, and this expulsion needs to be put on the offender’s record as they apply to a new school. Sexual predators, just like outside of universities, need to be recognized as such. “The restorative justice approach not only hopes to bring attention to the multiple locations of the wound inflicted by a criminal act; it aims to involve all those affected by the act in the work necessary to carry out the appropriate repairs (Spelman, 59).” With restorative justice we need to keep everyone’s safety in mind, including other universities. With this offense on someone’s record it may make it hard for them to apply to a university, but it is the price to pay to keep students safe. As students, and faculty members are educated on this epidemic, women can finally feel the respect they deserve, as they are a student on the university just like everyone else.
Educating our nation’s universities is vital to end this epidemic. Spelman’s thoughts on women, relationships, and restorative justice help explain how to educate our nation. Women’s rights have always been a problem, and the lack of justice for sexual assault victims is the modern problem. We sign over our life and our money to a college when we register, and in return we believe we are finding a safe home. The student-to-university relationship is proven weak by the sexual assaults gone unnoticed. I believe we need to repair this relationship to help end this epidemic, and because it is each students right to feel safe on their campus. The family relationships Spelman touches upon is the way a student should be treated by their university. Protecting their students, and apologizing when there has been wrong doing is essential. Restorative justice is also crucial in protecting the victims. Sexual assault codes and punishments will need to be strengthened at each university, and with a strong code their in-school justice system will strengthened as well. The United States is suffering from sexual assault across universities, and as this epidemic grows this problem needs to become federal. Rape and sexual assault is a federal crime, so why can’t we push for sexual assault on college campuses becoming a federal crime? Universities need to recognize the epidemic and actively work against it to get it nationally recognized, turning it into a federal crime.
As 2017 comes closer, so does the month of April. The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. With sexual assault on college campuses becoming increasingly recognized, this month could have the most support it has seen since it was created. It is our duty as college students or as members of our society to support the victims of sexual assault on and off campuses. Doing what you can to support the many movements against sexual assault can make a big difference. It is on us to end the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses, for Becket Brennan and the other millions of victims of sexual assault.
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I would like to thank my group members, Savannah, Sarah, Aarif, and Ryan. They helped me develop my idea of repairing sexual assault on college campuses, and creating a smaller topic to focus on for my essay. I would also like to thank my big TA group and Seda for helping me come up with ways to connect my project to Spelman. My best friend from home has worked very hard to end sexual assault as far as doing community service work in India. I would like to thank her for inspiring me to write about sexual assault, and helping me and my high school see the dangers. I would like to thank my mother for inspiring me throughout my life to fight for women’s rights, by showing how women can be just as powerful as men. I appreciate the help that my English teacher, Mr. Harris, gave me in developing my final draft of my essay. I used many of his ideas to expand my connections to Spelman. Lastly, I am thankful for Spelman’s writing, and her book Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. Her passion for restorative justice, and her point of view of woman as a woman helped me develop my essay. I would also like to thank my sister for reading over my essay, and her advice.