Meg* sought adjudication through the College Judiciary Committee (CJC) for forcible penetrative sexual assault in May. Three and a half months after her original complaint, her perpetrator was found responsible and given a two-year suspension — that is, until she is no longer on campus. According to Public Safety records, this same student was arrested by Swarthmore Police in May for simple assault — an intentional attempt to cause bodily injury — against a female student. The report identified this incident as a domestic dispute, implying that the two students involved knew each other. He was not convicted because the woman did not press charges.
Although the Interim Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy says students that have committed sexual assault “may receive a sanction ranging from suspension to expulsion,” it also says that “evidence of a pattern or conduct similar in nature by the respondent, either prior to or subsequent to the conduct in question, regardless of whether there has been a finding of responsibility … may be deemed relevant and probative to the panel’s determination of responsibility and/or assigning of a sanction.”
“While I am thankful that I will not have to see my perpetrator on campus over the next few years, I cannot even begin to understand the reasoning behind this sanction,” Meg said in an e-mail. “My perpetrator was found responsible by the college for forcible, penetrative, sexual assault — rape — yet will still be allowed to return to campus. I am absolutely furious and truly cannot understand how the sanction is appropriate for the findings.”
According to Dean of Students Liz Braun, the range of sanctions for each kind of case exists to allow the person deciding on the sanction to have a sense of the appropriate punishment while also “allowing for the merits of each case.”
Meg filed an appeal because of the sanctions her perpetrator received. The appeal was denied by Braun, who now makes the appeal decisions. Meg thinks that it is ridiculous that witnesses in CJC cases should be prone to get expelled if they reveal information about the proceedings, for instance, but that her assailant was not.
“Apparently rape is not always considered heinous enough by this institution [to merit expulsion],” she said. “The whole decision makes me feel like Swarthmore is appeasing me. It’s as if he’s my problem, not that he’s a danger to the community.”
Because Swarthmore does not annotate transcripts with disciplinary sanctions (students have a separate conduct file), Meg’s assailant, like any other, could also transfer to a different school without that institution automatically receiving notice of his guilt.
“It’s really up to the receiving institution, in terms of what questions they’re asking transfer applicants,” Judicial Affairs Coordinator Nathan Miller said. “So if one of their questions is to report disciplinary history at your prior institution, that student would likely sign a release and we would follow our procedures to release that information. I can’t speak for every institution and how they practice … but on a national standard, that is more like to occur than not. But are there institutions that wouldn’t ask that question? Potentially, yeah.”
The Common Application is used by 517 of 4,495 colleges and universities in the country (the rest have their own applications). This application website, whose member schools include many of the country’s top colleges and universities, requires potential transfer students to make sure a school official fills out a “Transfer Registrar Report,” which asks whether the applicant has been found responsible for a disciplinary violation that resulted in probation, suspension or expulsion. This form, however, can be completed by the “college/university registrar or [an] appropriate dean/college official” that can verify enrollment and academic standing, according to the Common Application website. The website is not explicit about whether this dean or registrar must know about a student’s disciplinary record. Other applications may or may not ask for a student’s disciplinary record.
Though even if other institutions do receive a transfer student’s disciplinary file, accused students may withdraw from Swarthmore before going through with the CJC case. According to Jo*, her friend reported an assault last year against a student who withdrew from the college a few weeks before the case was scheduled. Her friend had accused this student of rape and sexual harassment, and two alumnae had reported rapes by the same man alongside her. Jo points out that this student may have applied and been accepted to another college, without it knowing that these charges had been brought against him. Some colleges don’t release transcripts to other institutions until cases are resolved. Others, like Tufts University, for instance, annotate transcripts saying that the student withdrew with a judicial case pending.
The policies surrounding the reporting and adjudication processes for matters of sexual assault were revised and amended over the summer after the college was accused of being in violation of national law under Title IX and the Clery Act. However, Meg thinks the investigative and CJC processes still pose several unnecessary hurdles for victims of sexual assault and misconduct. She found the process to be as frustrating as the outcome itself.
“The CJC process is long, triggering, stressful and exhausting,” she said. “While some of this is unavoidable, the process clearly needs a lot of restructuring to eliminate some of the unnecessary difficulties.”
Meg cited several instances in which she wishes the process had been smoother. At the beginning of her investigation, after intense conversations about confidentiality with several administrators, she said she was approached and questioned by her investigator in front of McCabe [Library] for everyone to see and hear. Because she has been off campus for most of the investigation, she also had serious trouble communicating, in general, with relevant administrators. She had to repeatedly ask for those involved in her investigation to e-mail her with information about what she deemed a “nebulous procedure,” including what kind of information she would need for the hearing, whether she’d have to give opening and closing statements and even who would be in the room during the hearing. When information was provided, she said it wasn’t always correct.
“More than once I was asked to excuse my investigators for not knowing or understanding the investigative process that they were supposed to conduct,” she said. “I was asked to pardon them for giving me misleading information.”
But she thinks that there are structural problems as well. A day before the hearing, Meg was told she could not speak with her witnesses about the case, all of whom were her closest friends and greatest sources of support. Amy* had the same experience. The college also prohibited her from naming any of her witnesses (all her friends) as silent support people. Her mother, who is not a Swarthmore community member, or Patricia Fischette, who she said was deemed biased as a sexual assault expert, were not allowed to be her support people either.
“I wanted someone who knows me, who could give me real support,” Amy said. “It’s supposed to be a silent support person … My parents thought that the college just wanted to hide whatever was going to happen.”
Miller holds that he’s always looking to receive information and feedback about the process. He says his office will continue to look for improvements regarding CJC rules and procedures as he moves forward in his time here.
*The names Meg, Jo and Amy are pseudonyms.