Sexual Misconduct Review Results in Changes

The Student Affairs Committee (SAC) has proposed a series of revisions to Pomona’s sexual misconduct policy following a comprehensive assessment of current practices and procedures. The revisions include organizing offenses by Roman numerals, allowing victims to testify without the perpetrator present, and creating a group to educate the student body on sexual misconduct.After review by the college’s general counsel, the changes will be presented for student feedback and then finalized by the SAC.The drive to revise the policy was prompted in part by particularly low incidence of reporting of sexual misconduct on campus.“They’re not overhauling the entire policy,” Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said. “It’s really targeting changes to improve the judicial process, to address some of the issues with how students perceive the different categories, and to institutionalize better oversight of what’s happening on campus.”The policy review began after an inquiry by Elissa Gensburg PO ’08, chair of the student judicial council (J-Board), during the 2007-2008 academic year.ASPC Vice President for Finance Kelly Schwartz PO ’10 has been reviewing the policy and drafting revisions since last year, when she served as Junior Class President, in coordination with the rest of the SAC subcommittee on sexualmisconduct, including Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes, Oldenborg Director and German Professor Rita Bashaw, and Advocates for the Survivors of Sexual Assault member Isaac Jenkins PO ’10.The group researched the policies of comparable colleges and proposed recommendations tailored to Pomona, the general terms of which SAC approved last year.Under the current guidelines, sexual misconduct offenses are categorized into six degrees of severity, in which Degree 1 represents forced rape and Degree 6 represents touching without consent. If the revisions are implemented, the offenses will instead be organized by Roman numerals.“We were very concerned that parts of our sexual misconduct policy were being used in a joking way,” Schwartz said.Committee members also feared that the categorical distinctions led students to downplay the seriousness of the numerically-higher-degree offenses.“While we do think that Degree 6 is a lighter offense than Degree 1, we have to recognize that the language we use to describe these actions has a huge impact on how we see them,” Jenkins said.The new policy will change the way J-Board conducts sexual misconduct hearings by allowing the accuser greater control over the medium of testimony.Under the current system, the accuser must appear in the same room as the accused, in the presence of the full J-Board panel and a number of witnesses, which can exceed ten people.“It wasn’t a conducive atmosphere for victims to come forward,” Feldblum said.With the new policy, which draws upon Stanford University’s sexual misconduct proceedings, accusers can choose to testify in a separate room from the accused or behind a physical barrier. In addition, only three students, the J-Board chair and a community representative must be present for testimony.The SAC has also proposed creating an institutional group to evaluate sexual misconduct issues and to identify any educational opportunities in incidents on campus, inspired by a similar program at Carleton College called SHARE.“We wanted to have a separate committee serve as an additional resource for this topic in a way that maybe the Advocates can’t do, because they’re intentionally not affiliated with college officials,” Schwartz said.The committee ultimately decided against changing the actual descriptions of offenses listed in the student handbook.“We actually realized that we probably have more comprehensive definitions than some of our peer institutions,” Schwartz said.An issue that drove much of the committee’s effort is the extremely low reporting of sexual misconduct on campus. According to the 2008 Pomona College Campus Safety Report, there were no documented sexual offenses.“I think that most people are embarrassed by it or feel it’s a personal thing,” Townes said.On those occasions when students do report sexual misconduct, they usually ask to hear their options but ultimately choose not to follow through with formal judicial proceedings, according to college administrators.In his five years at Pomona, Townes said, the J-Board has not conducted a single sexual misconduct hearing. Committee members pointed to the size and character of Pomona as a contributing factor.“In a community like this, where we’re all supposed to like each other and work through our issues, I think sometimes it’s not as clear-cut when sexual misconduct is happening,” Schwartz said.Jenkins, however, said this issue probably was not specific to Pomona.“In a very practical sense at Pomona, and generally at colleges nationwide, sexual assault usually occurs with people that you know,” Jenkins said. “Reporting would cause such drastic effects to their friend circle or social life that people are nervous to come forward. For another reason, we tend to associate it with victimhood or shame.”Both Townes and Schwartz suggested the possibility of a student survey to gauge the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus.“Do I think it occurs? Yeah. How frequently? I have no way of knowing,” Townes said.

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply