Practice outpaces policy in sexual misconduct investigations

Lachlan Johnson

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






It has been over two months since ASWC passed a resolution calling for changes to Whitman’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. While many of the resolution’s suggestions have been adopted in practice, several remain unaddressed, and none have been formally added to college policy.

Since 2011, the federal government has required Whitman and other colleges to adopt and enforce policies to prevent sexual violence on college campuses and hold perpetrators accountable. Students at Whitman have also called for policy changes; after months of debate on a committee of representatives from student groups across campus, ASWC passed a resolution in January calling for specific changes to the college’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.

In practice, several of the ASWC resolution’s suggestions have been taken into account. As recommended by the resolution, every investigation of sexual misconduct this year has involved two trained investigators. The college has also adopted many of the reporting practices of the Project Callisto program, which was recommended by the resolution. However, Project Callisto itself will not be used, as the program is in the very early stages of development and it costs 20,000 dollars to participate in the beta testing.

“We told [Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn] it’s not so much that you have to adopt the Callisto reporting system, it’s that we want there to be a way for people to submit [narratives] in a way that’s more on the survivor’s terms, and [before it was] on the school’s terms,” said senior Corinne Vandagriff, who chaired the committee which drafted the ASWC resolution.

Another major change driven by the ASWC resolution is that reporters of sexual assault now have the chance to appeal to the chair of the faculty if an investigator decides a respondent is not responsible or there is a lack of evidence. However, this change has not yet been added to the official Sexual Misconduct Policy (SMP).

“This is the [practice] we’re following. There’s nothing in our policy that says you can’t appeal here,” said Dunn.

Because the SMP is part of the faculty code, it can only be changed through a vote by the faculty senate. The Office of Student Affairs tries not to change the policy while there is an open investigation, and the faculty does not meet during the summer, so most years there is a very narrow window in September where change can occur. For this reason, college policy struggles to keep pace with legal requirements that frequently change, and even amendments agreed upon by students, faculty and administrators can take months to be officially adopted.

ASWC has called for the SMP to be removed from the faculty code, and the faculty senate will vote on this question on Wednesday, Apr. 22. One point of contention will likely be whether the SMP should be controlled solely by the administration. A possible compromise would be for changes to the policy proposed by the Student Affairs Office to require approval by Committee of Division Chairs, a group of three representatives who are elected by the faculty of each academic division.

“I would propose if [the SMP] comes out of faculty code that there be checks and balances, that it’s not just [Dean of Students] Chuck [Cleveland] and I writing policy,” said Dunn.

The question of revising policy gets even more complicated when one considers the college’s Grievance Policy, which is supposed to encompass the sexual misconduct and other offenses such as racial discrimination and bullying. Hypothetically, the SMP and Grievance Policy are supposed to present the same policy and will one day be merged into a single document.

The Grievance Policy is even more difficult to revise than the SMP. There is not clear jurisdiction for who can approve revisions of the Grievance Policy. According to Benjamin H. Brown Professor of Physics Mark Beck, who is currently working on revisions, the president has the final say on whether to adopt changes. According to President Bridges, it is the Board of Trustees who approves revisions. However, according to Dunn, there is no official framework for revising the Grievance Policy. When changes are made, it is generally the result of the Student Affairs Office, Human Resources and Office of the Provost, the three offices which handle investigations under the policy, mutually agreeing on revisions in order to meet new legal requirements.

The coming weeks present many opportunities for those wanting to see change in policies. Starting on Tuesday, Apr. 21, investigators from the federal Office of Civil Rights will be on campus to conduct a compliance review. The OCR investigators are to ensure Whitman has appropriate policies in place, that the policies are carried out in practice, that they are known by administrators responsible for them, and that students are aware of resources available for them. Though the compliance review is not directly related, Whitman College is currently the subject of two OCR investigations for alleged Title IX violations.

Sexual assault on campus will also be discussed by the Student Affairs Committee, which will meet at the end of April when the trustees are on campus. Following a presentation by students, faculty and administrators, the Student Affairs Committee will consider the ASWC resolution and other proposed changes before deciding on their own list of recommendations.

“If there is some specific policy [students] have a problem with, they should go to ASWC now because there’s going to be a lot of momentum after the Student Life Committee meets,” said ASWC president senior Tatiana Kaehler. “If our resolution didn’t include everything that needs to be changed, I’d like to include that in the recommendation.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email