Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

CJC

on behalf of Sexual Health Advocates

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Jordan Reyes ’19, a Sexual Health Advocate (SHA) who works for the admissions office, was informed by Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 on Monday that he could either stop wearing his “I <3 Female Orgasm” t-shirt while working or lose his job as a general information presenter (GISP). The shirt is among the merchandise that was distributed at I <3 Female Orgasm, a February event featuring sex educators Dorian Solot and Connor Timmons teaching a “message of sexual health and empowerment,” sponsored by Title IX Office, the Women’s Resource Center for Gender Equity (WRC), and the SHAs. Jordan is now unemployed. The reason? According to Dean Bock, “It is potentially triggering.”

You know what is potentially triggering, Swat? PROTECTING RAPISTS.

We are appalled, but not shocked, that a college administrator would misappropriate “concern over triggering” while Swarthmore has and largely refuses to own up to a history of traumatizing victims and survivors of sexual assault, and perpetuates and dismisses genuine concern over the triggering effect of institutionally prioritizing perpetrators of assault. While we understand the College can dictate the dress of its paid representatives, punishing a student for wearing a sex-positive t-shirt given out by the very office that is working against sexual violence at Swarthmore, in the name of eliminating triggers, is tone-deaf, hurtful, and hopelessly hypocritical.

Putting aside the college’s apparent apathy with potential triggers when I <3 Female Orgasm fliers were plastered all over campus in support of this school-sponsored event, Dean Bock’s sudden commitment to the needs of hypothetical survivors while the administration continually fails to acknowledge its troubling history rings hollow. As Jodie Goodman ’16 has recently written in The Phoenix, “Many students are familiar with complaints made during the spring of 2013, most notably the fact that Tom Elverson, Swarthmore’s alcohol education and intervention specialist as well as Greek liaison, was known to intervene in favor of Delta Upsilon members during Title IX investigations.” In 2013, 13 students filed a Title IX complaint against the college for the college’s mishandling of sexual misconduct reports. Critically, numerous Swarthmore students’ histories of consensual sexual engagement have been used to discredit their allegations of assault. As The Phoenix reported in 2013, survivors appearing before the College Judiciary Committee have been asked questions such as: “How many people have you slept with before?” and “You say you had sex with him [your assailant] before?” With this history in mind, the invocation of sexual trauma to censor pro-healthy sexuality shirts is breathtakingly inappropriate.

Censoring the (sartorial) work of the school’s anti-sexual violence advocates, in the name of sexual violence awareness, makes no sense.

So given Dean Bock’s ultimatum to Jordan, it seems that sex-positive, trauma-aware programming on healthy sexuality like I <3 Female Orgasm, which was sponsored by Title IX this February, is a liability for the college to showcase to potential students. That the college doesn’t allow its student representatives to wear a shirt promoting its own Title IX Office’s programming on healthy sexuality, combined with the college’s history of silencing anti-sexual assault protest, suggests that Swarthmore’s commitment to the amazing work of its Title IX Office extends only so far as the Office’s ability to serve the college’s financial interests.

As Sexual Health Advocates, we advocate to make this campus hospitable for healthy sex and relationships. That’s why we co-sponsored I <3 the Female Orgasm along with Title IX, and the WRC. We suggest that, if Dean Bock really wants to support survivors of sexual violence and those re-traumatized by Swarthmore’s mishandling thereof, he and other administrators listen and respond to the genuine concerns of actual sexual violence survivors. That includes supporting Title IX and SHA programming that addresses said concerns.

Dean Bock should start by reinstating Jordan, who, as a Sexual Health Advocate, a Title IX Liaison, and a NuWave member, is working for a safer and healthier sexual climate in a moment when the same cannot necessarily be said of the institution itself. (See the recently published website Swat Protects Rapists for an overview of the college’s failure to pursue justice for survivors of sexual violence.) Crucially, Jordan should be able to wear and discuss the message of his shirt on the job. Regardless, we hope that Dean Bock’s newly demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of trauma survivors is reflective of a new administrative commitment to the needs of survivors on campus.

In the meantime, Swat can’t protect us from rapists, but at least it can protect us from orgasms!

This op-ed has been co-signed by the following Sexual Health Advocates: Lulu Allen-Waller ’17, Bel Guinle ’19, Helen Hawver ’17, YuQing Lin ’20, Will Marchese ’20, Sabrina Merold ’17, Krista Smith-Henke ’19, Shayla Smith ’20, and Dorcas Tang ’19.

