The Pulteney Street Survey (Winter 2015): A Culture of Respect: The National Dialogue on Sexual Assault and How HWS is Responding

by Andrew Wickenden '09

The summer of 2014 was, by all accounts, a heartbreaking time. In May, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights included Hobart and William Smith among 55 institutions of higher education — now 91 — under review regarding compliance with federal rules intended to diminish sexual harassment on college campuses. The Colleges' inclusion on the list was prompted by the complaint of a student after an alleged sexual assault.

In July, the New York Times published an article about the Colleges' handling of a student's sexual assault complaint. The Hobart and William Smith adjudication of the complaint had exonerated the alleged suspects, and Ontario County's district attorney determined that no criminal charges were warranted.

The newspaper's account of the incident sparked an intense reaction within the Hobart and William Smith community, galvanizing action.

"As I wrote to the New York Times in July, we stand behind the results of our process and disagree with the paper's depiction of the Colleges and the characterization of our students, faculty and staff," says Maureen Collins Zupan '72, P'09, chair of the Board of Trustees. "We can, however, always do better. We owe it to every member of our community to ensure that no student ever feels the pain and grief that was depicted in that article."

With emotions running high, the Hobart and William Smith community responded in the manner it has responded to adversity for nearly 200 years. Students, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni and alumnae came together for dialogue and earnest soul-searching to reaffirm longstanding values while also resolving to make Hobart and William Smith even stronger.

"Although we know that we have worked very hard to provide a safe environment for students, and although we know that the issues we are grappling with exist at virtually all institutions across the country, we take no comfort in these facts," says President Mark D. Gearan. "Hobart and William Smith have an opportunity to provide leadership. As the father of two daughters, nothing could be more important to me personally or professionally."

Rooted in compassion, the drive to do better has become a pivotal concept in the campus dialogue, allowing the community to support those in need while also supporting the Colleges themselves.

"If we retreat into our offices, we don't come out stronger as a community, and that's fundamentally what we're trying to address," says Nan Crystal Arens, associate professor of geoscience and chair of the Hobart and William Smith Committee on Faculty.

"We have so much pride in our institution, in our students, faculty and staff, in the accomplishments of our alums," says Gearan. "We needed to honor that pride and move forward to make the Colleges an even better place for all students."

A Community United

"Hobart and William Smith is the kind of place where faculty, alums and students can sit with campus leadership and discuss not just campus safety but what we value, what we expect of each other, how we can give students the resources they need, and what's at the root of these issues," says Michael Mills '96, who serves as a Regional Vice President of the Southeast Region, a volunteer position for the HWS National Regional Network, and who worked with various parties in the weeks following the Times story. Mills attended an August session on campus when members of HWS Community for Change, an alum group, met with the chair of the Board, president and provost to create a plan of action steps.

"The most important thing the administration and faculty can do, and that they've been working hard to do, is listen to the students," says Sarah Feldman '15, a member of the Coalition of Concerned Students, a group formed in May by representatives of HWS student government and social justice clubs on campus.

The collaboration at gatherings and forums has led to new initiatives and provided support for projects that were already in the works, including a major expansion of the Title IX Office; a collaborative revision of the Colleges' sexual misconduct policy; bystander training for students; training for faculty and staff; new Orientation programming; technology initiatives; and enhanced partnerships with local rape crisis and health care providers, the Geneva Police Department, and the Ontario County District Attorney's Office. The desired impact is to prevent sexual assault while also giving students, faculty and staff the knowledge and tools they need should it occur.

"It's heartening to see the outpouring of support from our community," says Robert Flowers, vice president for student affairs. "Our goal is and has always been to provide the best, safest and most supportive environment for students. We have to keep these issues at the forefront of the campus dialogue."

At least one initiative has moved into the realm of mobile technology. Through the leadership of Feldman, Hobart and William Smith is one of the first of three higher education institutions to partner with Circle of 6, an app that won the White House's "Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge." Circle of 6 allows students to connect with friends to help prevent violence. Designed for college students, the app provides easy access to on- and off-campus resources and allows users to connect with six friends of their choice and alert them to their location or request an interruption.

