Questions and Answers

In May 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights included Hobart and William Smith among 55 institutions of higher education - now 130 - under review regarding compliance with federal rules intended to prevent sexual and gender based harassment and violence on college campuses. The Colleges' inclusion on the list was prompted by the complaint of a student after an alleged sexual assault.

In July 2014, the New York Times published an article about the Colleges’ handling of a student’s sexual assault complaint. Media coverage of the case as well as various statements from the Colleges can be found online.

On August 11, 2015, the Colleges received notification that a second complaint was received by the Office for Civil Rights.

As stated by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), notice of a complaint in no way implies that OCR has made a determination as to the merits of the allegations. The Colleges will cooperate fully as the OCR moves forward in its examination of this matter. The Colleges will fully cooperate with OCR as we resolve these matters.

 

Do the Colleges have a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual assault?
Yes. Sexual violence and rape are abhorrent crimes. The Colleges prohibit all forms of sexual, sex or 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 May of 2015 President Gearan appointed Susan Lee as the Colleges’ Title IX Coordinator. Susan brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to campus and her leadership will be instrumental in maintaining our proactive initiatives and will continue to expand our ability to care for all students.

 

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 first responders 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. In the last year, 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. 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 meet annually 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 cases prompting the complaints or profiled in the New York Times?
Out of respect for the privacy of all 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?
In accordance with best practices and the Colleges' previous Sexual Misconduct Policy, prior to the summer of 2014 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 for Civil Rights. The Sexual Misconduct Policy, now in place, 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 for Civil Rights investigation?
The Colleges have cooperated fully with the Office for 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 for Civil Rights has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint. As Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon has said: "...being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law."


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