 

Works Referenced

“Does Swat Protect Rapists?” by Jodie Goodman

http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2017/04/13/does-swat-protect-rapists/

“Go for the O” by Lauren Savo

http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2017/02/23/go-for-the-o/

“DoE releases Title IX complaint against Swarthmore” by Daniel Block and Izzy Kornblatt

http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/04/24/doe-releases-title-ix-complaint-against-swarthmore/

“Brought to Light: Accused Walks, College Demands Silence” by Max Nesterak

http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2013/04/17/brought-to-light-part-two/

“Swat Protects Rapists” Website

https://swatprotectsrapists.wordpress.com/

 

Student conduct report sheds light on part of judiciary process

in News by

On October 10, the student body received an email from Nathan Miller, dean of the senior class and director of student conduct, announcing the first annual Student Conduct Report. The report provides a catalogue of student misconduct cases and outcomes for the 2013-2014 academic year. The report, which can be accessed by anyone with the link and a valid Swarthmore student login, is the culmination of a process started last Spring, when Miller announced his intentions to expand communication about student conduct adjudication.

“The college community as a whole, including the general student population was requesting greater clarity regarding the college’s student conduct process,” said Miller. “I believe that the annual report provides this clarification and is inline with student conduct best practice”

Although the stated aim of the report was to help the student body foster such a community, the text of the report itself stuck to the facts. The report made a distinction between “Minor” and “Major” misconduct cases. The former type is always adjudicated by Miller. Major misconduct cases can be adjudicated by Miller, the College Judiciary Committee or, in the case of a breach of the sexual conduct code, external sources.

Of a total of 145 misconduct cases in the 2013-2014 academic year, 127 were considered minor and the remaining 18 were major. In 21 of the 145 cases, the student in question was found to be “not responsible” for the alleged misconduct. The biggest categories for minor misconduct cases were alcohol offenses, copyright issues and unauthorized access of college buildings. The large majority of minor misconduct cases where students were found responsible resulted in a warning. A total of 109 students were given warnings. When minor misconduct cases did not result in warnings, the disciplinary action was probation. Every probation for minor misconduct was related to a prior offense besides one, which was a case of non-sexual physical violence.

Of the 18 major misconduct cases, eleven involved academic misconduct and four involved sexual misconduct. The remaining three were miscellaneous behavioral misconduct cases: a case regarding the alcohol and drugs policy, a case of physical violence and a case regarding failure to comply with the terms of a disciplinary sanction.

None of the eleven students involved in cases of academic misconduct had been accused of academic misconduct before. Nine of the cases found the student in question responsible. Of the three miscellaneous major misconduct cases, only the one regarding physical violence resulted in a “not responsible” finding. The alcohol and drugs case resulted in a suspension and the case regarding a failure to comply with a disciplinary sanction resulted in an expulsion.

Of the four sexual assault and harassment cases, three of the accused students were found responsible, and were punished with probation, suspension and expulsion respectively. One student was found not responsible. All four cases were adjudicated under the Interim Sexual Assault and Harassment policy established last academic year. However, according to Helen Hawver ’17, a Sexual Health Counselor, this number likely does not include all occurrences of sexual harassment and assault.

“Unfortunately, I would guess that this number is not fully representative of the total sexual assault cases that happened on campus last year,” said Hawver in an email. “The likelihood is that a number of sexual assault cases still simply go unreported. Even among a student body as rational, informed and aware as Swarthmore’s, sexual assault and harassment can still carry feelings of shame and guilt for victims, and the process of reporting the incident can be very daunting.”

Hawver added that although no single response to sexual harassment will be appropriate in every case, probation may take the matter too lightly.

“Certainly there are different levels of sexual harassment and assault, all of which should absolutely be treated seriously,” she said. “However, I feel that probation is, in most situations, not serious enough in dealing with sexual misconduct, and that suspension is more likely to be appropriate.”

Hawver further explained that she believes the CJC should take reported cases of sexual assault more seriously. She asserts that probation should not apply to all major misconduct cases, and that offenses of differing severity should receive different punishments.

“Students received probation both for climbing on the roof of Parrish and for perpetrating sexual assault/harassment; I don’t think those two violations merit action of equal severity,” Hawver stated.