And prior to the fall semester, fraternities at Hobart and William Smith wrote to the student body and pledged to be active partners in fostering a healthy campus climate. "We all love this place and want to see it succeed," says Paul Ciaccia '15, the president of Chi Phi and a member of the Intra-Fraternity Council. "We wanted to immediately show support and respect. We want to be recognized as part of the campus community and that means we have a responsibility to it."

A Culture of Respect

The kind of improvement, accountability and inclusive dialogue at the heart of the Colleges' response became the guiding tenets of a comprehensive, new initiative on campus — the Culture of Respect.

Announced by Gearan in his 2014 Convocation address, the Culture of Respect enlists the entire HWS community to reaffirm and strengthen a culture in which empathy, diversity and truth are valued and practiced. "From class, to race, to sexuality - underneath all of these dynamics that are important to building a sense of community is the imperative for greater respect," Gearan said.

In the fall, Gearan appointed a steering committee comprised of faculty, staff, students, parents, and members of the Board of Trustees and Alumni and Alumnae Councils. Their charge is to take a critical look at how the Colleges' systems and policies foster the community's culture of respect. The committee will study the issue for one year and offer best-practice recommendations to the administration in five focus areas: safety and wellness, campus facilities, history and heritage, dialogue across differences and the curriculum.

The Steering Committee is co-chaired by Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire L.H.D. '12 and Mara O'Laughlin '66, L.H.D. '13. As a well-respected member of the faculty, McGuire has had a number of leadership roles on campus, most recently serving as interim provost and dean of faculty. A highly regarded former director of admissions and assistant vice president for advancement, O'Laughlin has worked to advance the Colleges, helping to establish the Centennial Center for Leadership and fundraising for the new performing arts center.

"There are longstanding social issues to confront and improve," explains O'Laughlin. "Our charge—as a committee that spans the spectrum of community—is to honestly confront who we are, what we hope to be, and what we do well."

"HWS has the kinds of people who will step up to these tasks," McGuire says. "Those are the inspirations that I look to as we focus on what HWS does well, what works, and how to make them work better. Are there areas within those categories that we can improve? Of course. And the first meetings have demonstrated that there's no lack of ideas."

Those close to the process say it's important to remember that Hobart and William Smith have long had a culture of respect built on open inquiry. The current undertaking seeks to reaffirm those values and apply them in the context of shifting social norms.

"In light of everything that's gone on in the past few months, it's easy to focus on the negatives," says Aly McKnight '15, president of William Smith Congress and a member of the Culture of Respect Steering Committee and the Coalition of Concerned Students. "Focusing on what's positive changes the entire structure of how we're talking about social life on campus."

Gearan is committed to ensuring that the Colleges will lead the country in combating campus sexual assaults. "We are uniquely poised to move forward with confidence on this issue. We have a strong tradition as a coordinate institution, a deep history rooted in advocacy and critical thinking, and significant success working collaboratively on a number of recent initiatives. Most importantly, I know the integrity and conviction of our community.

"Hobart and William Smith is a great place. We now have a chance to make it an even better place."

The Campus Dialogue

"In some ways, assault, violence and rape are ways to remind someone they are guests or less fully human or not fully citizens of a place," says Betty Bayer, professor of women's studies. "If we do not attend to sexual violence, rape, harassment and assault as a more comprehensive matter, then I think we risk it all, including the very values and practices we espouse in our mission."

An American is sexually assaulted every two minutes, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. Annually, almost 240,000 people (ages 12 or older) are victims of sexual assault.

Hobart and William Smith are taking action to draw down those numbers. Before this fall's Orientation, the HWS community undertook a significant amount of work to prepare for the fall semester, instituting a series of updated and new training, prevention and education programs.

The Colleges' Office for Title IX Programs & Compliance is taking "a multi-faceted approach to reach members of the community so that they know we are here, where to go, what to do, and how to get help when it's needed," says Stacey Pierce, interim Title IX coordinator and associate dean of students.

