Princeton University recently ordered a sexual assault survivor to pay nearly $3,000 in restitution to the university after she wrote “Princeton Protects Rapists” around campus.
The undergraduate, whom HuffPost is not identifying because she is a victim of sexual assault, said she was raped by a fellow classmate in 2016 during her freshman year on campus. She reported the incident to the school’s Title IX office last year and began the arduous task of seeking justice. Princeton, however, concluded in December that the accused student did not violate the school’s sexual misconduct policy. The young woman lost her appeal of that verdict a month later.
“It devastated her, it destroyed her, it changed her,” William Keiser, a Princeton student and friend of the survivor, told HuffPost.
It was at that point that the young woman decided to take matters into her own hands. Armed with a Sharpie marker, she wrote the phrase “Princeton Protects Rapists” and “Title IX Protects Rapists” on several different walkways around campus. The lettering was around the size of a standard sheet of printer paper.
The university ordered the student to perform 50 hours of community service and pay the school $2,722.58 for the cost of cleaning up her graffiti and replacing parts of the walkway, telling her to make the check out to “Trustees of Princeton University.” Princeton also put her on four years of disciplinary probation even though she is on track to graduate before then.
A source with direct knowledge of the case, who asked not to be identified out of fear that the university might retaliate, told HuffPost they were surprised by the school’s ruling on the vandalism. The source said a Princeton administrator who was not involved in the sanction told them the typical penalty for violating the school’s property damage policy, in a case like this, is six months to a year of probation. The university told HuffPost that property damage has resulted in suspensions in the past.
Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang declined to comment on any specifics of the student’s case during a Wednesday phone call but said the school “absolutely” supports students’ rights to peacefully protest.
“The university takes seriously its mission to support the free expression of all views, and we absolutely support and defend the right of students to participate in peaceful protest activities,” Chang said.
“Let’s be clear: Students are not disciplined for participating in peaceful protests or speech ― students are subject to discipline if they deface and damage university property,” he continued. “The range of penalties imposed by the university in vandalism cases may include suspension or probation, campus service, and required restitution, with the amount tied directly to the cost of repairing the damage to university property.”
Chang declined to say whether Princeton had considered the effects of fining a sexual assault survivor so much money.
HuffPost’s source accused Princeton’s administration and Title IX office of demonstrating a “deep lack of humanity,” and several protesters told HuffPost they felt like the university administration had refused to take any agency in enforcing its Title IX policies.
Sage Carson, manager for anti-sexual violence organization Know Your IX, said the penalty was “surprisingly harsh” since the student was a sexual assault survivor and was protesting the administration’s Title IX ruling.
Carson said the only other sexual assault survivor to face such an extreme financial penalty from their university was former Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, who created the Carry That Weight protest in 2014. Sulkowicz and the other student activists were fined a combined $471.00 to replace the mattresses they took from the dorm rooms, which were used as part of their protest. That example and this one, Carson said, are textbook retaliation.
“Not only did Princeton not find [the accused] responsible, they also implemented this extremely harsh sanction in response to her speaking out about her case,” Carson said. “This says to her that if you talk to people about how the school handled your case ― we are going to retaliate against you.”
The average lifetime cost for a survivor of rape or assault is around $122,000, according to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. The high cost usually consists of medical bills, lost wages, therapy, lost tuition and more. The fact that Princeton is fining a sexual assault survivor, Carson said, speaks volumes.
“If she has to pay restitution to Princeton for speaking out, it shows that the administration doesn’t understand the impact of sexual violence on a student,” Carson added.
If she has to pay restitution to Princeton for speaking out, it shows that the administration doesn’t understand the impact of sexual violence on a student. Sage Carson, KnowYourIX manager
The school’s sanction against the student sparked a campuswide protest demanding Princeton take better action against sexual violence. For the past week, at various times, 150 students have occupied Princeton’s main lawn in front of President Christopher Eisgruber’s office, protesters told HuffPost. Student activists formed the organization PrincetonIXNow, which created a detailed list of 11 demands, including transparency and consistency in the Title IX process.
“It’s been an incredibly dehumanizing process,” PrincetonIXNow organizer Soyeong Park told HuffPost. “And for those core organizers who are survivors, it’s a reminder that their well-being and their desire to make this university a more hospitable place for them and the ones they love is not a compatible goal at Princeton.”
Park and fellow PrincetonIXNow activist KiKi Gilbert said the student organizers have begged the administration to listen, but they don’t have a lot of faith in school officials.
The sit-in protest ended on Wednesday evening, eight days after it began. Dozens of students held up signs reading “Princeton Protects Rapists” and “Protect Your Students” over the past week, sitting and sleeping outside in the rain. The undergraduate students have received an abundance of support from faculty, graduate students and Princeton staff.
In meetings with students on Monday and Wednesday, Princeton administrators said the university would take steps to hear student concerns. Administrators, however, didn’t budge on changing the Title IX processes student activists have said need to be changed.
“The damage done by sexual misconduct is heartbreaking. We must address these harms through policies that are simultaneously fair, compassionate and effective,” Eisgruber wrote in a statement issued Wednesday.
“If policy changes are to occur, however, they must take place through this University’s governance processes,” he added. “Those processes are designed to ensure that when Princeton reforms its rules, including its disciplinary procedures, it does so in a way that is deliberative, well-informed, fair, and open to all views and perspectives.”
Park told HuffPost in a Thursday interview that organizers are “devastated” and “extremely disappointed” by the administration’s response. She said she believes the university is simply trying to save face by meeting with organizers, but they aren’t committed to changing.
Gilbert, a first-generation, low-income college student, summed up the feeling on campus well.
“The fact that I’m putting my education in the back seat right now so I can engage in this issue in a serious manner is really indicative of what’s happening here,” she said. “We can’t be students if we can’t be protected.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the day the protest ended as Thursday; the sit-in concluded Wednesday evening, which was the date that organizers met with the university president. Language about the number of protesters on the main lawn has been amended to clarify that it is an aggregate, not the number of students who appeared at any one time.
This article has been updated with a statement from the university on previous penalties for property damage, as well as with a statement from student organizers.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.