SPCSA, administrators talk next steps

by Sasha Dudding | 7/25/13 10:00pm

One week after the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault released its second annual set of recommendations, the group called a town hall meeting to discuss the next steps in combatting sexual assault on campus. A small group of students, faculty and staff gathered in One Wheelock to brainstorm programs and comment on the committee's proposals.

After an read-through of the six-page document sent to campus and selected administrators on July 16, SPCSA summer chair Sophia Pedlow '15 solicited feedback.

SPCSA was founded in May 2010 to facilitate communication between students and administrators, but does not implement the recommendations on its own, instead presenting them to the administration.

Pedlow said it had been difficult to circulate the proposal among faculty members, to which physics professor Richard Denton added there was not widespread interest among professors. Pedlow described an initial "shock factor" among administrators who received the recommendations, but said she hoped this would soon lead to action.

Addressing doubts about the recommendations' implementation, Sexual Assault Awareness Program coordinator Amanda Childress cited the successful results of past SPCSA proposals, including the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative, the creation of an additional SAAP coordinator position and the move of the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness to a centralized location in Robinson Hall.

Pedlow said that although there is no timeline for implementation, the recommendations will be released again in the fall and evaluated at SPCSA's next symposium. The group is discussing the recommendations with members of the administration, but students are still skeptical about administrative action, she said.

"Students care about this issue, but I'm not sure if they have the greatest amount of trust in the way it's being handled," Pedlow said.

The recommendation to institute a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and to include the word "rape" in the Dartmouth Student Handbook was discussed at length in the meeting. Duke University recently implemented a similar policy stating that the expected outcome for a student convicted of sexual assault is expulsion.

"I was surprised that a lot of the recommendations aren't already implemented at our school," Amanda Geduld '15 said. "I think the fact that the word rape' isn't in our handbook is appalling."

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson, who did not attend the meeting, said that including "rape" in the student handbook could be one of the first proposals to be enacted.

"Assuming we agree that's the direction we should go, that's something that could be easily implemented," Johnson said.

Sexual assault peer advisor Emily Brody-Bizar '15 said the addition of the word would increase the seriousness with which sexual assault is viewed on campus and increase the number of incidents reported. She said the administration should strengthen the "bland language" it has previously used to discuss the issue, but added that the proposal is unlikely to be adopted.

"I don't see that happening here," she said. "I think that's more extreme than Dartmouth would go."

SPCSA also recommended that the administration create a required sexual assault awareness course. Johnson said that the Class of 2017 will see increased attention paid to the issue during its "community expectations" session during orientation.

She said that while a full-length course on issues of tolerance and social justice has been discussed, no decisions have been made.

Geduld said a longer-term program could be helpful, but an orientation session would likely be ineffective.

"One day of orientation or a few hours of orientation isn't going to change much," Geduld said. "I think it's going to need to be a lot more than that."

Other proposals were addressed to vice president of alumni relations Martha Beattie, as well as to alumni. SPCSA called for the creation of an alumni interest group and for more information on sexual assault to be distributed.

Although Beattie said she was not involved in creating the proposals, the Alumni Relations office has been giving sexual assault-related updates to alumni throughout year. DBI was formed with alumni support, she said, pointing to the efforts of Jennifer Messina '93, a clinical psychologist who developed the program.

Beattie said she agreed with the importance of the SPCSA's alumni-related goals, but that it was too soon to address the specifics.

"I think there are a lot of good ideas to evaluate, but with those kinds of things we're just at too early a stage to figure out what we can do and what we can't do," she said.

Attendees praised the recommendation that calls for off-campus program leaders to receive comprehensive training to deal with sexual assault, an idea that was first researched by Morgan Wharton '13 with an SPCSA mini-grant. Some said the program should have already been in place, since students abroad only have one authority figure to rely upon if an assault occurs.

In a July 22 letter to the SPCSA, off-campus programs director John Tansey stated his support for the proposal and cited his office's past efforts, such as the creation of a sexual assault response protocol for off-campus program leaders in 2005. He said that despite these existing programs, he would like to see training opportunities expanded.

"To ensure that all faculty program directors receive comprehensive training, we have requested that the Dean of Faculty's Office make such training mandatory," Tansey said in the letter.

SPCSA has recently become more involved with the Dartmouth College Health Improvement Program, which former President Jim Kim started in 2010. Although the program was designed to combat high-risk drinking, it has expanded to address sexual assault, said Aurora Matzkin, DCHIP team leader and director of health promotion and student wellness.

"Recently, we added a representative from SPCSA to the Dartmouth College Health Improvement Project team, and we are looking forward to a continued partnership," Matzkin said in an email. "The DCHIP team will review these recommendations and consider how to best implement and assess these changes."

Administrators and SPCSA members are also looking at increasing institutional transparency, primarily through the release of additional data on reported incidents. Johnson said the administration began discussing this after it realized that a community report had not been released in two years. The Committee on Standards is expected to publish a community report each year on individual and organizational student cases, according to the student handbook.

"We haven't done one in a while," Johnson said. "We need to rectify that and make sure that information gets out there."

Although students at the town hall meeting acknowledged the need for more campus attention to the SPCSA recommendations, they said they were satisfied with the variety of groups that the proposals addressed. Students agreed that changes are necessary but do not yet know what form they will take.

"The College needs to take a stronger stance on the issue because in the past, they've sort of sidestepped it," Brody-Bizar said. "I think it would be in the best interest of the College to implement them, but I'm not terribly optimistic."