The Title IX office recently expanded to include two psychologists and an experienced Title IX legal adviser. With an extensive background in student affairs and a doctorate in college policy and administration, Pierce was selected as the interim coordinator this academic year while a national search is underway for a permanent coordinator.

The more robust office "has the opportunity—and in my opinion, the responsibility—to help shift and shape our culture to become more inclusive in our words and actions as community members," Pierce says. "We must all recognize the roles we play in creating an environment where everyone is welcome."

Tyler Steving '15, president of Hobart for Equality and Respect, concurs. "We have to broaden our horizons and attack things from a cultural perspective that deals with respect, diversity, oppression and what it means to be good citizens of the community."

In September, the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men hosted a series of events surrounding strategies for promoting a culture of respect. Jodi Dean, professor of political science and director of the Center, says the series intends to keep "the conversation about rape and sexual violence on campus at the forefront of the concerns of this fall…providing a location for continued reflection, inquiry and discussion of the issues regarding sexual violence, and that's a really important thing."

Dean, a member of the Sexual Violence Task Force, says the event series and other campus efforts, are "...highlighting the fact that rape happens, the conditions under which rape happens, and issues within our procedures."

"The changes in policy and discussions that are taking place at HWS now will lay the foundation for broader social change in the future," says Mavreen Smiel '07, one of the founders of the activist alum group HWS Community for Change. "I hope the students will take these lessons to heart and carry them wherever life's journey takes them."

For Bayer, these conversations are part of the "long road to liberty and democracy, to working out how to live here together.... As our Colleges retool our Title IX office, run workshops, hold lectures and invite discussion, we must also ask ourselves how we live, work and play together here, how we study and learn together, how our curriculum invites us to value a fuller range of history, of politics, of science, of arts and of dialogue to make the world, to build its future."

Questions & Answers

Do the Colleges have a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual assault?
Yes. Sexual violence and rape are abhorrent crimes. The Colleges do not allow anyone known to have committed rape to remain on campus. The Colleges prohibit all forms of sexual, sexor gender-based harassment, discrimination or misconduct—based upon gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation—including sexual harassment, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking, and sex- or gender-based harassment that does not involve conduct of a sexual nature.

What support systems are in place to assist students in crisis?
The Colleges have a team of professional staff available to students 24-hours a day. It includes licensed psychologists and counselors, health care professionals, campus safety officers specially trained to work with college students, and professionals from the Office of Student Life.

In the summer of 2014, the Colleges significantly expanded the Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance to include the Title IX coordinator, two psychologists and an experienced Title IX legal adviser. The Office oversees educational programming, compliance, investigation and adjudication of complaints. It reports directly to the president.

How do students report a sexual assault?
The Colleges encourage all individuals to make a report to the Title IX Office and/or Campus Safety as well as to local law enforcement. Both internal and criminal reports may be pursued simultaneously. The Colleges seek to remove all barriers to reporting sexual misconduct and therefore offer any student who reports sexual assault or harassment immunity from being charged for policy violations related to use of alcohol or other drugs. Anonymous reporting is also possible through the Colleges' online bias incident reporting system.

Under the leadership of the Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance, the Colleges have convened a group of campus and community first-responders — the Sexual Violence Response and Evaluation Team — that meets monthly throughout the academic year to provide effective and coordinated first response and streamlined procedures. Community firstresponders include staff from the local sexual assault and domestic violence response service Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, the Geneva Police Department, the District's Attorney's Office, and FF Thompson Hospital.

What training is in place for students regarding sexual assault?
The Colleges have had training programs in place for a number of years that cover everything from prevention to ensuring that students understand how to report an assault. During the summer of 2014, 35 faculty and staff members volunteered to be trained to facilitate bystander intervention training for HWS students. Based on the highly regarded University of New Hampshire model, hundreds of students have participated in these workshops during the fall semester. All first-year students must attend. They join a number of upper-class students who have participated through their affiliations with athletic teams and HWS clubs. Members of the Title IX Office also met with every athletic team to discuss the Colleges' policies and answer questions. Bystander training is the first step in a continuous training program that will give students the tools they need to navigate a myriad of social situations that require proficiency in topics related to race, class, gender and sexuality.

