NEWS

  /  

May 1, 2009

Several Sexual Assault Working Group proposals can’t be accommodated, admins say

Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) presented a panel on the University’s sexual assault policy Tuesday, addressing efforts to change the protocols. The panel was the first event of this year’s third annual DKE Week.“[The Sexual Assault Discipline Policy] will affect every one of us who goes to the University if it changes, and it is also good to know the current policy as well,” fourth-year DKE brother Gerald Waddell said.Panelists included Dean of Students in the College Susan Art, and Deputy Dean of Students in the University Martina Munsters. Also featured on the panel were the two founding members of the Working Group on Sexual Assault Policy (WGSAP), fourth-years Aliza Levine and Allison Bretz, and Student Government President and fourth-year Matt Kennedy. Recent student initiatives have called attention to what many perceive as deficiencies in the current sexual assault policy. Earlier this year, WGSAP circulated a petition focusing on centralization, training for faculty and students on the committee for hearings, and equal rights for both the accuser and the accused. In January, Student Government backed the petition. “It is an issue that should be raised, and it is not a policy that many think about,” Kennedy said. “I’m glad we are able to support this.”In the discussion, Munsters and Art expressed their desires to clarify University discipline policy in general and then focus on the specifics of the sexual assault policy. “We really focus on [the accused] being a student and a member of the University community,” said Munsters. “The educational aspect that comes with the punishment is very critical.”Art and Munsters addressed specific aspects of the petition that they said could not be accommodated. According to Art, in disciplinary proceedings, the accused and the accuser are each requested to submit written statements that explain each person’s story; these written statements are the basis for the hearing. WGSAP’s petition stressed that the accused receives access to all of the documents, while the accuser does not. “FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] protects the educational records of students, and the statement from the accused student is considered an educational record,” Art said. “We can’t build access for the accuser into our policy because it would look like a direct violation of FERPA.”WGSAP also took issue with the current system that allows each academic unit to handle sexual assault cases separately. But Art and Munsters both said that this policy would be difficult to change, as each academic unit feels it should have responsibility over the students within their unit. Art stressed that forming one Sexual Assault Hearings Committee would not be in the University’s best interest. “I worry that it makes a promise that these cases can be adjudicated when in many cases, unfortunately, they can not,” said Art. “We do want consistency [across the academic units], but we need to figure out how to do that right.”All panelists, however, did reach agreement on WGSAP’s final point, that committee members receive sensitvity training before hearings. “We will work toward strengthening the language so that training is mandated in the policy,” Munsters said.According to Bretz and Levine, another step toward revisiting the sexual assault policy will be taken next year when a University review committee will begin discussions with lawyers to determine what can and cannot be changed. Munsters said full reviews of disciplinary policies are not swift, but are full of productive conversation and dialogue. “We make sure we have a broad representation so we get different voices to hear all of the arguments and know how to proceed,” Munsters said.