EDITORIAL: Assess Rights and Responsibilities draft
After much anticipation from the entire Brandeis campus, a draft of the 2014 to 2015 edition of the Rights and Responsibilities handbook has finally been released.
The draft of the handbook was disseminated in a campus-wide email on Friday sent by Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel. A link to the handbook is posted on the webpage for the Department of Student Rights and Community Standards, accompanied by a notice that the final version is “pending professional copy editing.”
Flagel wrote in his email that the final version should be available in seven to 10 days—meaning that the handbook should officially launch between Friday, Sept. 26 and Monday, Sept. 29—an entire month after it has been made public each academic year in recent memory. This delay continues to befuddle this board; we remain displeased and confused as to how such an important document for the Brandeis community can be delayed to this extent.
Regarding the handbook’s content, the procedural changes that we have gathered from the draft of the 2014 to 2015 edition—namely an overhaul of the way the University handles reported incidents of sexual assault and misconduct, as well as changes in the way academic integrity is outlined—leave us feeling both hopeful and dubious.
Section 3 of the handbook, which, in the 2013 to 2014 edition, was titled “Sexual Responsibility: Seeking and Communicating Consent,” and took up just two pages, appears over nine pages in the draft of the 2014 to 2015 edition and is titled “Sexual Misconduct, and other Forms of Interpersonal Violence.” Section 3 in the 2014 to 2015 draft addresses the issue of consent in sexual encounters much more comprehensively than any previous draft; it categorizes the issue of consent into consent over time, in relationships, impaired consent and also includes several nuanced definitions and examples of sexual harassment. This board is pleased with these new categorical and specific definitions of consent and sexual harassment. Outlining whether and when consent can be given eliminates room for misinterpretation of cases and ensures all Brandeisians are well aware of the indispensable nature of consent.
The newly released draft of the handbook includes a new clause on amnesty under Section 3—specifying that amnesty is granted to students who report sexual misconduct—and that reporting students “will not be subject to disciplinary action for minor code infractions discovered as a result of contacting University officials or support staff.” This clause stands as problematic; we wonder what differentiates a “minor” code infraction from a major one and how and by whom that is to be determined and whether this decision-maker has the well-being of every student involved in a report of sexual misconduct in mind.
Another new, yet potentially problematic, item in the draft of the 2014 to 2015 code, outlines privacy procedure for students involved in conduct investigations through the University. The new mandate—found in Section 17 of the handbook draft—states that all information discussed or provided during a conduct process is confidential, save for within relationships of a familial, legal or medical nature. We wonder if the language of the clause goes a step too far. We are reticent that the vagueness of this item provides the possibility for students to be legally bound to silence when speaking out could be their only means of justice—for example, if they were falsely accused of misconduct or if the conduct investigation process was unjustly executed.
However—and whenever—the final draft of the handbook is released, this board hopes and expects it will serve as a tool for ensuring the welfare of our student body.