After a historic two-day student-led sit-in and discussions between groups of students and members of the executive team, Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., president formally addressed the student community in a written statement, offering an apology to students.
Hundreds of students lined the hallway directly outside of Fr. Boroughs’ office in Fenwick Hall, wrapping their way around the corner into the first floor of O’Kane. There they sat for over 17 hours over the course of two days, hunkering down with snacks and homework while breaking out in chants, listening to live performances, and awaiting updates from the sit-in student organizers.
The sit-in concluded just after 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon after several meetings between members of the College’s executive team and student leaders. These discussions produced responses to the students’ original four demands concerning the handling of sexual misconduct on campus and the investigation of Professor Dustin that were ultimately deemed satisfactory enough to end the sit-in.
As promised by the sit-in organizers, on Tuesday afternoon in response to the first demand Fr. Boroughs offered an apology for the “perceived disappointment” of students on campus. “I apologize that any student would feel that they were put into a position in which their safety was compromised,” said Boroughs in his written statement to the student community.
Fr. Boroughs acknowledged the apparent disconnect between students and administrators: “While we believed we were acting with safety in mind, that has not been your assessment,” wrote Fr. Boroughs. “It is clear that there is a gap, which we will do our best to close.”
In response to Boroughs’ message, sit-in organizer Mithra Salmassi ’19, who participated in several of the discussions between students and the executive team, cautioned,“We need to see how the administration follows through. Father Boroughs’ email was a start––although I was disappointed that it came at a later time than was promised––but we are looking for further steps to be taken very soon. I personally will not be satisfied until tangible steps towards meeting our demands are made, and those have not been made yet.” While originally promised by 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Boroughs’ message to students was not sent until 3:57 p.m. that afternoon.
“We’re glad that we finally have an apology from Fr. Boroughs and an acknowledgement that students felt unsafe because of current administrative policies,” said Sarah Behrens ’19, another vocal sit-in organizer. “It’s important that he mentioned the College’s commitment to changing the College’s Title IX process because that’s the next step––instituting structural change so that this doesn’t happen again. As organizers we’re looking forward to keep working with the College to make sure that we keep holding Holy Cross to a higher standard.”
Moving forward, both students and administrators emphasized the need for consensus on the issues surrounding disclosure in Title IX matters. “We will evaluate communication as part of our upcoming review of policies and processes related to Title IX,” assured Boroughs. “We can do better, and we are committed to getting this right.”
In addition to the issued apology, the parties came to several other agreements. As a result of the discussions, Provost and Dean of the College, Margaret Freije will be meeting with students from the freshman Montserrat class that Professor Dustin taught to apologize and answer any questions that they may still have. Dean Freije will also work with the Academic Governance Council to formulate a procedure for removing faculty awards within the next two weeks.
Furthermore, according to the sit-in organizers, the College will complete an outside review of Title IX and students have requested that they receive updates on the Dustin investigation every other Monday. The College has also been asked to explain why they cannot legally meet all demands.
While not all demands were met in full, many students left the sit-in feeling assured that progress was made.“I firmly believe that individuals would not have stood up and walked away had we not received a promise from the administration that they would enact the concrete change we’ve asked for, so I think we can chalk this up to a success,” said Salmassi. “Regardless, every member of that 400+ crowd of people who showed up enacted the start of a huge cultural shift and I’m incredibly happy and proud to have been a part of it.”
Boroughs echoed this praise for student engagement: “I’ve been impressed over the past several days with the commitment of our students,” said Boroughs. “You have demonstrated a clear sense of purpose, and resolve. I know that your criticism is borne from a love for Holy Cross, and a desire for it to live up to its mission. We share that goal.”
Cover photo by Jake Bucci ’21.