New sexual misconduct policy approved

Hanna Ory

Early Wednesday evening, April 22, the Whitman College faculty voted to approve the Dean of Student’s new proposed Sexual Misconduct Policy, a project that has been under revision for nearly two years. However, the Board of Trustees must still approve the policy before it takes effect.

While the process is not over, the faculty’s vote represents significant advancements towards the policy’s adoption. The two-year process has involved hiring a consultant, reviewing other school’s policies and mediating student focus groups and forums.

According to the Whitman Web site, the new policy was proposed when the college discovered that their previous policy was not in compliance with current law. However, Associate Dean of Students, Clare Carson also attributes the change to a desire to follow national recommendations.

“What really happened is that we review our policies a lot and we’ve been reading new advisement from the office of civil rights (department of education), and what they recommend. We felt there were parts of our policy that were just a little off, so we used case law, guidance letter and advice from a consultant and college attorney to revise the policy and meet recommendations,” said Carson.

In December 2008 an interim policy was implemented by President Bridge that is still in effect today. While the interim policy is legally correct, it lacks the format and language necessary to make it understandable and user-friendly.

Thus, one of the main goals of the new policy is to provide a more accessible source of information regarding sexual misconduct and resources for victims.  

“In the new policy we’ve really focused on immediately presenting what kind of support people can get. We tried to take out some of these legalistic kinds of terms,” said Carson.

The new policy is divided into two sections: Resources and Support and the Sexual Misconduct Policy. According to the “Introduction to the proposed new Sexual Misconduct Policy,” the Resources and Support section highlights the immediate response and support the college offers to students involved in sexual misconduct cases as well as providing a list of emotional and medical resources available to the Walla Walla community.  

While resources were mentioned in the old policy, they were buried in a great deal of legal jargon, making them difficult to identify. The new policy remedies this situation by dividing the policy into clear sections and omitting some of this language and replacing it in terms that are understandable and clear.

“This isn’t a legal issue. This isn’t the law, this is the college trying to figure out how their policy has been violated and how we can do it the best we can,” Carson said. “It is confusing because we work under laws, the laws inform us, but our process and policies are meant for our own community. I hope that students know that we are trying to make it fair and hear their voice.”

Other changes in the proposed policy include the expansion of the college’s definition of sexual misconduct to include sexual harassment. The new policy uses more specific language to define what constitutes sexual misconduct, as well as adding a section that addresses student-to-student harassment, which had previously been neglected.

“A lot of people think of [sexual harassment] in terms of a power difference, and don’t think of it in terms of a student-to-student relationship. The new policy remedies this situation by describing all behaviors that constitute sexual misconduct, starting at sexual harassment with a continuum leading to sexual assault,” said Carson.

Overall, Carson hopes that the new policy will prove to be a comprehensive and accessible resource for all students on campus.

“I’m just hoping that people will have more of an awareness and understanding. Hopefully there will be less incidents, but of the incidents we do have, hopefully people will feel like they can report them,” said Carson.

Though the faculty has already approved the proposed policy, its adoption into the College student handbook will not take effect until the Board of Trustees have also approved it. As nothing has been finalized yet, Carson invites all students to examine the new policy, which can be found on the Whitman Web site, and encourages all feedback. Any comments or questions regarding the policy can be directed to Clare Carson at [email protected]