Democrat & Chronicle - Hobart and William Smith Colleges to change policies

James Goodman, Staff writer - 2:12 p.m. EDT July 24, 2014

Students and alumni of Hobart and William Smith Colleges are urging changes in how allegations of sexual misconduct are handled in the aftermath of a recent New York Times story telling how the colleges mishandled a student rape complaint.

Hobart and William Smith officials have defended their response to an alleged rape of an 18-year-old freshman, which happened at the outset of last school year. The student, identified as Anna, reported that three football players assaulted her at a fraternity party. A disciplinary panel at the Geneva-based colleges cleared the students of wrongdoing.

But Hobart and William Smith officials, while disputing the Times' interpretation of events and portrayal of the colleges, say that changes are forthcoming.

"There will be changes in policies and procedures for adjudication of allegations of sexual misconduct. They will be in place before the fall semester," said Robert Flowers, vice president for student affairs at Hobart and William Smith and the official who reviewed the panel's finding that cleared the three students.

The Coalition of Concerned Students had 3,971 signatures Thursday on an online petition that says they are "horrified by the New York Times article exposing the administration's mismanagement of a campus sexual assault case."

Among the changes called for by the coalition is the appointment of "qualified individuals" to serve on the adjudication panel that reviews allegations of sexual assault.

Other changes sought include requiring the mandated rape prevention and student life seminars to focus on bystander intervention in such cases.

Another group, HWS Community for Change, was started by alumni of Hobart and William Smith. Its Facebook page, William Smith Stands with Anna, features five recommendations for Hobart and William Smith President Mark Gearan.

One of the recommendation is to "create transparency for and inclusion of stakeholders (students, faculty and alumni) in the review committee being assembled" to look at possible changes in procedures and policies.

Gretchen Sword, who is a 2006 Hobart and William Smith graduate and spokeswoman for Community for Change, said that her group and the students' group are collaborating.

"We are not only working together; we have a longer document that has been submitted to the leadership of the colleges," Sword said.

A meeting with representatives of both groups and the administration of Hobart and William Smith, Sword noted, is expected next week or the week after. It will not be open to the media.

"We would like to have a conversation that helps us understand what happened and how to move forward," she said.

David Grome, who is a 2007 Hobart and William Smith graduate, participated in the conference call that led to the Community for Change's recommendations.

"For me, it goes beyond the administration to the community. We all have to accept responsibility as members of the college's community to stay engaged in this," said Grome, 29, of Rochester.

In a July 16 letter to the Hobart and William Smith community, Gearan told of a group of faculty, staff, students and alumni working on a review of the colleges' processes for handling sexual misconduct cases.

"They will submit recommendations to me this summer," Gearan said.

Hobart and William Smith's prevention and education curriculum on issues related to sexual misconduct will be expanded.

Additional training will be provided for those involved with the response, investigation and adjudication of sexual misconduct complaints, Gearan noted.

As it is, lawyers not on the staff of Hobart and William Smith have been investigating sexual misconduct allegations since last fall, Flowers said.

The national spotlight has focused on Hobart and William Smith at a time sexual misconduct on campuses is coming under greater scrutiny.

On Thursday, Ohio State University fired the director of its marching band, Jonathan Waters, as it is expanding an internal investigation that found a deep culture of sexual harassment among students, reported The Columbus Dispatch.

The ouster of Waters came after a two-month probe, triggered by a complaint by a parent, that revealed extensive evidence that students routinely harassed one another - with new band members often targeted - and that Waters was aware or should have known about the abuse.

A new report released by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., found that many of America's colleges and universities are failing to comply with federal laws and key policies designed to combat sexual assault on their campuses.

Her office polled 350 institutions of higher education and found major gaps in how schools report, investigate and resolve allegations of rape on college campuses.

Among the findings:

  • Universities don't know the scope of the problem. Only 16 percent of schools conduct so-called climate surveys aimed at determining the prevalence of sexual assault on campus.

  • Many schools do not make it easy for victims to report attacks anonymously. Only about half of U.S. colleges have a hotline that victims can call to report a sexual assault.

  • Sexual assault charges often are not investigated. More than 40 percent of schools said they had not conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years, even though some of those same institutions reported sexual violence incidents to the U.S. Department of Education in that same period.

  • Many schools do not provide training to faculty, staff or students. About 20 percent of universities said they don't provide training to faculty and staff for how to respond to a sexual assault allegation.

"These problems affect nearly every stage of the institutions' response to sexual violence," the report concludes. "Many institutions are failing to comply with the law and best practices in how they handle sexual violence among students."




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