SGA election collapse sparks campus-wide sexual misconduct conversation

SGA+Candidates+Rit+Flandreau+%2722%2C+Kevin+Chrisom+%2722%2C+Aidan+Pierce+%2722+and+Jackson+Peck+%2722+engaged+in+speeches+to+the+student+body+prior+to+the+election.+

Olivia Boudreau

SGA Candidates Rit Flandreau ’22, Kevin Chrisom ’22, Aidan Pierce ’22 and Jackson Peck ’22 engaged in speeches to the student body prior to the election.

The Student Government Association (SGA) election for president and vice president came to a halt last week, as Aidan Pierce ’22 and Jackson Peck ’22 dropped out of the race, thus allowing their opponents, incumbents Richard “Rit” Flandreau ’22, and Kevin Chrisom ’22 to begin their second term as student body president and vice president.

For the past several days, controversy has swirled around allegations involving some kind of sexual misconduct. Peck vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

The Pierce-Peck decision to withdraw from the race was prompted by a statement made by the Class of 2024 Council, regarding its decision to withdraw endorsement of the Pierce/Peck campaign. The statement said, “The Class of 2024 was unaware of the many accusations that have recently surfaced. Our council believes the people who have come forward and would like to support them and the rest of the members of this community…. Our Class Council represents many women in our diverse community, and we want to let the whole Saint Anselm student body know that we will not stand for disrespect or inappropriate conduct towards women.”

This was followed by similar statements made by representatives of the Classes of 2021, 2022 and 2023, along with on-campus organizations such as the Multicultural Student Coalition, all sharing the same message to believe survivors of sexual assault, while rescinding endorsement of the Pierce/Peck campaign. This past week left many students wondering about the college’s policies surrounding Title IX.

Considering the publicized nature of this election, both tickets have made public statements condemning sexual assault, while promoting the use of on-campus resources for survivors.

Pierce’s former running mate Peck has not issued any statements regarding the election, until now, where he breaks his silence regarding the election, and his decision to step down as editor-in-chief of The Hilltopper and as vice president of the Class of 2022.

“On Friday, due to a series of rumors that spread around social media, Aidan and I made the decision that we would not be able to effectively lead the SGA without the confidence of our team, the senate, and the student body,” Peck told the Saint Anselm Crier.

“If Aidan and I had won the election, my concern was that any attempt to respond to these false rumors and defend myself would hinder the ability of SGA to function with the efficiency it needs to,” said Peck. “We both felt that the best thing to do for the organization, which we have both devoted ourselves to and care about so much, would be to withdraw from the election and ensure that its leaders had the faith of the student body and a strong mandate to lead.”

“My resignation from my leadership positions on campus had already been planned for the most part,” Peck continued. “I had already planned on passing off the title of editor in chief of The Hilltopper to a member of the freshmen class within the week, but when these rumors began spreading, I felt it was important to pass it off sooner rather than later.”

“I am saddened that my reputation and integrity have been in question. Sexual assault is something I take a very strong stance against and take very seriously … I would never be a part of such egregious conduct, yet here I am amidst the rumors,” Peck states, “I have done nothing wrong, but nonetheless, people were quick to share the post they saw, to respond with public statements, and make videos denouncing me. In a matter of a few hours, people decided they could no longer trust me, and that has been devastating. I pray as these next few weeks pass people will come to realize I am innocent.”

While Pierce provided no further commentary regarding his decision to withdraw from the election, on Mar. 26, he released a statement on the campaign’s Instagram account:

“In light of the recent events and allegations regarding my running mate, and after discussion with him, I have made the decision to withdraw our candidacy from the Student Government Elections. These claims are serious, and need to be treated as such. This is not something I would allow to go unaddressed, and the matter is already being discussed with the lead Title IX coordinator, along with the remainder of the College Administration. All survivors and victims of sexual assault and abuse deserve to have their stories told, and deserve to be listened to. This campaign started out of love for Saint Anselm College, and it is because of this love that I can’t allow this matter to tarnish the reputation of the SGA, nor distract from its mission.”

