SPCSA holds open town hall meeting

by Claire Daly | 10/22/13 10:00pm

The Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault hosted an open town hall meeting Tuesday to discuss the progress made since publishing recommendations this summer and to hear student feedback, questions and critiques.

Representatives from the committee, the student health promotion and wellness services department and students from a variety of backgrounds and interests attended the meeting in One Wheelock. Attendees spent the majority of the closed meeting attempting to understand the Committee on Standards' treatment and punishment of sexual misconduct on campus. One attendee asked whether students should be part of Committee on Standards hearings in sexual assault cases because of the social pressures that could influence their decisions. The group discussed the possibility of students' links to campus organizations with social advantages affecting the results of certain cases, or those organizations leveraging the system on a member's behalf.

A COS student representative in attendance said if a student on the judicial board felt their decision could be biased in a certain situation, that student has the opportunity to step down from the case.

The attending representative from student health promotion and wellness services reminded attendees that the right to be judged by one's peers is a fundamental American value. The only way students would change the current set up of the Committee on Standards would be if the students on the committee said they felt their presence was negative, the representative said. Others suggested a campus-wide vote or petition for change.

The COS is tasked with enforcing the College's honor code, but students at the meeting expressed confusion on the actual powers of the committee, such as whether it decides both the verdict and the punishment.

A number of meeting attendees said they believe that victims of sexual assault on campus do not report cases because they do not want to get their peers in trouble. One student voiced the need for a stronger culture of reporting cases. Others suggested that low reporting rates stemmed from the social ramifications victims potentially face is an alleged perpetrator is suspended and then returns to campus.

The 2013 SPCSA symposium recommended that the Student Handbook's section on code of conduct incorporate language of "rape" to "enforce a codified policy mandating that non-consensual penetration will not be tolerated at Dartmouth College and will result in expulsion for students found responsible."

Attendees said that because the term "sexual assault" covers such a wide spectrum of actions, it is difficult to have an automatic judicial policy for punishment. One student suggested following the University of Virginia or Duke University's models for judicial action. Both institutions have "preferred action" or immediate expulsion for breaches of the universities' honor codes, but sexual assault cases at UVA have their own guidelines and do not fall under the umbrella of automatic expulsion. Another student added that he found the ambiguity of punishment for sexual assault surprising and that he believed the definition of punishment should be more black and white.

Sexual misconduct represented 4 percent of all reported cases that required judicial action, according to the 2010-2013 report of the Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Office. The department produces their report with the most recent proceedings online every three years. Sexual misconduct is treated as a "major misconduct," which results in serious consequences for a student who is found guilty.

Dartmouth's sexual misconduct sanctioning guidelines state that students who violate the code of conduct "should be prepared for permanent separation from the College." Since 2010, two students left Dartmouth as a result of sexual misconduct findings. Other cases involving sexual misconduct resulted in two suspensions, two periods of probation and four not responsible findings.

On Friday, the committee held a meeting with "an extremely receptive" College President Phil Hanlon.

"President Hanlon made it clear that combating sexual assault on campus was a key priority for him," SPCSA chair William Scheiman '14 said.

SPCSA representatives said that after the town hall meeting they felt inspired to work with Hanlon and make positive changes in the community.

"I applaud the SPCSA's effort to bring people together," said health promotion and student wellness director Aurora Matzkin '97, who attended the town hall meeting.

Committee secretary Hector Ruiz Llopiz '14 said the organization acts as the "bridge" between the administration and student body in regards to sexual assault. The group frequently meets with various student organizations to stay abreast of issues related to sexual assault and student culture across campus.