Vague policies and failed communication

Repeatedly and predictably, the college administration has failed in its responses to cases of sexual assault. Over the last year, as information relating to the college’s handling of sexual assault cases has emerged, it has become clear that the errors the college has made in such cases are the result of both systemic failures and failures on the part of individuals.

As we stated in a previous editorial, we find the college’s guidelines for punishment in cases of sexual assault overly vague. Clear guidelines for what behavior necessitates a punishment of expulsion rather than suspension are not present in the Student Handbook. The result of this is clear: students found responsible by the CJC for forcible rape have been suspended, not expelled.

Without clear guidelines, the college chose to pursue a lenient course of action, even with demonstrably violent offenders. Moreover, while the facts of the case and the responsibility of the accused are decided by the CJC’s external adjudicator, the punishment is determined by Judicial Affairs Coordinator Nathan Miller, who has considerable latitude within the current CJC guidelines. If the decision is appealed, Dean Braun considers the punishment. Both Miller and Braun have elected leniency.

There is a complete lack of transparency in this process, and a striking lack of established rules to guide the procedure. Students have been suspended, yet remained on campus without the college taking swift action to remove them. In such a case, reported on by the Phoenix today, a student who was found responsible for rape and suspended returned to campus in violation of the terms of his suspension. The victim received delayed responses from administrators, was given contradictory information, and was referred to policies that do not seem to exist.

These were simple errors, and could have been fixed by prompt and honest communication from the college administration. A simple email could have answered the victim’s questions. Instead, these issues remain unresolved.

The college’s current policies are unclear, and it seems that administrators understand them little better than students. Different administrators give different answers, and policies seem to come and go without mention. All that is needed is for the administration to be honest with students, and to explain, promptly, what they are doing and why.

The security of every member of the campus community is put at risk when the college fails to competently address sexual violence and its aftermath. Instead of aiming to protect the community, the college seems to be guarding its image. While Swarthmore could be a leader in handling cases of sexual assault, we have all-but turned a blind eye to the issue.

We urge the college to make evident its priorities in handling sexual assault. The first priority of the college should be the safety of the community, anything less than complete commitment to that is unacceptable.