PASA leaders meet with President Byerly to discuss next steps after open letter

Since their inception in 2017, the student-run Pards Against Sexual Assault (PASA) group has done the vast majority of prevention and education efforts on campus. But with a surge of stories of sexual violence shared on social media over the past nine months, PASA is imploring the administration to do more.

On the heels of their open letter in January, which was sent to the administration and the Board of Trustees, members of the PASA executive board met with President Alison Byerly on Wednesday to discuss the next steps forward.

The meeting served primarily as a way for PASA to highlight specific points of the letter, while the administration prepares a more thorough response to the community. Among the topics of discussion were community education and prevention, transparency in the reporting process and increased staffing in the Office of Educational Equity.

“I think we want to strike the right balance of recognizing that they have been so powerful as peer educators and they really can reach students in a way that we can’t,” Byerly said. “At the same time, we don’t want them to be unfairly burdened with the responsibility that is largely the administration’s as well.”

The timeline of the administrative response may stretch out over the course of the semester, according to Byerly, as the college juggles increasing COVID-19 cases, a presidential search and calls for racial justice. Byerly said that she would be back in touch with PASA representatives in the next few weeks to talk about “a draft outline of what a forward-looking plan might entail.”

“I think we left it in a good place, and I’m glad we talked so much about the new dean and the presidential transition,” said Olivia Barcia ’22, secretary of PASA. “I do think they are thinking about all of these issues and want to put them at the forefront of whoever comes into the position next.”

A core facet of the open letter is that the burden has long been on PASA to provide the bulk of education and prevention efforts in the community. Both Byerly and Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio agreed that PASA and the administration need to be “partners” to achieve the goals of a safer campus, but acknowledged that the administration needs to do more.

“The key, to me, is not to lose the voice of our students but create a structure that feels less of a burden,” Diorio said.

Both sides are expecting a follow-up meeting to go over the administration’s response before it is released to the campus community. Byerly said that she would discuss the timeline of the plan in their next meeting, with the hope that “by the end of the semester, we would be able to put together some sort of document outlining what our plans are.”

PASA co-president Ella Goodwin ’21 said that they are looking for the initiative to come from the administration, not the other way around.

“We used this meeting to set boundaries of what we, as students and as PASA members, are willing and even capable to do, in terms of the creation of this plan,” Goodwin said. “It was good for us to be able to say ‘here’s what we can and can’t do.'”

Co-president Libby Mayer ’22 agreed, and said that there needs to be both a “cultural change” and “a wider systemic change” at Lafayette.

“As PASA, we can help a lot with the culture change…we’re students so we have that hands-on experience and can really be involved with that,” Mayer said. “But the systemic change, that’s kind of beyond us and needs to come from the school.”

Overall, the PASA executive board was pleased with how the meeting went, and both them and the administration said they recognize that this is the first step of many.

“I think we’re looking forward to ongoing conversations and meetings…to keep discussing what changes the administration will implement,” said Andrea Rivera Conte, outreach coordinator for PASA.

The current sentiment of the PASA board might be best summarized by Maggie Champagne ’23, their marketing and communications director.

Champagne said she was “cautiously optimistic.”

About Andrew Hollander

Andrew Hollander ‘21 is the managing editor of The Lafayette. He studies psychology and Spanish.

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