EDITORIAL: Review assault policy recommendations
When the University brought in Sexual Assault and Prevention Services Specialist Sheila McMahon in November 2013, her hiring was hailed as an innovative step forward for Brandeis in handling sexual assault on campus. McMahon, whose duties include educating the community on sexual assault prevention, coordinating advocacy services for survivors and acting as a liaison to student activities, is the first person to hold her position in the history of the University.
However, as new as McMahon’s position may be, there is evidence that faculty and students have sought to institute an administrative role similar to McMahon’s at the University for over 20 years.In 1992, the faculty Committee on Sexual Assault and Harassment requested that the University take on the critical role of educating the community on sexual assault. Three years after this recommendation was made to former University President Samuel Osiah Their, Thier was replaced by President Emeritus Jehuda Reinharz. It was not until November 2013 that a similar position would be proposed again, while the issue of sexual assault remained prominent and under-acknowledged by the University administration throughout this 20-year gap.
This board takes issue with what seems to be a recurring lack of consideration by University administrators of proposals and complaints on sexual assault policy. In investigating the University’s history of dealing with sexual assault, the Justice has found numerous instances of the same recommendations being made by faculty and staff for decades, only to go unacknowledged by the University.
This lack of consideration is presumably due to staff turnovers within the administration, such as new presidents taking over the University. However, this is no excuse for the University to fundamentally ignore useful recommendations on a critical issue and repeat failed policies of the past. For instance, a 1989 Rape and Sexual assault Hotline booklet had already noted the terms “sexual assault” and “consent” and expressed concern that they were not clearly defined by the University.
Yet, it was not until 1998—nine years later—that the University clarified its definitions of consent and sexual assault under the Reinharz administration. These definitions have again been clarified in the 2014 Rights and Responsibilities handbook. Taking over 20 years to develop detailed and useful definitions of these critical terms displays a troubling lethargy on the issue.
Other policies seem to shift in a cyclical pattern: the 2013 change in the Special Examiner’s Process to include a three-person board of advisers to the decision maker heavily resembles the University’s 1987 Affirmative Action Office procedure for similar cases, which also features a sole decision maker with three advisors. If the same groups of policies are instituted in a cycle, nothing truly improves.
The same recurring complaints are being proposed with regard to the same recurring issues, with similar solutions perpetually being developed despite empirical evidence of repeated requests to do otherwise. We implore the administration to maintain institutional memory of the recommendations made to them on this crucial issue. Moreover, a regular review of these recommendations must be made to compare them with the current state of the University. The University must rigorously consider, reflect and learn from its past in order to plan lasting and effective policies for the future.