The Deans of Students across the Claremont consortium entered this academic year with newly revised policies on sexual assault, gearing up to unify the schools’ individual policies. As part of this effort, the colleges have launched a new website called 7C Sexual Misconduct Resources that will serve as a one-stop source of information on policies as well as the resources available for support on campus.
Tackling the issue of sexual assault and harassment has been a consortium-wide project over the past few years. The project began in response to the “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Office of Civil Rights in 2011, which states that sexual misconduct on college campuses is a violation of Title IX.
Last spring, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont McKenna College, and Pomona College issued their revised policies, and Pitzer College has recently done the same. Scripps College has a Title IX Task Force that should complete its work by October.
The colleges have worked to ensure that they all have common definitions of relevant terms such as “consent” and “incapacitation from alcohol or other drugs.”
“The policy focuses on consent as active and clear communication between both parties regarding their agreement, or not, to engage in a specific activity,” CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman said. “Some important aspects of consent include that someone must have the capacity to give consent, that consent is freely given and not achieved through force or coercion, and that consent can be withdrawn at any time.”
These shared definitions help ensure that intercampus investigations can begin from a common understanding of the issues involved where differing policies may otherwise cause confusion.
How to handle intercampus incidents of sexual assault or harassment—in which the perpetrator and victim are from different colleges—has been a major focus of attention for the deans in their recent policy discussions.
“What we’ve added is that when the investigation is done, there will be two investigators working together, one from each campus involved,” HMC Dean of Students Maggie Browning said. “I think that has really made all parties feel like there’s a lot more fairness and oversight in the process.”
The policies and grievance procedures that will be used in intercampus cases will be those of the respondent’s college, but investigators from both colleges will now be cooperating.
“There has been a great deal of conversation about how we work together to coordinate and facilitate an intercampus incident,” Spellman said.
The new 7C Sexual Misconduct Resources website that was launched this week is another mark of cooperation among the offices.
“[The website] includes information about care and support resources on and off campus, getting help if you have experienced sexual misconduct, how to report an incident, contact information for the Title IX coordinator at each institution, direct links to each institution’s policies and grievance procedures, helpful FAQs, etc.,” Spellman said. “I think this will be a vital resource and clearinghouse of information for students and other community members.”
Differences remain among the colleges regarding the procedures for investigating sexual misconduct on campus, although some of the schools have revised their policies to be more similar to each other than before.
For example, the sexual assault policies at HMC, CMC, and Pomona now cite a preponderance of evidence as the standard of proof in sexual assault cases, which is the new federally mandated standard for sexual misconduct policies. A preponderance of evidence is a lower burden of proof than the former standard, which required clear and convincing evidence.
“There’s now a lot more focus on making sure that the victim’s voice is heard in the proceedings, and making sure that the victim’s rights are not swamped by our focus on due process,” Browning said. “One thing people always bring up is the question of due process—is this going to be fair to the accused? I think that something people forget a lot is how massively underreported sexual misconduct is, assault especially.”
“We see only the tip of the iceberg,” she continued. “The burden a victim bears if they decide to come forward is so great that there are actually very few cases of false reporting. When you compare the number of cases of false reporting to the number of unreported sexual assaults, I think moving to a preponderance of evidence is the ethical thing to do.”
In addition to revising their policies, most of the schools have worked on establishing a new judicial body to hear sexual misconduct cases.
“Previously, sexual misconduct [at Pomona] was under the jurisdiction of J-Board [the Pomona Judicial Council],” Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said. “If they felt they couldn’t handle the case for whatever reason, it went to the Student Affairs Committee. In the new policy, there’s a sexual misconduct hearing board, and a harassment and grievance hearing panel.”
Feldblum expressed a desire to keep students involved in that hearing board.
“Most colleges have moved away from having student members on those hearing boards,” she said. “We really felt that if both the respondent and the complainant wanted a student, then it was appropriate to have a student on the board, as long as they were trained like the other members of the board.”
HMC may also move to a system with more student involvement.
“Currently, there is a single person responsible for instigating the investigation, reviewing the findings, and making a decision,” Browning said. “One of the things I’ll be doing this year is putting together a working group of students, faculty, and staff to come up with a different way of dealing with these cases.”
“My ideal solution would be a hearing board constituted of faculty, students, and staff, and those people receive special training in dealing with these cases,” she said.
As for CMC, Spellman said, “CMC moved our grievance procedures for responding to sexual assault and sexual misconduct, as well as all alleged incidents of discrimination or harassment, out of our traditional conduct board process. We created the Guide to Civil Rights Policies and Grievance Procedures for addressing allegations of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and other forms of discrimination and harassment.”
Pitzer’s recently appointed Vice President of Student Affairs, Brian Carlisle, described the school’s two-pronged approach, which blends both informal and formal resolutions.
“The aim of informal resolution is to assure alleged offending behavior ceases and the matter be promptly resolved,” he said. “The charge is resolved when the complainant, the respondent, and the designated school official come to a satisfactory conclusion. If they can’t come to a satisfactory conclusion they move to the formal resolution … [which] requires the formation of a hearing committee.”
Scripps’s policy for investigations remains the same since last year.
“Scripps was at the forefront of this issue by implementing a comprehensive sex harassment and discrimination policy in 1994,” Dean of Students Bekki Lee said. “Scripps’s current policy provides for investigation of complaints by a judicial board composed of two staff members, two faculty members, and two students.”
To view the new 7C sexual misconduct website, visit http://www.7Csexualmisconductresources.claremont.edu.