Emphasizing the importance of education and using the resources available, Hawver believes that eliminating sexual assault and harassment from campus is achievable.

“I would hope that education and awareness will help to bring down (and eventually eliminate) the number of sexual misconduct cases at Swarthmore, both reported and unreported,” she wrote. “SHCs are here as educational resources … and hopefully students will come to us with any issues surrounding sexual assault.”

The report strictly focused on clarifying policy and describing cases and their outcomes. The scope of the report was especially limited in cases of major, interpersonal misconduct. For instance, the report declined to explain the rationale behind different levels of punishment in major misconduct cases and was more clear in the minor misconduct section.

In the minor misconduct section, the report states, “Typically a student’s first violation of the College’s Alcohol and Other Drugs policy will result in a warning from the college, with subsequent violations resulting in probation or more severe sanctions depending on the allegation.” This tendency to give one warning and then probation for misconduct was consistent across all of the so-called “minor” cases but one.

Similarly, while the report mentioned several locations where misconduct related to unauthorized access occurred, it declined to mention location or circumstance in describing “major misconduct” cases of sexual misconduct or physical violence.

“The report reflects the level of information that I am able to provide to the greater community as a whole. Providing specific information related to the location of an incident interferes with my ability to protect the anonymity of the complainant and respondent in a particular case and I am unwilling and at times, because of federal laws, unable to provide that information,” Miller explained in an email. The Student Conduct Report concerned itself with procedural facts over context, especially for major misconduct cases. The report did not ask or answer questions about what can be done to reduce the number of major misconduct cases.

The Report of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, a similar but unrelated report released in September, took a wider approach to this topic. Going beyond a catalogue of cases, the Task Force stated its aim of finding ways to improve the way college deals with sexual misconduct.

“If we have been behind the curve at Swarthmore, we want to emerge ahead of the curve, standing as a model for other institutions,” the report said. The Task Force consulted with members of the faculty, staff and student body in formulating its recommendations.

The Task Force’s report approached the problem from a variety of angles, issuing findings on sections and subsections titled “culture,” “expressions of our values,” “alcohol,” “prevention and education,” “peer support,” “policies and personnel” and “judicial processes.” The report noted several recent improvements the college has made in the area, including the expansion of CAPS services over past years and the hiring of staff like the new Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, while recognizing that the college still has a ways to go. The report argued that improvements must be made in areas including the clarity of rules regarding what sexual misconduct is; the consistency of the college’s stance against sexual misconduct; the education of college faculty, staff and students regarding procedures for handling sexual misconduct; the consistency of respectful treatment for complainants and the discussion and recognition of these issues on campus.

The Task Force hosted two public conversations on Monday and Tuesday as its last actions. At each meeting attendees brought up many of the same issues that the report addressed, bringing their own recommendations to the report. One recommendation was to further improve CAPS support in the area of sexual misconduct, including providing support for students who are studying abroad or taking leaves of absence, providing better support for queer and transgender students and providing alternatives to CAPS support for students who find that it is not sufficient. Other concerns included the hiring of Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate Nina Harris in a full-time position, expanding enforcement mechanisms for cases of sexual misconduct by informing RAs, SAMs and perhaps PAs which students are not allowed in certain buildings, and training for professors to manage these issues when brought up in a classroom setting.

“At this point I think the work has to be — I call it the soft skills — living into the leadership positions we have on campus by naming where we stand, being available to people where that’s appropriate, and taking the lead of saying sexist jokes aren’t funny, fraternity invitations that have naked women in the background are not cool, joking about rape is never a joke,” said task force member and sociology Professor Sarah Willie-LeBreton on the question of moving forward from the report. LeBreton was satisfied with the personnel changes that have been made, adding that making Harris’s position full-time was one of the only other remaining changes she would suggest.

Deans withhold formerly public CJC statistics

in Around Campus/News by

In what administrators say is a bid to make the College Judiciary Committee process more transparent, the college will begin releasing a statistical report on CJC cases each fall. The reports will, they say, break down the cases by category, outcome (whether the accused student is found responsible), and consequence. The first report, covering the 2013-14 academic year, will be released next semester.

But despite months of requests, administrators have been unwilling to provide the same kind of data for previous years — even though that data was formerly publicly accessible, in the form of hearing summaries posted to a bulletin board in Parrish Hall and sent to the campus newspapers. Those notices included the date of the hearing, the names of the committee members who heard the case, the category of the alleged violation, the outcome and the consequence (but not the name of the accused student). So a student interested in finding out, for example, whether the college had expelled any students for sexual assault, could do so.

