Assault policy revised
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 02:09
As part of the annual revision of the rules for student conduct, the University has implemented a new procedure to address allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment. Instead of these issues being handled by the Student Conduct Board, as most other allegations of student misconduct in the handbook are, they will now be under the purview of a “special examiner.”
According to the handbook, the new process will take approximately five to 10 days and will involve the special examiner receiving a report from the “accuser,” contacting and meeting with the “accused,” interviewing witnesses and assembling a report for the dean of student life.
In an interview with the Justice, Director of Student Rights and Community Standards Dean Gendron said that the special examiner will be someone who is experienced with grievance procedures and also understands sexual trauma. He said that the special examiner could be someone from within the Brandeis community but does not necessarily have to be.
The special examiner will be used to address violations of Sections 3 and 7 in the handbook, which are titled, respectively, “Sexual Responsibility—Seeking and Communicating Consent” and “Equal Opportunity, Non-Discrimination, and Harassment.”
Prior to this change, sexual assault and harassment allegations were considered by the same process as every other violation, which is described in Section 19. This procedure involves a hearing before the Student Conduct Board, which includes testimony from the accuser, accused and witnesses. The SCB is made up of students, staff and faculty.
Gendron explained that part of the reason for this significant change had to do with encouraging more students to report sexual misconduct.
He said that a university examination of the Section 19 process and its application in sexual misconduct cases showed that by “[reducing] the number of individuals who are part of the process, and also [being] thoughtful about feedback we’ve been receiving about the role of peers in the process, that … we might be able to lower the barriers to [the potential accusers’] decision-making process.”
This change in policy follows widespread discussion last spring on campus about the issue of sexual assault and the University’s policies on assault and harassment. The conversations began after The Hoot published an article in April reporting that an undergraduate student was allegedly raped by a Heller School of Social Policy and Management student, and that the student felt that the University was unresponsive to her complaints.
Gendron said that this change was not a response to last semester’s discussion, but rather was a regular part of the yearly overhaul that the handbook undergoes. However, he did say that the sexual assault case written about by The Hoot, which was adjudicated in spring 2011, “ is part of our history and experiences, and gave us a lot of opportunity to think about how that case affected our practice and how our practice affected that case.” Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer said “that particular case was almost worthy of case study, in terms of the challenges to a University’s ability to handle a dynamic behavioral case on their campus.” He also said that Section 19 of the handbook, which describes the procedure used for most violations and which was used for sexual assault cases up until this year, is “tested, effective, fair and totally Brandeis.”
Gendron said that the addition of the special examiner process does not indicate any lack of trust in the Student Conduct Board and that the students involved are “an extremely competent and enthusiastic group.”
Sawyer and Gendron also said that the change to the sexual assault policy was in part related to the “Dear Colleague” letter released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on April 4, 2011. The letter discussed schools’ obligations to respond to sexual violence, the steps they should take to prevent sexual violence and educate students, and their obligation to comply with Title IX, a law enacted in 1972 to protect students from sex-based discrimination.
Gendron announced the new process and several other minor changes to the Rights and Responsibilities handbook, which provides guidelines and procedures for the management of student conduct issues, in an Aug. 27 email to the University community.
In addition to the development of the special examiner process, the University made several other adjustments to the handbook, most of them involving word choice.
One change was the addition of section 5.3 e, which bans drinking games on campus, saying that “any games, contests, challenges, or other competitive activities in which the object or strategy involves the consumption of alcohol are prohibited.”
Gendron said that section 5.3 e “is not a new opportunity for a student or staff member or anyone else to find a Brandeis student responsible for breaking a rule, but rather it is a strong statement by the University that sometimes such games are put in place for encouragement of binge drinking, which is a health issue. Brandeis does not encourage binge drinking.”
Other additions to this year’s handbook include a section requiring students to keep up with their Brandeis email accounts and the addition of a confidential and anonymous complaint hotline.