Chrisom, student body vice president, reflected on this past week, “No doubt this has been a tumultuous and chaotic past week for a number of different reasons, but in true Anselmian spirit, our community has risen above it.”

Chrisom continued, “Both Rit and I want to stress that a wide array of resources are available on campus through Anselmians Avert, the Harbor, Health Services, and more… . This has been a very difficult time for our college community, but we are confident that we will get through this as one, united community. This is our task in front of us, not as members of the SGA, but as students of this College we all call home.”

Due to federal laws protecting the rights of students and the privacy of their information, such as The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), administrators of Saint Anselm are not permitted by law to comment on any allegations or cases of sexual misconduct, assault or harassment. Therefore, the College is unable to confirm or deny that the supposed allegations have been filed as formal complaints.

Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination, including sexual harassment and assault, in any institution that receives federal funding. “In conjunction with the federal regulations, Saint Anselm has developed a policy against gender-based discrimination, gender-based harassment, sexual harassment, sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking,” said Andrew Litz, associate dean of students for community standards and Title IX coordinator.

Dean Litz explained that a Title IX investigation can only proceed once a formal written complaint signed by a complainant is received by the Title IX Office. This can be done in person or through other channels, such as mail or e-mail. 

According to the Title IX guidelines, “at the time of filing a formal complaint, a complainant must be participating in or attempting to participate in the education program or activity of the recipient [the College] with which the formal complaint is filed.”

“The investigation team will make every effort to complete their work within 60 days of the filing of the formal complaint or at least in a reasonable amount of time,” Litz stated.

“The College does recognize that students who have consumed alcohol or controlled drugs, either voluntarily or involuntarily, may be hesitant to report incidents of sexual misconduct,” said Dean Litz. He explained that there is an amnesty policy that protects both complainants and bystanders who report sexual misconduct in good faith. “No disciplinary action will be brought against these individuals for violations of the alcohol or controlled drug policies occurring at or near the time of the reported incident,” he said.

“What I really want students and the community to take away is that support and help are available to those who have undergone sexual violence, of any form, and to friends and family members who don’t know how to help,” said Dr. Alicia Finn, vice president of student affairs, dean of students and deputy Title IX coordinator. “In addition, opportunities abound to prevent harmful, unwanted occurrences of this type.”

In terms of these opportunities, Dr. Finn mentioned many on-campus resources, such as the Harbor, Anselmians Assault and Violence Education and Reporting Team (AVERT), and Health Services counseling.

Amanda Casali serves as project coordinator of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Grant Program, the grant through which the Harbor was established in 2016. She explained that the Harbor serves a dual purpose. “We focus on education and prevention with student involvement. We also want it to be a safe place for victims and survivors to get confidential support,” Casali said.

From its inception to January 2021, The Harbor has served 28 student victims, 34 friends/roommates of direct victims seeking support or information, and 29 individuals seeking information about healthy relationships. This is not limited to experiences of sexual assault on campus and includes victims who experienced sexual assault in other settings.

In a 2019 climate survey, 25 students out of 406 respondents reported being a victim of sexual assault on or near campus, or while at a campus event. The results did not specify that such actions occurred in 2019 alone, some of them could have occurred prior to that year. According to the 2020 Security Report on the Saint Anselm website, there were six incidences of rape, three cases of dating violence, and seven cases of stalking on campus in 2019. The Harbor will send out another anonymous climate survey this April to better assess what is happening on campus and what needs to be done for better programming and education regarding Title IX cases.

“For those who might have been touched by violence, harassment and pain, please remember the words of Maya Angelou,” remarks Dr. Finn. “‘I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.’”

The Saint Anselm Crier reached out to known individuals who experienced alleged acts in this case prior to the publishing of this story, they declined to comment/respond and we respect their decision.