Research Must Precede Reform

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 5/5/95 5:00am

Studentsdemanding that the College improve the way it handles sexual abuse complaints have noble intentions. But when they make uninformed demands on the administration they hinder the chance for productive reform.

The recent allegations made by Emily Stephens '97 that the College mishandled her sexual abuse complaint raise questions that should definitely be investigated. The College should pay serious attention to Stephens's claim that administrators first pressured her into mediation and later into signing an agreement that she would not re-file a Committee on Standards complaint.

Sexual abuse is dramatically underreported on this campus, and the College should do everything in its power to continue to foster a supportive environment for women who claim they were sexually abused.

Students should not be afraid to file sexual abuse complaints with the COS, and if mediation is going to be an option for all sexual abuse complaints, the College should clearly spell out to the community what mediation entails.

Some students are pushing for radical reform too quickly without properly researching the issues. Former Editor in Chief of The Dartmouth Yvonne Chiu '95 and Student Assembly President Rukmini Sichitiu '95 are leading a coalition of students that plans to change the way the College handles sexual abuse complaints.

Chiu told The Dartmouth Wednesday that the group is going to "reform the COS. We're just going to do it." Sichitiu also said the group may offer testimonies to news organizations if the administration is not cooperative and receptive to the group's demands.

The coalition apparently has already come to the conclusion that the administration does not handle sexual abuse cases correctly. Chiu and Sichitiu have the wrong attitude. If they are serious about reform, they should try to work with the administration, instead of against it.

Former Assembly President Danielle Moore '95 said she decided to drop out of Chiu and Sichitiu's coalition to form another group because she said the coalition is not "taking the time to inform themselves ... before taking the direction they are taking."

Moore has the right idea, as do several other students who have left Chiu and Sichitiu's coalition because they disagree with its methods.

Moore said her group plans to gather as much information as possible in the next few weeks before making proposals to the administration about reforming the COS. Moore's group is taking the right approach -- any effort at reform should be handled carefully and thoughtfully.

It is important for students who are upset with verdicts in COS cases involving sexual assault to realize that COS operates under much stricter guidelines than the U.S. judicial system. In COS cases students can be found guilty simply if there is a preponderance of evidence against them.

In recent years, the College has tried to improve the way it handles sexual abuse cases. Two years ago the COS underwent a comprehensive review in response to student outcry about how the College handled sexual assault complaints.

It is impossible to convict the College's judicial system without first looking into the facts. Chiu and Sichitiu's coalition should slow down and work with administrators to bring about real change.

Sexual assault is a serious problem on this campus, and efforts to improve the way the College addresses complaints are worthwhile, if done correctly.