Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Dartmouth: Students back tougher policy

Shared from The Dartmouth:
Replacing Dartmouth’s current sexual misconduct policy with a zero-tolerance policy for students found responsible for sexual assault has recently gathered momentum on the Improve Dartmouth online forum. Since a Feb. 10 gathering on the Green, when students met in support after a male student threatened a female member of the Class of 2017 on Bored at Baker, discussion surrounding the policy has grown.

Under the zero-tolerance policy students found guilty of rape would be separated from the College. The suggestion, proposed on Jan. 23 by Cally Womick ’13, is Improve Dartmouth’s highest voted submission.

Dartmouth’s current policy states that students are prohibited from engaging in any kind of sexual misconduct, which refers to any form of sex-based discrimination, harassment or nonconsensual sexual contact. Sanctions can be as severe as permanent separation from the College, though Dartmouth is not currently required to separate students who are found responsible for rape, according to the student handbook.

Expelling offenders will decrease the cases of sexual assault and increase community safety, Student Assembly president Adrian Ferrari ’14 said.

Chair of the Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault Will Scheiman ’14 clarified that any zero-tolerance policy would apply only to cases of rape and not for other cases of sexual misconduct.

“Once an outcome is decided and the [Committee on Standards] process finds someone responsible of rape, that person no longer has a place in the Dartmouth community, now or ever,” Scheiman said in an email.

As of Sunday night, the post had received 1,401 unique page views on Improve Dartmouth, said Alison Polton-Simon ’14, who analyzes the website’s traffic. The majority of activity related to the post occurred on Feb. 11 and Feb. 12, the days immediately following the student gathering.

As of press time, the post had 921 up-votes and 24 down-votes, for an overall feedback score of 897 on Improve Dartmouth, which is a crowd-sourcing website for ideas launched by student group Dartmouth Roots last month.

The website team provides biweekly reports to College President Phil Hanlon on site activity, including visitor demographics, popular ideas and actions resulting from the ideas, co-moderator Esteban Castano ’14 said. The group submitted its most recent biweekly report, which included the zero-tolerance policy proposal, to Hanlon last Tuesday, said co-moderator Gillian O’Connell ’15.

In July 2013, SPCSA recommended specifying in the student handbook that students found responsible for non-consensual sexual penetration be expelled.

The current COS policy states that students found responsible for engaging in actual or attempted penetration without consent or for repeated sexual misconduct could face permanent separation. Not all students found guilty of rape, however, are expelled, Scheiman said in an email.

The proposed policy would mandate expulsion in cases of rape.

The current policy’s breadth makes it unlikely that Dartmouth would feel confident enough in its legal standing to expel a student who violated the policy in any way, former head of the Center for Gender and Student Engagement professor Giavanna Munafo said.

“When somebody’s found responsible for being a predatory rapist, I think that’s the kind of incident that the person wouldn’t be allowed to return to campus,” she added.

Munafo said discussion of a zero-tolerance policy has become more prominent due to the Title IX investigation and alumni activism.

Discussion on Improve Dartmouth included a suggestion for a negotiable expulsion policy that would protect a survivor from unwanted legal proceedings that could arise if expelled students decided to pursue defamation charges.

Matthew McFarland ’16 noted that implementing a zero-tolerance policy requires there to be no doubt that the individual committed the offense.

This addresses Dartmouth’s use of a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which states that a person is responsible for an offense if the Committee on Standards finds that it is more likely for the violation to have occurred than not.

Concerns regarding the preponderance of the evidence are important, Munafo said. Alternative decision-making standards and motivations of the current policy should be discussed, she said.

One problem with a zero-tolerance policy is the lack of control it grants the survivor, Scheiman said in an email, adding that he believes all survivors should have control with regard to reporting and the COS process. Yet because some survivors choose not to go through the COS process out of fear that their perpetrator will not be removed from campus, the policy may have a positive impact, he said.

Students have raised similar questions at peer institutions.

Over the past decade, Yale University has faced several investigations into its handling of sexual assault cases. In the first half of 2013, six Yale students were found guilty of non-consensual sex. None were expelled and just one was suspended, sparking national outrage.

Harvard University’s policy has also been strongly criticized, The Huffington Post and The Crimson reported in partnership. At Harvard, penalties for sexual harassment depend on the nature of the offense and range from reprimand to dismissal.

Unlike many American universities, including Dartmouth, Harvard does not have an affirmative consent policy. Affirmative consent defines sexual assault as occurring in the absence of enthusiastic verbal or physical consent. It must not be given as a result of physical coercion or threat of bodily harm.

Dartmouth’s sexual misconduct policy, in contrast, states that “one should presume that there is no consent in the absence of a clear positive indication of consent. Likewise, non-consent or lack of consent may also be communicated in a variety of ways both verbal and nonverbal.”

Harvard and Princeton are currently the only Ivy League schools without the preponderance standard.

In April, students at Swarthmore College filed a Clery Act complaint against their school, alleging that administrators did not support those who reported sexual harassment.

Swarthmore is reviewing its sexual misconduct policy and currently has an interim sexual assault and harassment policy, which places all responsibility for investigating and taking appropriate action on Swarthmore, not the complainant.

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