July 13, 2014

Information regarding New York Times story

On July 13, the New York Times published a story about an alleged sexual misconduct case at Hobart and William Smith that led to a complaint being filed by one student with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The Colleges disagree with the reporter’s interpretation of events and his portrayal of the Colleges, its students and its processes. The Colleges cooperated fully with the newspaper and its reporter. Senior members of the administration met twice with him to fully explain our procedures and corresponded with him on multiple occasions. These responses were largely ignored. The result is a story that unfairly portrays the Colleges and belittles the urgency and seriousness with which we address reported violations of our community standards.

The Colleges have serious concerns regarding the reporter’s acquisition of the transcripts of the hearings, sections of which were quoted out of context in the article. The Colleges did not share these transcripts with the reporter because to do so would violate the law.

The Colleges do not provide preferential treatment to athletes. We hold all of our students, including athletes, to the highest standards. We have never nor would we ever allow students who have violated our sexual misconduct code to remain on campus to play a sport. To state otherwise is a gross misinterpretation of the hearing results.

Below are some of the points that were made to the New York Times that were either missing or downplayed in the story:

  • We are not reluctant to enforce our community standards and take action when warranted. In the past two years, the Colleges have adjudicated seven sexual misconduct cases resulting in four students being permanently separated from the Colleges.

  • The Colleges are fortunate to work in cooperation with the police force in Geneva. We encourage every student who reports sexual misconduct to speak with the Geneva Police Department. In the case in question, within one hour of the report being made to HWS, the matter was presented to the Geneva Police Department.

  • The Colleges strive for fundamental fairness in all of our student discipline processes. As a small residential college, we believe we are accountable in a deep way to our students and campus community. In the matter in question, the Colleges followed our policies in hearing the case and went beyond our typical processes when - at the Student’s attorney’s request - we extended the time to appeal from five days to nearly three months after which we held a re-hearing on appeal rather than reviewing the information previously submitted to the Panel, as is more typical. The Colleges wanted to ensure that the Student had every opportunity to present information and to be heard.

  • From the moment an alleged incident is reported and throughout the entire process until the completion of a campus hearing or criminal case, students are treated with dignity and seriousness. They are informed of their right to choose counseling and medical treatment, and to report their case through the campus disciplinary process and/or through the Geneva Police Department. They have the right to refuse these options without reproach. The staff at the Colleges works with each student individually to ensure that his or her living and learning environment remains stable. Accommodations include changing on-campus student housing, assistance from staff in completing the relocation, exam rescheduling, transferring classes, and alternative course completion. The Colleges’ Campus Safety staff is made available 24/7 to the student including providing transportation.

  • Out of respect for the privacy of the currently enrolled student who made the complaint and in deference to the restrictions imposed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Colleges cannot and will not comment on the specific details of any student misconduct case.

  • Hobart and William Smith have no tolerance for sexual assault or gender-based violence. We take this issue very seriously and have an active program in place to educate students, as well as a system to report and adjudicate violations. This system was created by a faculty committee in collaboration with national experts and following months of research and work. The goal is to ensure students a fair hearing and resolution of cases. Our policies, processes and procedures are available to our community on the Colleges’ website and in print through the Community Standards Handbook.

  • Our process is designed to provide an appropriate environment for our students to meet with a caring and trained panel of faculty and staff. In sexual misconduct and other judicial matters, this setting has been effective as it offers students redress and adherence to our community standards. It reflects our core mission to educate students.

  • We have a full time Title IX Coordinator who was appointed in September 2013. The Colleges have an extensive training program for members of the adjudication panel which is made up of full time faculty and staff who volunteer for this important service. Members participate in significant, multiple-day training sessions conducted by national experts, including Katie Koestner, Scott Lewis, John Lowery, and Brett Sokolow. In addition, a training session is always held prior to each hearing.

  • This summer the Colleges are completing an audit of our approach to sexual misconduct and community standards. Committees have formed to help with this work made up of students, faculty, staff, alumni, alumnae and parents. With their help, we are expanding our Title IX efforts and establishing a new Office of Title IX staffed by experts in this field including psychologists, an experienced Title IX legal adviser who will ensure that our hearing process is equitable and fair, and an expert in educational development, all advised by a senior member of the faculty.

  • The Colleges are well aware of the dialogue related to whether sexual assault complaints should be heard by higher education disciplinary panels or whether law enforcement should handle all matters. The Colleges welcome the discussion and are interested in being part of the discussion. It is well understood that school disciplinary panels do not mirror our criminal justice system.

  • Until the law changes in this regard, the Colleges must act in compliance with Title IX and guidance issued by the Office for Civil Rights, meaning we must investigate complaints of sexual assault and evaluate them under our internal policies and processes. The Colleges are required by OCR to use a preponderance of evidence standard in determining sexual misconduct policy violations.

  • The Colleges immediately respond to every complaint that no-contact orders are violated and take action as appropriate.

  • The Colleges work continuously to update our practices and policies to ensure that all members of our community have the information and resources necessary. Three years ago we instituted mandatory 90 minute training sessions on sexual misconduct during the first full day of student orientation. All students participate in additional mandatory rape prevention programs during the first six weeks of their first semester. The staff of Residential Education and the Center for Counseling and Student Wellness work together to provide required educational sessions in the residence halls on an annual basis. At the beginning of every year, students are provided with cards in their residence hall rooms that include contact information and bystander intervention instructions. We have also instituted a required on-line training prior to registration for housing selection.

  • Understanding the seriousness of this issue, all three meetings of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Board of Trustees during the past year have involved Board-wide conversations about sexual misconduct policies and procedures. At the end of the semester, students and faculty organized a campus-wide session on Title IX that led to new ideas on ways we can work together to address sexual misconduct. This two-hour session was marked by civil and open discourse that sought to achieve new solutions for education and reporting.


Share suggestions and ideas for change with Hobart and William Smith Colleges: HWSfeedback@hws.edu

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: hwscocs@gmail.com.

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