By Rebecca Ritter and Scott Zimmerman
*Trigger Warning — article discusses sexual violence.*
Former members of the Sexual Misconduct Advocacy and Resource Team (SMART) say that the organization’s supervisor, Kelly Muldoon, has mismanaged the group. Muldoon and the director of the Wellness Center, Kyle Bishop, do not hold with that assessment — they stated that the former members involved held a different vision for the organization.
SMART supports survivors of unwanted sexual experiences through campus events and a support hotline. The group is funded by St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) and comprised of student volunteers, who are commonly referred to as “SMARTies.” SMARTies are overseen by a sexual assault advocate, under the purview of the Wellness Center.
Former members of SMART discussed disagreements they had with the current SMART supervision with The Point News (TPN), as they felt that their voices were otherwise not being heard. Later, TPN approached Muldoon and Bishop to hear their perspective on the situations outlined by volunteers, as well as an explanation as to why every SMARTie from the previous year was not invited to return to the organization. (Editor’s note: see correction below).
Muldoon became the supervisor of SMART in 2016, replacing former director Rachel Honig. Many of the SMARTies who spoke with TPN worked with Honig prior to working with Muldoon.
After spending time working under the new management, former SMARTies told TPN of incidents alleging “problematic language,” “victim blaming,” a lack of racial understanding, a poor setting of priorities and a disagreement about what some former volunteers saw as a transphobic event. Muldoon said that these allegations were “untrue,” without any basis in reality, and Bishop said that the cohort of SMARTies as a whole was “unproductive.”
TPN has heard from two former volunteers, junior Alyssa Leventer and senior Jolyn Coleman, that the staffing of SMART has decreased since last year as a result of competing viewpoints about the role of SMART between the current supervisor and her predecessor.
Coleman, who was the SMART Fellow last calendar year and is the current president of Feminist United For Sexual Equality (FUSE), says that in her opinion SMART functions best when there are 10-15 volunteers. “In [the] previous [two] years I [had] been a part of SMART […] I’ve never seen less than 10 people,” Coleman said in an email. She explained that numbers usually diminish throughout the semester, but she had not seen them at their current low levels.
Muldoon disagreed with Coleman on the framing of this as an issue. The current SMART fellow, Cameron Kelley, said that, including her, there are currently three members on staff, and that she believes the organization functions better with fewer volunteers. “I think that SMARTies all really need to function well as a unit. […] It’s a little easier to have that familiar dynamic when there’s [sic] less [sic] students.”
Muldoon says that SMART is looking to hire more SMARTies in spring of 2018 but that there is “no magic number” of volunteers. Muldoon seems to imply that 15 is “probably too many.”
The current setup makes it so that each SMART volunteer is responsible for the hotline for one week at a time, meaning they must keep the phone on their person and maintain sobriety for that time period. In the past, SMARTies alternated responsibility for the phone at a more frequent interval. Muldoon denies that this places an undue burden on volunteers.
“Overall, the new management under Kelly Muldoon made an already-difficult job even harder,” explained junior Jenna Gregory, editor of the FUSE publication The F Word. She also was a SMART volunteer until Muldoon took over. Gregory told TPN in an email, “I felt like [Muldoon] was leading the organization in a way that wasn’t helping survivors of sexual assault or abuse, but further stigmatizing their experiences.”
According to Muldoon, Gregory’s claim is unfounded, as she left the organization early under Muldoon’s tenure, after few interactions.
Coleman echoed Gregory’s sentiments. Coleman felt that the attitudes Muldoon held toward survivors improperly placed blame on the individuals, who are victims in these situations.
According to Coleman, at the beginning of last academic year, Muldoon made comments that were seen by volunteers as victim blaming in nature, “linking the cause [of] sexual assault to alcohol use, not to [a] rapist.” These comments were in reference to Public Safety’s notices of a sexual assault incident, which Muldoon allegedly said serve as a warning for people not to drink alcohol. Coleman described this as “problematic language.”
The warnings are sent as all-student emails titled “Timely Warning for a Sexual Assault.” The Clery Act of 1990 federally mandates that campus-wide notices are sent out when a sexual assault is reported to an SMCM staff member.