But not anymore. The board is now empty: this year, administrators ceased the practice of posting the notices, saying it was ineffective at providing the campus with an accurate and accessible picture of what the CJC does, and that in the future, relevant CJC information would be included in a new annual report. They would not provide the Phoenix with past board notices or even the same statistics that will be included in the new reports.

After several weeks of inquiries, Judicial Affairs Coordinator Nathan Miller, who will be compiling the reports, said he did not have data for previous years. He began work in July; previously, Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal was responsible for overseeing much of the college judicial process and record keeping. She retired last year. Miller said Dean of Students Liz Braun might have access to Westphal’s records, but that he does not.

Braun said that her office could compile the data from 1994-95 to 2012-13, but that it would take several weeks. Just over a month later, she sent the Phoenix a statistical report — but it only includes the total number of CJC cases heard each year and the total number of students found responsible. It does not break the data down by type of offense or by consequence, though it does note when students who were facing a CJC hearing withdrew from the college.

When later asked via email why she did not provide the requested data, Braun wrote, “I realized that in order to give you that level of detail that I would really need to also provide more of a narrative to help contextualize the data.” She said she could not do so because she did not have time and because she was not working for the college for most of the years covered in the report. Consequently, she said, she does not “have the broader context about things like how the thinking has shifted over time when approaching issues such as what is the appropriate penalty for a first time offense of academic misconduct.”

Mia Ferguson ’15, who has criticized the college’s handling of sexual assault and along with other students filed Title IX and Clery Act complaints against the college with the federal government, said the college might not want to publicly release evidence that there were very few, if any, sexual assault CJC cases, and even fewer expulsions resulting from them.

“Releasing statistics of CJC cases regarding sexual violence — if the numbers are very low, which I think would be fair to assume — it’s indicative of the school’s inaction in the face of a hostile climate,” she said. “It’s a Title IX violation, essentially.”

Braun said that she did not believe that many sexual assault cases were brought to the CJC, but attributed that to other factors.

“I think if you pull back and look at the broader society, there are all kinds of things that push against people bringing these cases forward, which again I think is why we’ve been working so hard to create an environment where students really feel like they can bring them forward,” she said.

Ferguson did not dispute that there were few reports of sexual assault, as noted in the college’s crime reports, and said that the potential liability for the college would come from a possible large discrepancy between the number of reports and number of cases pursued.

The 1994-2013 CJC report that the college did release to the Phoenix does not appear to reveal any significant trends. The number of separate CJC cases heard each year varied between three, in 1995-96, and 18, in 2012-13, though it does not appear to have grown considerably over time. (In 2009-10, there were 67 cases, but 47 of them related to one incident, the report says.) In the vast majority of cases, the accused student was found responsible. In two cases — one in 1994-95, the other in 2010-11 — the accused student withdrew from the college and consequently was found neither responsible nor not responsible.

College administrators said that future annual statistical reports will contain much more information, including the kind of information originally requested by the Phoenix.

They maintain that in the future, the reports will be an improvement over posting hearing notices to the bulletin board. “You couldn’t easily look at the board and know, okay, I’ve got a snapshot for this year” of CJC activities, Braun said. She said posting the notices was “not a good dissemination practice,” noting that when the board was full, older notices were taken down.

Miller said he hoped the new report would “break down some of the mystique” around the CJC process. He said that it would provide a “holistic presentation” of the college’s judicial process, including information about both minor misconduct cases, which are not heard by the CJC, as well as graphs and charts showing and analyzing trends in the cases.

The report will not include the dates of hearings or the names of committee members who heard specific cases — information that used to be available on the bulletin board. “My perspective is that there isn’t going to be less information,” Miller said, adding that “one can interpret it in a variety of different ways.”

He said releasing that information could compromise student privacy and possibly violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law governing privacy around educational records.

Ferguson disagreed. “At the end of the day, it’s just disappointing that the school won’t again be transparent, and there are plenty of ways to do that without hurting the privacy of victims and of perpetrators,” she said.

