New initiatives, policies greet HWS students

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2014 5:15 am


GENEVA - Dana Williams and Paul Ciaccia, this year’s student orientation coordinators at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, are fielding the usual questions about whether the dorm room closets have doors and how much the laundry costs.

But they also are hearing at least occasional inquiries about sexual assault, a topic thrown into the spotlight over the summer when the New York Times wrote about the Colleges’ response to allegations against three of its students.

“A lot of what they are asking is just what our experience has been as students,” said Williams, a member of the Class of 2016.

For her, that’s an easy one. Williams said she has always felt respected on campus. But Ciaccia and Williams also have a ready answer for any incoming students who still have concerns: The Colleges’ new Title IX office.

“They know the most,” said Ciaccia, a member of the Class of 2015.

The office was one of several new initiatives and updated policies that awaited students as they returned to campus last week ahead of Monday’s first day of classes.

Robert Flowers, the Colleges’ vice president for student affairs, said a rape hotline should be up and running within the next two weeks. A theater production dealing with sexual violence was part of the orientation that Williams and Ciaccia led over the weekend. And discussions are planned throughout the year.

“We’ve done a lot, really,” Flowers said. “Among the really heartening parts of this entire summer experience has been the degree to which people are so willing to roll up their sleeves.”

Students, too, have been active over the summer. Flowers said Hobart fraternity leaders recently sent a notice to all students saying they have indefinitely suspended any and all social activities.

“They did that because they want to be part of the solution,” Flowers said. “We’re pleased with that. That demonstrates the kind of commitment we’re seeing from every corner of the campus.”

Anna’s story

In July, the New York Times profiled a William Smith student identified only as Anna. She said three Hobart football players sexually assaulted her in September 2013. The alleged assault began at a South Main Street fraternity house and continued at an on-campus gathering spot called The Barn.

The Colleges’ adjudication panel cleared the players, and police filed no charges. However, The New York Times story questioned the effectiveness of both the on-campus process and the police investigation.

Colleges officials have repeatedly defended their response to Anna’s allegations. But they also promised that students would see the initial results of their efforts to curb sexual assaults and improve their handling of sexual assault cases by the time classes started.

“We can always do better, right?” Colleges President Mark Gearan said days after the story broke. “We take this as an opportunity to continue the journey.”

Title IX

The Colleges had previously announced plans to create an Office of Title IX Programs and Compliance. (The name refers to the federal law requiring colleges to create environments free from sex-based discrimination, including sexual assault). The office went into operation this summer under Interim Coordinator Stacey Pierce.

She said her job includes oversight of all training and awareness efforts related to Title IX, along with tracking any reported incidents.

“As incidents arise, I think folks will know that here’s a place where I can go [for] information, resources,” Pierce said. “There’s a physical space that you can go to get information. There’s something about having a physical structure that really helps.”

The new office is located at 603 S. Main St. The Colleges say the office’s staff can provide support for students who need help reporting incidents, or with the housing, academic and medical issues that may arise as a result.

“Together these folks have the expertise from so many angles to really manage and direct the education and prevention effort that we want to have and we want to be a leader with,” Flowers said.

So far, Pierce and the Title IX office have met with the Colleges’ athletic teams as they have arrived on campus and with the parents of first-year athletes. They also have worked to train resident assistants, faculty and staff.

Pierce, who is an assistant dean of students and was formerly director of residential education, described it as a collaborative process.

“We can kind of be a hub and keep the conversation moving and keep people connected,” she said.

Policies and procedures

Colleges officials say they began looking at their sexual violence policies a year ago. Anna’s case gave that effort a stronger impetus and broadened the conversation, Flowers said.

Among other things, the Colleges wanted to make sure its policies were clearer, better organized and more useful, especially to students in crisis.

“There’s been a lot of time spent on the creation and revision of the material that actually goes out to the Hobart and William Smith community,” Pierce said. “I think what we’re really trying to do there is make the information more clearly defined, especially the pieces that go out to students - have it in their language.”

Staff have sat down with students to ask them if the Colleges’ policies would seem useful if they were in crisis themselves or trying to help a friend.

“It’s resulted in a much better document, I think,” Flowers said.

The Colleges will distribute that document, titled the Interim Sexual Misconduct Policy, to all students, faculty and staff.

Ongoing Work

As that title implies, the policy - and the Colleges’ efforts - remain works in progress.

“As we go through the fall, we will continue to have conversations about important elements of this policy,” Flowers said.

The Colleges want to further discuss the issue of capacity to consent and how they want to define that. Flowers and Pierce said the campus community will be involved in such conversations.

Pierce also will work this year to expand bystander intervention education efforts. Her office will first reach out to new students, then to existing groups, like clubs and organizations.

Other conversations will center on the campus’ social culture.

“There’s a recognition on our campus right now that because we have fraternities and not sororities ... there is a heavily male-oriented bent to the social scene,” Flowers said.

The Colleges hope to address that, and Flowers said staff are looking at ways of using The Barn - the scene of one of the alleged assaults - to equalize things.

Officials are also reviewing the circumstances under which students can use The Barn and considering adding more campus safety officers.

“This is a year in which we’re going to engage in a conversation about creating a culture of respect on our campus,” Flowers said.


Colleges staff planned to start some of those conversations this past weekend as new students went through orientation.

“One of the big things we’re trying to do this year is having an educational aspect to it,” Ciaccia said.

Part of that was scheduled to happen through Mosaic NY, a theater company launched on campus this year.

During orientation, Mosaic, which uses student actors, planned to present two performances. One focused on sexual misconduct. The other focused on campus culture.

Afterward, campus groups, including the Coalition of Concerned Students and the Women’s Collective, planned to introduce themselves to the freshmen.

Orientation also included panel discussions for parents, one of which focused on campus policies, including Title IX.

“Every parent can go to every panel,” Ciaccia said.

Beyond that, he and Williams have asked orientation leaders to be honest with the incoming students about what happened and about their own experiences on campus.

“I think that will be reassuring to them,” Williams said.


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