What are the details of the case profiled in the New York Times?
Out of respect for the privacy of students and because of the restrictions imposed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Colleges cannot release any information or comment on the specific details of any student misconduct case. Media coverage as a result of the New York Times story can be found on the Colleges' website.

Why do colleges and universities investigate and adjudicate sexual assault allegations?
All colleges and universities must act in compliance with Title IX and guidance issued by the Federal Office for Civil Rights, which states that complaints of sexual assault must be investigated and evaluated using internal policies and processes. All colleges and universities have a legal responsibility to do so even when a student declines to report to law enforcement. From the moment an alleged incident is reported and throughout the entire process of investigation and resolution, all students are treated with dignity and seriousness through proceedings that are fair and equitable to all students.

What is Title IX?
A Federal law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C. 1681, et seq., law states that, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

All public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges and universities that receive federal funds must comply with Title IX. Under the law, discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, sexual violence, sexual assault, other forms of sexual misconduct, stalking, and intimate partner violence.

The United States Department of Education maintains the Office for Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX. The principal enforcement activity is the investigation and resolution of complaints filed by people alleging sex discrimination.

The Colleges have had a full-time Title IX coordinator on staff since September 2013.

Is the hearing panel for sexual assault made up of faculty and staff?
Prior to the summer of 2014 and in accordance with best practices and the Colleges' previous Sexual Misconduct Policy, hearing panels for all student misconduct cases consisted of members of the HWS professional community who volunteered for the position and who underwent extensive training in the dynamics of sexual violence, factors relevant to credibility, the evaluation of consent and incapacitation, and the application of the preponderance of evidence standard required by the Office of Civil Rights. The Interim Sexual Misconduct Policy put in place in the summer of 2014 mandates that hearing panels must be comprised of external individuals (not employed by the Colleges) who are experts in sexual violence.

What are the next steps in the Office of Civil Rights investigation?
The Colleges have cooperated fully with the Office of Civil Rights, which has collected and is currently in the process of analyzing documents. The Office has not given the Colleges a timeline for its investigation. Opening a complaint for investigation does not imply that the Office of Civil Rights has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.

We Are HWS

by Jessica Evangelista Balduzzi '05

In a small corner of the Scandling Campus Center, PJ McInnis '15 and Virginia DeWees '16—two students with seemingly nothing in common— walk up to a white board and begin describing themselves. Using giant letters, DeWees writes "Queer," while McInnis scribbles the Greek symbols of his fraternity. After five minutes of writing identifying words, the two students take a step back and to their surprise, find they've both written "extroverted" and identified themselves as having a learning disability.

"It was the moment when I realized that this campaign just might work," says Molly Doris-Pierce '15, creator of the "We Are HWS" campaign, an initiative that brings together members of the HWS community by uncovering their identities and then snapping a photo with a sign that reads, "We Are HWS." "I think this really surprised them to see that they had much more in common than they could have ever anticipated."

The idea for the "We Are HWS" campaign originated from the basic premise that everyone at HWS—students, staff, faculty, parents, trustees, alumni and alumnae— all have a stake in the Colleges' future. "I believe sometimes, especially in difficult times, it is easier to take on different identities rather than identifying with the Colleges," she says.

For Doris-Pierce, the goal of the "We Are HWS" campaign is about building community and creating a culture of change to "show that despite our differences we are one community and that all of us ARE HWS. We cannot build cultural change from the top down," she adds. "In order to create a campus community where everyone feels valued, we must first change individual attitudes. We must make sure that the words, "We Are HWS" hold weight— whoever you are in this community, we are a community and we ARE HWS."


Share suggestions and ideas for change with Hobart and William Smith Colleges:

A student group, the Coalition of Concerned Students, is working to ensure that the Colleges are a safe environment for all students and are joining with the Colleges and the HWS Community for Change to enact policy and climate changes. The Coalition of Concerned Students can be reached at:

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