Assailants who returned to campus have yet to be punished

in Around Campus/News by

Only a few days after his appeal was denied, a student found responsible for rape by the the College Judiciary Committee (CJC) was seen on campus, effectively ignoring his two-year suspension from the college. The victim, Meg*, whose story was featured in a Phoenix article in the October 31 issue, said she was told that he would be arrested for trespassing if he were ever found on campus. Meg had friends call Public Safety about his presence. Several days later, Public Safety found him guilty of the offense. Since then Meg has not received word from Judicial Affairs Coordinator Nathan Miller about further sanctions.

According to the Student Handbook, suspension “includes the probability of more severe sanctions, including expulsion, if [the student is] found responsible for violations of the Student Code of Conduct.” The Student Code of Conduct, in turn, lists the failure to comply with imposed sanctions as a punishable offense, “subject to further disciplinary action.”

Emma* saw Meg’s assailant on November 2 at a dorm party in Worth Hall. She was not aware that he had been suspended. A few days later, she spoke to a friend about the party, mentioning his name in passing. That’s when she learned that the college had held him responsible for rape. After she reported seeing him to Public Safety, she was questioned by Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts about the timeline of events.

When Meg herself found out that her assailant had been on campus, she sent an e-mail with the subject line “urgent” informing Miller, Dean of Students Liz Braun and Interim Title IX Coordinator Patricia Flaherty Fischette of his presence. Only Braun replied that day, saying they would look into it, and five days after, Miller responded suggesting that they could address evidence of sanction violations through another CJC case. It was his last e-mail to Meg. Only a few days ago, after weeks of unanswered e-mails, did Meg find out (through Nina Harris, the violence prevention educator and advocate) that Miller had actually already made a decision about the student’s punishment. Harris also told Meg that Miller would be waiting five days after the notification e-mail to the assailant to inform her of the decision. This was not explained, nor was there previous evidence of such a policy.

Meg said that a few weeks earlier Braun had told her that her assailant would automatically be arrested for trespassing were he found on campus following the suspension. Braun could not be reached for comment, but according to Miller, “the college does not have a Student Code of Conduct standard for trespassing.”

“I feel like no one really knows what they’re supposed to be doing,” Meg said. “The people that are supposed to be enforcing policy do not know how to do it, or don’t even know the policy itself.”

John* had a similar experience last semester. His perpetrator, later expelled, was found on campus after being suspended. There were pictures to prove his presence. According to John, Public Safety said they could not do anything about it but promised that this piece of evidence would be introduced with the other information from the investigative process. It never was. John said he was not allowed to bring up the evidence himself because, he was told, the information did not relate to his case directly and should therefore not have an effect on the case’s outcome.

John’s case took place right when the college began a series of responses to student demands regarding sexual assault policies. Although the current policies are not in their final stage, the college has made significant changes since last spring’s protests. They fired and hired administrators, specialists and investigators, began and then halted efforts to create sexual assault and harassment hearing panels for the College Judiciary Committee (CJC), held public discussions about best practices and policies, trained resident assistants (RAs), party associates (PA) and student academic mentors (SAMs) as mandatory reporters and updated resource charts. After hiring the law firm Margolis Healy to review their policies, the college revised the student handbook and created interim sexual assault policies to fill immediate gaps. But according to Meg, the only person who has been responsive to her concerns has been Nina Harris, the latest addition to Swarthmore’s staff. She said that almost every other interaction with the administration since she found out the outcome of her CJC case has highlighted contradictions, inefficiencies and a general lack of established channels for communication within the system.

Under current college policy, for instance, the names of students involved in CJC cases — the complainants, witnesses and the accused — are not released to anyone, no matter the verdict of the case. But the college did not even inform the perpetrator’s Resident Assistant (RA) that one of his residents had been suspended and should not be allowed on campus. The assailant, in fact, had been living in his own dorm following his suspension, albeit in a different room. Meg expressed concern that if a sanction like a suspension or expulsion is not public knowledge, it is left to the victim to protect him- or herself.

*These students wished to remain anonymous. The names used are pseudonyms.

For one survivor, school’s legal focus causes troubles

in Around Campus/News by

When Anna Livia Chen ’17 told her Resident Assistant (RA) that she did not want to participate in her orientation’s Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) workshop, she thought she would be protecting herself. She had been sexually abused a few years earlier, and she thought the conversations could be triggering. It never occurred to her that missing this workshop would ultimately lead the administration to report her case to child services, and that she would spend the next months uncertain about whether her family would be contacted by the California police.

