Dean Pelton Worked for Sexual Abuse Awareness

by Dan Nelson | 11/18/99 6:00am

To the Editor:

Two opinion pieces this past week, reflecting in some thoughtful ways on the important topic of sexual abuse, have also commented negatively on remarks that the former Dean of the College, Lee Pelton, was anonymously alleged to have made. One of the pieces said that Dean Pelton "had a reputation among students for being unsupportive to sexual assault victims."

If Dean Pelton had that reputation among some students, it was very much undeserved: He started and funded the "Men's Discussion Group," an organization of Dartmouth students, faculty and administrators dedicated to educating men about their responsibility to work against sexual violence. He commissioned a review of Committee on Standards procedures that resulted in improvements to the disciplinary system, enabling it more appropriately to address sexual abuse allegations. He initiated changes in the wording of the regulation concerning sexual abuse in the code of conduct, so that it more explicitly describes the nature and range of unacceptable behaviors that the College will not tolerate. He insisted that the College go beyond its legal obligations and publish statistics about reports of sexual abuse made to the coordinator of sexual abuse prevention programs and other counselors, so that the community would have a fuller picture of the scope of the problem. He chaired COS hearings concerning allegations of sexual abuse in a way that attempted to be scrupulously fair to all of the students involved, women as well as men. Depending on the committee's assessment of the preponderance of evidence presented at those hearings, some of the students charged with the violations were found to be responsible and some were not. In cases where the findings of responsiblity were later challenged, including legal challenges in court hearings, he eloquently defended the process, the committee's findings of resposiblity, and the sanctions imposed. Finally, he regularly challenged students and his colleages to work to make this a community where men and women could live and learn together in an environment of mutual respect and safety.

It is terribly important for this community to challenge itself to do the best possible job of living up to its values. Even one instance of sexual abuse of or by a member of this community is one too many. Our systems for educating men and women about their responsiblities, for supporting those who have been subjected to abuse, for conducting hearings about allegations, and for responding to individuals found to be responsible for violations of our standards can undoubtedly be improved. There are real problems that Dartmouth, and every other college and university, needs to continue to address. Whatever reasons one may have for perceiving the outcome of a particular hearing to be misguided or unfair, Dean Pelton wasn't part of the problem. In my experience, he worked hard, with commitment and compassion, for solutions.