By Christina Carrega
A week after students and alumni of St. John’s University began using Twitter to share their experiences with sexual assault on the Jamaica campus, school administrators have begun making efforts to contact the survivors.
The #SurvivingSJU hashtag created a firestorm for the Red Storm and prompted the school’s Title IX team to reach out to several students during the university’s winter break.
Inspired by Lifetime’s six-part documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which first aired Jan. 3, an anonymous Twitter user volunteered to publicize the names and photographs of St. John’s students who allegedly committed sex-related crimes on the campus, on behalf of their victims.
That thread motivated other users to add the hashtag #SurvivingSJU to their own stories. Several students also said St. John’s staffers mishandled their claims.
Upon learning about the testimonials from the students last weekend, the small Title IX unit, led by coordinator Keaton Wong, sent an email to all St. John’s students and faculty on Jan.7. The email sent by Kesha Johnson, the associate director of Public Safety Compliance, encouraged students to report instance of sexual assault to the school and provided resources about how to share their experiences.
The outreach seems hollow to some students, however.
“One thing about the university is that they are so quick to send out emails when it comes to basketball, sports and money in general, but when it comes to the well being of students they are mute,” one current student and alleged sexual assault survivor told the Eagle. “They (the university) talk all of this nonsense when racism or things like assault, hazing, rape/sexual assaults, etc. happen and don’t ever show a care for the students who go through it.”
Brian Browne, a spokesman for the university told the Eagle Friday, that the Title XI staff has combed through public tweets that feature the #SurvivingSJU hashtag or the St. John’s Twitter and has sent direct messages to users without direct message privacy settings. When a Twitter user’s direct messages are closed, the university staff post a public tweet, he said.
St. John’s did not provide an estimate on the number of students, alumni and Twitter users who they have contacted due to privacy laws.
Browne said the school prefers using private messages to communicate with the accusers rather than publicly communicate about the sensitive topic on social media.
"If a person has a concern or complaint about an issue of sexual misconduct, that issue should be directed to Ms. Keaton Wong, St. John's University Title IX Coordinator at 718-990-2660 or email@example.com,” Browne said in an email.
One student told the Eagle that Wong reached out to her on Jan. 9 after posting her own personal #SurvivingSJU narrative, but she said the school should have done more to support her when she she attempted to report her sexual assault 18 months ago.
“I never received an email, a direct message, tweet, nothing from St. John’s after tweeting about my sexual assault story that was clearly tweeted under the #SurvivingSJU hashtag and was one of the more ‘seen’ posts,” the anonymous user said. “So I call BS to them reaching out to every single person like they said they did. St. John’s needs to do better. I mean they’re a Catholic school.”
Several of the campus’ advocacy groups like Students of Consciousness have also called out the university for answers and Browne said the administration has connected with them as well.
St. John’s University provided the below resource for people who have been victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, dating violence and domestic violence: