Student conduct report sheds light on part of judiciary process

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix