New sex misconduct policy at Hobart, William Smith

By James Goodman
Posted Sept. 3, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

A new Interim Sexual Misconduct Policy was emailed to Hobart and William Smith Colleges students this week that seeks to provide greater independence in the hearing of sexual misconduct allegations.

Under this 71-page policy, which took effect Monday, students who want to file a complaint also will be given greater support and guidance.

"The goal was to provide as many supports that the student might need as they go through the process," said Stacey Pierce, who recently took on the position of Interim Title IX coordinator at the Geneva-based colleges.

The term "interim" is being used because the policy could be fine-tuned once a permanent Title IX coordinator is hired.

Hobart and William Smith administrators drafted the policy over the summer, in consultation with faculty, alumni and students. The new policy was part of a packet of documents concerning discrimination policy and community standards that was emailed to about 2,300 students.

Students welcomed the changes, but said that improved procedures are not enough for problems that exist at Hobart and William Smith and many other campuses.

"The culture has to change," said Thomas Crowther, a 20-year-old junior from Flemington, New Jersey.

Disrespect and sexism breed the kind of misconduct that college administrators are trying to address.

Devon Genut, a 20-year-old junior from Pittsford, has sensed a change in the "overall atmosphere" of the Hobart and William Smith campus. "There is definitely more concern," she said.

Changes in procedures

Although the colleges already have a 24-hour hotline for students to use for any number of reasons, students and faculty are working to set one up specifically for sexual misconduct cases — getting help from Safe Harbor of the Finger Lakes, which provides service to victims of sexual assault.

Hobart and William Smith became the focus of national attention this past July, after a front-page story in The New York Times told how the colleges mishandled a rape complaint by a student a year ago.

Officials of the colleges have defended their handling of the complaint. The student, identified as Anna, reported that three football players sexually assaulted her at a fraternity party. The colleges' disciplinary panel cleared the students of wrongdoing. No criminal charges were filed.

The Coalition of Concerned Students from Hobart and William Smith mounted a petition drive saying members were "horrified by the New York Times article exposing the administration's mismanagement of a campus sexual assault case."

The petition sought the appointment of "qualified individuals" to serve on the adjudicative process panel that reviews allegation of sexual misconduct.

Under Hobart and William Smith's new policy, a misconduct panel will serve as a "fact-finding board comprised of external panelists" who are not being employed by the colleges.

The panel will be appointed, when needed, by the Title IX Coordinator. Panel members will be trained about non-discrimination, the dynamics of sexual harassment, sexual violence and intimate partner violence.

As an alternative, both the complainant and the accused can agree to an administrative hearing, in which the vice president for human resources or a designee rules on the evidence and decides what sanctions are appropriate. Such a hearing is especially appropriate, says the new policy, when the accused has admitted to misconduct.

Sandra Bissell is vice president for human resources and, according to the Times, chaired the panel that reviewed Anna's case.

In addition to Bissell, the case was reviewed by an assistant professor of psychology and the director of the campus bookstore, according to the Times, which had obtained a transcript of the proceedings. The panel reportedly failed to ask two of the accused football players why they had changed their accounts of what happened.

Students welcomed a more independent handling of complaints.

"It definitely should be external," said student Carly Rolph, a senior from Geneva, about the importance of no longer having employees of the colleges serve on the sexual misconduct hearing panel.

She went on to say, "They can easily be biased. This is a small community."

Support for students

Hobart and William Smith, says the new policy, will respect a complainant's decision of whether to report an incident to local law enforcement unless officials determine that there is overriding concern that requires notification of law enforcement, such as the safety of the community.

The colleges must conduct an investigation whether or not a complainant makes a report to law enforcement.

Students wanting to make a complaint will now be helped by a Title IX Team, which will meet with the complainant and assess the nature and circumstances of the allegation, and discuss options and resources available as well the importance of preserving evidence.

Hobart and William Smith and 54 other colleges are on a list that the U.S. Department of Education made public in May for being under investigation by the department's Office for Civil Rights over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

Cathy Williams, spokeswoman for the colleges, said that Hobart and William Smith was put on this list as a result of one complaint filed by a student, whom she declined to identify. The colleges provided the federal government with the information requested — and are awaiting a response.

End Rape on Campus — a national organization that assists survivors in holding their colleges accountable for their mishandling of sexual violence cases — helped Anna file federal complaints against Hobart and William Smith to the Department of Education.

The list of colleges being investigated by the department had grown to 76 as of Friday.

On Wednesday, End Rape on Campus helped four more students file complaints against the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Michigan, the University of Toledo and Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana.


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