Student petition asks for changes at HWS

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 10:32 am | Updated: 3:07 pm, Mon Jul 21, 2014.

By JIM MILLER jmiller@fltimes.com

GENEVA - The group of Hobart and William Smith Colleges students behind an online petition asking for better sexual assault policies came together because of the case that put those policies in the national spotlight.

Members of the Coalition of Concerned students began talking about the issue when rumors about an alleged sexual assault swept the campus last fall, said spokeswoman Molly Doris-Pierce of Newton, Mass., who will be a senior this year. Last week, members made a plan of action and talked about what they wanted to do in the coming months.

On Sunday, the New York Times upended those plans.

The paper published an interview with an HWS student who said multiple members of the Hobart football team had sexually assaulted her in September. The Colleges cleared the players after what the student considered an unfair hearing process.

“From what we have heard, the existing policies, or the policies that existed in the fall, were completely inadequate,” Doris-Pierce said. “We have seen a lot of significant changes since the fall.”

However, the group believes administrators must make more changes. And that triggered the petition, which went online at www.change.org in the story’s wake.

Among other things, the Coalition wants the Colleges to hire a new Title IX officer and create a sexual assault hotline.

In an interview Monday, HWS President Mark Gearan said he had seen the petition and that some of the Coalition’s ideas had merit. Doris-Pierce said the Coalition hopes to work with administrators.

“The coalition is not at war with the administration,” she said. “We’re made up of students who dedicate their lives to fighting against sexual violence, and we want to teach what we know to the administration, and what we’ve learned.”

Doris-Pierce said the Coalition has grown from its 10 founding members to an active group of 25 or 30 people. Many more have indicated support via its Facebook page.

Discussions about sexual assault on campus began at a William Smith Women’s Collective meeting in October. Other campus groups became involved, and the effort gained momentum soon after, when a Huffington Post story included HWS on a list of colleges under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assaults.

At the time, administrators told the students they had not been informed about any investigation, Doris-Pierce said.

“We were worried about this all year, and then, on May 2, there was a formal announcement,” Doris-Pierce said, referring to the government’s release of a list of colleges with active complaints against them. “From that, this group of concerned students decided we were going to start fighting for change.”

The effort began during a pre-exam reading day in May. Doris-Pierce said about 150 students joined administrators to discuss the issue. The ideas in the petition came from that session and from later discussions among Coalition members.

So far, more than 2,600 people have signed the petition. The students’ requests include more updates on the Colleges’ ongoing audit of their sexual assault policies, restructuring mandated rape prevention seminars to focus on bystander intervention and ensuring that qualified people serve on the Colleges’ internal adjudication panel.

“It’s basically what we’ve been asking for all year, so survivors feel supported,” Doris-Pierce said.

The Coalition also plans to move ahead with the plans it made prior to the New York Times article. The effort will include a focus on educational materials.

“We just wrote and released a sexual assault and violence glossary, because a lot of people don’t know the terms,” Doris-Pierce said. “We’re also going to have materials that inform students of what their reporting options are. ... It’s also important that we change some of the culture around sex on college campuses in general. I think that for every three things we hand out about the importance of educating yourself about the impact of sexual violence ... we have at least one thing that’s sex-positive, [or about] enthusiastic consent and what that means.”

Despite recent events and the attention they have garnered, Doris-Pierce does not believe the Colleges have a greater problem with sexual assault than their peers. However, she does believe the problem is serious across the nation.

“To be honest with you, I think it’s the same [here] as it is anywhere else,” she said. “I think the way it was handled, the reporting was handled, on our campus was atrocious. However, one in four women are sexually assaulted during their lives, and that’s going to happen on campus or out in the world.”



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