Chen’s ASAP facilitator, upon hearing about her sexual assault, became concerned that it might need to be reported, given that Chen was a minor both when she was assaulted and at that time. The ASAP facilitator, with Chen’s permission, asked her RA, Treasure Tinsley ’15, to talk to Assistant Dean for Residential Life Rachel Head and ask, as a required reporter, whether this kind of case hypothetically fit into the category of cases she was responsible for reporting. Tinsley was given the impression during RA training that unless there was a clear and present danger to the student, cases that happened prior to coming on campus did not need to be reported. Still, she talked to Head. The assistant dean did not think that this would be a problem, but that she had to check with Patricia Flaherty Fischette, interim Title IX coordinator, to make sure.

According to Chen, Tinsley said that Head and Fischette ultimately decided that they were satisfied with the information given under Title IX laws and that it would merely be reported to Public Safety and the school’s lawyers for college statistics under the Clery Act.

“Patricia reached out to me via e-mail to make her support known and clarify my available resources, but otherwise my RA and I were told that this would be the end of the issue,” Chen said.

Public Safety and the lawyers, however, wanted to report the case to child services. Fischette, in turn, said that if Chen’s therapist had made a report already, the case would be closed. Under Pennsylvania state law, therapists are mandatory reporters for child abuse and neglect.

When Chen talked to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Director David Ramirez, though, she found that her school therapist had not reported the assault. Pennsylvania state law says that child sexual abuse must be reported to the state by any individual generally responsible for the care or guidance of the victim, including confidential mental health professionals in private and public institutions, regardless of how long ago it took place. Ramirez, who could not discuss the specifics of the case with The Phoenix, told Chen and Tinsley that he had consulted with lawyers and concluded that he did not have to report.

A case like hers did not fit under the jurisdiction of Title IX either.

Head and Fischette were also not able to comment on this specific case.

Still, Public Safety insisted on reporting her case to Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services, though they told Chen they would not use her home address. This would in theory prevent the report from reaching her home state’s child protective services and consequently, her family.

But when Child and Youth Services reached out to her, they said that in absence of explicit information about the place of the incident, they were legally obligated to pass the report along to the California police with the address and contact information they had. It is not clear whether the school provided the information Chen did not want released, or if Child and Youth Services obtained it on their own. Angry, Tinsley sent an e-mail to relevant administrators, Director of Public Safety Mike Hill included. She did not receive a response. Chen also sent a message that got no response from the administration. She was in the dark and worried about what would happen next.

“It’s pathetic for the administration to put students through a situation like this one and then not follow up with them when they raise concerns about their practices,” Tinsley said. “It makes me feel like they didn’t even listen to any of the actual reasons people were upset last spring … that they’re just trying to overcompensate.”

Chen has not been contacted by California police yet.

Still, she has questions about the way in which the college is protecting victims of assault, despite taking the law into greater consideration than in previous years. The lack of transparency is a crucial component of this issue.

“If I had known that this was going to escalate in the way that it did, I wouldn’t have disclosed that much information,” Chen said. “It is fine that [administrators] are still forming all the details of how this policy will look like in practice. That does not mean that they can lie to students and act like they have it all figured out, hurting students such as myself in the process.”

Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate and Educator Nina Harris said that a fine line exists between respecting the law and the survivor, especially when the two things come into conflict.

“I think it’s good that we are in a responsive place. The pendulum may have swung a little far left in the effort to respond … and some of it is liability, but I do think people want to make sure that they’re doing the right thing,” she said. “Still, if you’re doing the right thing in terms of the law, are you doing the right things in terms of the survivor?”

Harris said that learning how to walk that line is important.

Chen thinks that the first step in addressing this possible conflict is to make the procedures clear.

“The fear of this being reported was the reason I didn’t talk about it to anyone for years,” Chen said. “The fact that I put so much energy into avoiding this and then ended up in a situation where it happened anyway was really disappointing and upsetting.”

Harris agrees. She expressed the concern that policies are being thoroughly discussed only after there are crises.

“We need to be clear about the protection individuals have so that they can make the choice about how they engage [with the college],” she said. “This is a community where we need more transparency, more openness.”

As the administration adopts new policies and procedures to protect victims of sexual assault, the very fact that change is occurring can have the counter-productive effect of making the process less accessible to the people it is supposed to protect. Unclear or as-yet-unstated policies, Harris said, limit the ability of survivors to make informed decisions.

CJC case under new policy leaves open ends

in Breaking News/News by

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.

Go to Top