TORCH PHOTO/RACHEL JOHNSON
St. John’s University is in the process of contacting students who posted accusations of sexual misconduct amid a flurry of social media posts last Friday, according to University spokesperson Brian Browne.
In a statement to the Torch, Browne addressed the hashtag #SurvivingSJU on Twitter – which was trending on Friday – and added that they will investigate all claims.
“The University has made direct and individual outreach to any student who raised concerns through social media about conduct covered by University policies, and the University will investigate all claims,” Browne said.
More than 2,000 tweets surfaced on Friday, Jan. 4 with most of them detailing alleged experiences of different forms of sexual misconduct that have taken place in St. John’s – either personal or of other accounts from members of the St. John’s community.
The Torch is not referencing any specific claim or identifying anyone who posted because the accusations are of a sensitive nature and are not immediately substantiated.
Some students also wrote about negative encounters they had with University administrators when they attempted to report their incidents. As a result, many called for changes to protocol and the way in which the school handles accusations.
“We recognize the use of social media as a forum for individuals to express opinions,” Browne said. “However, the most effective method for raising concerns about violations of University policies is through established University reporting procedures.”
The string of tweets began after the premiere of “Surviving R. Kelly,” a six-part Lifetime documentary series that detailed the allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse by prominent R&B singer-songwriter R. Kelly.
In response to the claims, several campus organizations, including Student Government Inc. (SGI), posted statements on Twitter in support of students.
“We stand with the individuals of the St. John’s community who are affected by this crisis,” said SGI president Atemkeng Tazi in a statement from SGI that was published on Monday, Jan. 7. “We want to make it very clear that SGI does not support, nor does SGI condone acts of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and/or any other form of sexual acts without consent.”
The statement from SGI also included a link to an anonymous survey created by Students of Consciousness, the NAACP chapter at St. John’s and the Black Student Union. The survey says it will evaluate “the effectiveness of campus resources for sexual violence.”
“As a Vincentian, Global, Catholic and Metropolitan institution that prides itself on promoting truth, love, respect, opportunity, excellence and service, our university cannot claim to hold these values while disrespecting survivors by burying their truths and failing to provide adequate support through accommodations,” the NAACP said in its statement.
Spectrum, a student group that strives to “strengthen, foster, and affirm” an inclusive and welcoming campus environment, released its own statement also standing with those who shared their stories.
“St. John’s CANNOT [sic] continue to disrespect survivors – especially those who are Black, LGBTQ+, and/or belong to other marginalized communities – by sweeping these cases under the rug,” the statement said. “These students are the most vulnerable and continuously face oppression every day.”
Spectrum also mentioned that list of demands that they outlined and shared in the fall, many of which focus on reforming Title IX and advocating for changes to the way it handles situations such as these.
Browne said that the University is reviewing Spectrum’s demands under the requirement of New York State pertaining to New York Education Law Article 129-B – which Browne called the “most aggressive law in the nation to protect students from sexual assault” – and Federal Law as it relates to Title IX, as well as St. John’s own policies.
In 2017, the New York State Office of Campus Safety released a report detailing an audit of all 244 colleges and universities in New York State that assessed their compliance with Article 129-B. The report recognized St. John’s University as one of only 95 schools in the state to be fully compliant with the law, according to Browne.
Browne added that a key component to protecting students from sexual assault is promoting resources available both on and off campus through posters, events and social media. Part of this is the “Sexual violence Outreach, Awareness, and Response” (SOAR) Office, which is responsible for hosting the annual Take Back the Night and Turn Off the Violence Week events.
“At St. John’s University, the health, safety, and well-being of every student are of the utmost importance,” he said. “Our work is ongoing and must include the active participation and support of our students and all members of the St. John’s family.”
For students who have experienced any kind of sexual assault and want another avenue of reporting the incident, visit stjohns.callistocampus.org. More information on the website can be found in last year’s Torch article on the University’s partnership with Callisto, which is an online sexual assault reporting system that offers a survivor-centered and trauma-informed process for reporting and documenting sexual assault.