Over the past six months, I have had the pleasure of working with this student. She has spent years giving her passion, creativity, and time to Hesston College. And recently, she has been a part of the student organizing that has led to administration promising change. But like many survivors before her, she has had to end her time at Hesston unceremoniously. Before packing and leaving, she wrote this to President Manickam. Even from her place of being abused, ignored, and silenced by administration, she has hopes that they can transform into the leadership they aspire to be, or even think they already are. As Mariame Kaba says, “Hope is a discipline,” and this, dear readers, is a survivor with deep discipline.
— Erin Bergen, Director of Student Advocacy
Click here to read law firm Cozen O’ Connor’s 2023 report on Hesston College’s numerous Title IX violations.
I will forever be grateful for Hesston College specifically because I met my life long friends who have supported me throughout the tough times and getting the privilege to support them as well. I also met professors who I had the opportunity to get close to and feel safe with them. Who encouraged me to be who I am and that it is okay to struggle and it’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to communicate and let people know when something is okay or does not feel right. This year I had the privilege to participate in the walkout for the sexual assault problem on campus. And yet, I do not feel like I am being listened to. WE don’t feel like we are being listened to. I hope you do not throw this in a stack of papers and ignore this, because I mean this letter purely out of the goodness of my heart and to again, encourage you to lead change in the community so Hesston can be successful and safe for EVERYONE. But to be honest, I would not be surprised if this was ignored due to what I and others have experienced.
My first year was good. I had lots of friends. I did not know much about the school and was innocent. I was scared to be somewhere where my high school friends were not present. I saw you around a lot during my freshman year. You were involved with the school, I saw you walking around campus, sitting in the cafeteria with students and talking to us about life. You always made me feel comfortable here on campus. You were there for your students and such a leader. I always thought it was so cool you were around because it’s not common for presidents of colleges to come out and be a part of the students and make them feel heard, loved, wanted.
The pandemic arised and you were around but not as much as before. Obviously it was due to the coronavirus, which is understandable. We were trying to keep our distance from each other when we were back on campus. Everyone was scared and trying to stay healthy. But this is when I started realizing something. There is a tremendous amount of pain on Hesston College campus that’s not talked about. When a guy who I barely talked to but knew me from a class followed me to my room, and another time I walked into my room to him sitting on my floor with a big smirk on his face, I realized something was wrong. Especially when I told other people terrified and they said it wasn’t unusual for people to do that, especially due to lack of security. Although, I knew that if I needed to report it, which I did not feel the need because it “happened all the time”, I could tell someone because it’s not a big deal. I graduated and got a big hug from you as you gave me my degree. And I made the decision to come back for one of the four year programs.
I started hearing from other people, lots of people actually, about how they have been hurt on campus. People getting r*ped, sexually assaulted, stalked, and sexualized on campus. Hearing my friends and mod mates go through that tore me to pieces. I have dealt with that growing up. But I couldn’t imagine being committed somewhere paying thousands of dollars to be kept safe and educated, but instead doing the opposite. I had comfort knowing that there were people here to help them and to protect them, at least I thought. Until it happened to me.
Joe, I was assaulted four times in the last two years on campus. Does that make you uncomfortable to hear? It seems like it does because students have lost sight of you ever since survivors started speaking up and asking for help. Students were used to the President Joe my freshman and sophomore year. We knew we could come to you for anything and for support. But now we have and are getting used to a president who is not present, gives the impression he does not care, and focused on other things instead of those who are begging and crying for help. Who seems to only talk and spend time with those in the business program. Who is always traveling. Who did not have the audacity to come back home and support the students here on campus who did and supported the walkout. I expected you to be there. Everyone did. We did not think you would even consider not showing up. And you were not there. Dr. Carren, Dr. Christensen, Kyle Miller Hesed, Whitney Douglas, Rachel Jantzi, Nick Ladd, Holly Swartzendruber, Gretchen Gier, Andre Swartley, Heidi Hochstetler, Joel Krehbiel, Marelby Mosquera, and a few others that slip my mind were there. President Joe, you were not there. You haven’t responded to those asking for help, sure your emails that you “write”. Students know it’s not you writing them. We can tell. And it hurts a lot.
We need someone who believes his students and wants to stand up for us. It feels like even though you gave this heartfelt speech at chapel based off the report, nothing really changed. Yes, we have an email to send questions about the report and a table conversation for chapel the week following. But that’s all.
If you asked around and talked with students, you would come to learn that most students feel betrayed and scared. Students do not feel safe on campus. Students who’re returning next year are terrified that Bryan Kehr is going to be the Student Life Director. A white male who has a history of yelling at students, faculty, and making students feel timid. For dismissing sexual and physical trauma. For targeting and responding to people in sexist and racist ways. Students don’t feel safe with him. But again, we are afraid to bring it up, and if we do we are dismissed. No one wants to make him mad, and no one wants to keep being ignored.
Students do not feel safe in the dorms. The locked doors after a certain time with keys are not enough. People can still go into peoples living spaces. Why not higher security? Key cards? Students feel like they are last on anyone’s list when it comes to funding or improving something. Why all of these programs that cost lots of money instead of making campus safer for students? The lack of mental health support on campus, making students feel alone and isolated. Safehope is great, but it’s a crisis number for those in crisis. Not for protection on campus, or to feel safe in that moment ON CAMPUS. Of course we have Whitney, she is amazing. But that is not enough. That is just a few things that students have either expressed and were ignored or “considered” and forgotten about.
Joe, I really appreciate you and value your kindness towards your students in person and your support behind a screen. But that’s not enough. We need you on campus. We need you to fight for us. To listen to our needs and wants. To actually make things happen. Campus is not going to get better if you all keep stalling and not doing anything. Please stop being more concerned about you and the college’s image on social media, to donors, alumni, and the town of Hesston. Us students live here personally on a day to day basis. WE know what it’s like when we are not in class. WE see what happens behind closed doors.
I personally can’t take being ignored anymore and dismissed. I am exhausted. I can’t keep dealing with the emotional, physical, spiritual, and mentally draining environment here. I am done being ignored. So I am leaving.