The Public Safety sends out the required Clery Act notifications at SMCM via email. Cameron Kelley says that SMART worked with Public Safety this year to revise the language of the notices and make it place less burden on survivors of sexual assault. Furthermore, Muldoon and Bishop say that the chosen language reflects that of the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce Drinking and Alcohol Related Problems, which presents evidence about the correlation, but not causation, between alcohol and sexual assault.
The aforementioned report by the Maryland Collaborative states that “Alcohol use does not cause sexual assault, but it can be a major contributing factor, [and] reducing alcohol use is one piece of a multifaceted approach to reducing sexual assault.”
Junior Dylan Wheatley left SMART at about the same time as Gregory. When asked about the reason for his departure, he said that he felt SMART “wasn’t a very productive program,” and that “there are so many better resources that are off campus that students could use, including hotlines, which […] are more efficient than [the] SMART [hotline].”
Muldoon, similarly to how she described Gregory’s claim as misleading, said that Wheatley was not a particularly active member of SMART, citing his absence at several meetings.
Another student, who wished to remain anonymous due to the circumstances of their encounter with Muldoon, told TPN via email about their frustration with how Muldoon treated them as a survivor of sexual assault. They said that Muldoon “is not a good resource, in my opinion, to speak with [or] act on behalf of students who have been assaulted due in part to her tendency to victim blame and say other problematic stuff during sessions.”
“I’m not really sure what situation that was, but I would have loved to know what they felt,” said Muldoon in response to this survivor’s account. “If somebody comes to me and say they’ve been assaulted, I listen to them and see how they’re feeling, I validate their experience, I try to emphasize […] that I know that there’s a lot of self-blame — that rape culture makes it feel like it’s the victim’s fault or the survivor’s fault.”
Muldoon expounded on her willingness to help the survivors she interacts with, adding, “I am more than willing to help you go to the police, I will sit with you in Public Safety, I will sit with you in a Title IX meeting, I will take you to the hospital in the middle of the night if you need a rape kit. […] These are all things that I have done and I am very proud of.”
The student continued to talk about their experiences, telling TPN they felt their situation was not dealt with properly. According to this student, Muldoon “victim blames[;] she giggles about things that are deeply inappropriate.” The student continued to mention that they felt Muldoon’s attitudes toward their non-heterosexual sexuality were inappropriate.
Muldoon did not remember this version of events and told TPN that she is respectful of every sexuality.
The organization of several on-campus events headed by SMART were also mentioned to TPN as examples of disagreements between volunteers and administrative staff. During the One Love workshop on Jan. 24, 2017, an advocacy training session about domestic assault, volunteers and Title IX Coordinator Michael Dunn came to a disagreement about who should facilitate the small-group portion.
An unnamed person, who had been named in an active Title IX case, wished to facilitate the workshop. According to Coleman, that individual had the support of the administration, including Dunn. According to Leventer, five SMART volunteers and two other facilitators were opposed to this person’s involvement in the workshop. Coleman cites this as one of the times Muldoon disagreed with the volunteers. Dunn declined to comment on this issue, citing confidentiality.
Disagreements also came in the form of programming. For instance, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes typically involves cisgender men walking in high heels. This event, which was previously held annually at SMCM, drew criticisms. Coleman says that under Honig’s leadership, SMART volunteers were told the events were transphobic, and when Coleman brought up this concern to Muldoon, her concerns were initially ignored. The timeline of Muldoon deciding to cancel the event is contested — Muldoon says it happened quickly, Coleman says it took too long.
Coleman also alleges that Muldoon put her personal life before the needs of the campus community. According to Coleman, Muldoon refused to plan an additional Take Back the Night event in the fall semester due to personal obligations, despite knowing that there were individuals willing to take over the work.
Muldoon wished to clarify this incident, saying that SMARties proposed this new event, but all parties agreed to not pursue it due to Muldoons previously determined personal obligations. Muldoon planned the spring version of that event in the same year. (Editor’s note: this paragraph has been updated for clarity. 11/18)
Coleman, an African-American student, also told TPN in an email that Muldoon would often ask Coleman to explain things “which were very racially insensitive” and made Coleman feel “deeply uncomfortable to be apart [sic] of [SMART].”
This account was seconded by Leventer, who felt Muldoon was insensitive about issues of race. Coleman told TPN that she feels since “we are on a campus with certain demographics issues, [employing people who] are racially insensitive adds gas to the fire.”
Leventer shared with TPN what she thought was an incident of racial insensitivity during the Fear 2 Freedom (F2F) event on April 6, 2017, which SMART helped organize. The event was to help create F2F After Care Kits in order to support survivors of sexual assault.
During the event, a video made by the F2F organization was shown before the kits were assembled, depicting some survivors who would be receiving the kits. According to Leventer, this video showed mostly white women. Leventer says that she confronted Muldoon about what she thought was a non-representative video showing a lack of gender and racial diversity of survivors. Leventer says that Muldoon disagreed that anything should be done to address what Leventer saw as a problem.
Title IX coordinator Michael Dunn helped organize the event. He concedes that the video was not perfect, but was out of the control of the administration. Overall, he argues, the event did a lot of good, and that it would be counterproductive to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Helena Klassen,‘16, was a member of FUSE and First Responders at SMCM. First Responders was a predecessor of SMART with a similar purpose in supporting survivors, educating students and working to prevent sexual assault. In an email to TPN, Klassen expressed concern at the fact that former SMART volunteers were not asked to return to the organization after speaking out. “It seems that students who are critical of the formal institutions of the school, such as Public Safety or Title IX, are being cut off from involvement as peer advocates,” Klassen said, “without an effort to understand why these students are critical of those institutions.”
“If the SMARTie left,” said Bishop of the volunteers who say they were not allowed to return to the organization, “none of them gave any reason that it was because Kelly was acting in a way that made them uncomfortable; it was because they had class, obligations or other things that they needed to focus on, and never once indicated that it was because Kelly was making them feel uncomfortable in any way shape or form.”
Coleman says that higher-ups, specifically Bishop, refused to disclose their complaints about SMART to the Diversity Coordinator when they were voiced. Bishop disputed this claim.
“I had a conversation with the SMARTies that were not asked to return,” continued Bishop, “and some of the graduating ones that expressed concern about the direction of the group. I listened to them and I validated them and I reiterated the mission of the group. They talked about starting a student group independent from the SMARTies that would also support survivors of sexual misconduct and violence, and I said that sounded like a great idea […] That was the discussion. They did raise some concerns which I listened to. That was the end of the conversation.”
Klassen recently penned an open letter to the SMCM administration about changes in Title IX. 152 members of the SMCM community signed on to the letter.
Klassen continued, “I was one of those volunteers at [SMCM], and the work my peers and I tried to do was often met with a lack of administrative support, and at times, deliberate administrative resistance.”
Klassen explained to TPN in an email that activists have previously had issues with the SMCM administration. Klassen says that Meghan Root — who trained and supervised the First Responders as well as the Peer Health Educators — was “asked [or] forced to leave because her activism and advocacy did not align with that of the school administrators who were involved in Title IX issues at that time.”
Bishop said that Root left SMCM to follow another professional opportunity. (Editor’s note: Root was not reached prior to the publication of this article to confirm either account. She is no longer affiliated with SMCM).
“[SMCM] often seems more concerned about its public image […] than it does about actually supporting students who are at risk of or who have experienced violence,” claims Klassen.
Looking toward the future, in order to avoid what they see as the potential for resistance, Leventer and Coleman told TPN that they support transferring SMART out of the domain of the Wellness Center and into a student-run organization, and possibly a club.
Kelley disagreed with the proposed idea to move SMART out from under the purview of the Wellness Center, citing that it would have an informal environment, lack of intensive training, and inability to deal with the secondhand trauma that SMARTies can have listening to the experiences of survivors. “The fact that we’re under Kelly [Muldoon],” said Kelley, “means that we have not only more resources […] but also someone who cares about our wellbeing, who is a trained professional and who makes sure that this is not a job that would get to us. I also think that a club is too informal a space. I personally would not be comfortable calling a club member.”
The Point News is committed to hearing all perspectives on issues. If you wish to weigh in on this situation, please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
11/15- A previous version of this article misspelled Meghan Root’s name as “Megan Root.” Also, the number of signatures on Klassen’s letter has been updated as of 11/12.
11/17- Previously a portion of this article read, “every SMARTie from the previous year was asked not to return to the organization,” after consultation with sources involved in the story we feel this is better expressed as “every SMARTie from the previous year was not invited to return to the organization.”
11/18- A paragraph above about the Take Back the Night event has been edited for clarity.