National Greek orgs remove support for Safe Campus Act

by Kelsey Flower | 11/16/15 9:26pm

This article is a part of our new culminating beat experience initiative, in which our beat reporters write longer-term investigative articles within their areas of expertise. The author is our sexual assaultbeat reporter.

Despite spending more than $200,000 lobbying for the Safe Campus Act throughout 2015, the North-American Interfraternity Conference and National Panhellenic Conference withdrew their support on Friday after eight national sororities dropped their support for the Act earlier that day.

The Safe Campus Act, sponsored by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) is a bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to protect victims of sexual violence and improve the adjudication of allegations related to sexual violence.

Vice president of university relations for the NIC Will Foran, who declined to comment on the phone, wrote in an email that the organization received many contributions and opinions from its member fraternities, and that this decision best reflects their opinions.

The Safe Campus Act has a few key provisions that would change the way current sexual assault adjudications system operates at Dartmouth, as well as at universities across the country. The legislation does not allow the College to go through an adjudication process unless the complainant is willing to non-anonymously report to the police. If a reporting person asks for confidentiality, the institution would not be able to initiate or carry about any disciplinary proceedings with respect to the allegation, judicial affairs director Leigh Remy said.

“If you think about Dartmouth’s process, this is closing out almost every case that we get,” Remy said. “This is saying that only for those students who are willing to report to the College and the police can the College do anything.”

This does not allow the College to take action on a possible perpetrator that has been anonymously reported by several students, which would suggest a pattern of victimization, Remy said.

Remy said she also thinks the bill incorrectly conflates the legal adjudication process and College adjudication process. Part of the legislation gives attorneys for the accused student much more leeway than does the current Title IX process, turning the College adjudications system “into a court,” Remy said.

Remy said she thinks the legislation puts the burden completely on the reporting student and is “further silencing” than current policies.

“Who are we making this campus safer for?” Remy asked.

The NIC, which includes national fraternities with Dartmouth chapters Alpha Phi Alpha, Psi Upsilon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Theta Delta Chi and Zeta Psi, and the NPC, which includes sororities with Dartmouth chapters Kappa Kappa Gamma, Kappa Delta, Alpha Xi Delta and Alpha Phi, now support the Fair Campus Act, sponsored by Rep. Sessions, which differs from the Safe Campus Act by one provision.

Under the Safe Campus Act, when a student reports an alleged sexual assault to a university administrator, the university would be required to report the incident to law enforcement, Foran wrote. Law enforcement would then have a 30-day period of exclusive jurisdiction to begin an investigation. The Fair Campus Act does not have this provision.

Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity left the NIC in October, not just because of the Safe Campus Act, but because the fraternity does not believe in the direction the NIC is currently headed, Lambda Chi Alpha international headquarters communications director Tad Lichtenauer said.

Patricia Davis, chief executive officer of the Title IX Center — which supplies support for colleges and universities in Title IX and the Clery Act compliance — said the Center does not support the Safe Campus Act because it prevents colleges and universities from disciplining students who are breaking the college’s rules.

“It makes students less safe than the laws that are in place right now, which do not make them all that safe,” Davis said, adding that the proposed law “takes away the power of universities who really care.”

Most sexual assault advocacy groups do not support the Safe Campus Act. Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, a national nonprofit that provides legal assistance to survivors of campus sexual assault, said that at first it might not seem bad that the Safe Campus Act forces survivors who want help to go into the criminal justice system, but this is not the best approach.

Dunn said that systematically, the criminal justice system does not have a track record of helping protect women against violence.

“To force survivors to use a system that is currently ineffective actually will discourage survivors and make them think there’s no point going forward,” she said.

Davis also said that the criminal justice system is often biased against the survivor, and that this policy takes away students’ power to choose whether to report through that system.

The criminal justice system has a much higher standard of evidence — guilty beyond a reasonable doubt — because if a person is found guilty, they will probably go to prison, Davis said. Since penalties are much lower in the college system, the standard for guilt is lower as well — based on a preponderance of evidence. This means that more students are found guilty of sexual assault through university judicial proceedings.

Alphi Phi sorority was the first national sorority to break from the NPC’s support and stated that it did not support the Safe Campus Act on Nov. 12.

Dartmouth Alpha Phi’s vice president for risk management Susanna Kalaris ’16 said that the national organization decided to vocalize its lack of endorsement for the Act after hearing feedback from members, branches and alumni. While the national Alpha Phi organization left each individual chapter to make its own decision on whether they supported the act, Dartmouth’s executive board had a discussion and decided that the chapter would not endorse the Safe Campus Act.

“We fully support national,” Kalaris said “We don’t endorse legislation that limits the options of sexual assault victims to report their crime when, if and how they want to do it. It’s totally up to them, should be completely on their own schedule and shouldn’t be dictated by anyone else.”

The national Alphi Phi statement said that the Safe Campus Act can be detrimental to survivors and limits their options, Kalaris said.

Davis said that Alpha Phi’s statement was “very courageous.” She condemned national fraternities and sororities who had not yet withdrawn their support.

“Sororities are the best organizations to fight this if they’ll stand up and do it,” she said.

Seven national sororities, including Phi Mu, Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Chi Omega, Delta Phi Epsilon, Gamma Phi Beta, Sigma Delta Tau and Delta Gamma, stated on Nov. 13 that they do not support the act. On the same day, the NIC and the NPC withdrew their support from the bill.

Dunn said fraternities in particular supported the Safe Campus Act because while universities have done a good job supporting survivors’ civil rights, they have not always focused on due process within sexual violence cases for the accused.

Currently, students who are accused of sexual assault in campus adjudication systems have the right to be given notice that they are being accused, to be informed of the charges being brought and to be given notice prior to the hearing. As of 2013, the Clery Act also gives both parties the right of an advisor of choice, which can be an attorney, Dunn said.

“Overall, I think schools are better at due process than victim’s rights,” Dunn said. “There are some concerns, but a lot of the pushback is that we’re actually seeing people held accountable for sexual violence. If you look at criminal prosecution, less than 2 percent of cases end in a conviction.”

Dunn said if people were really concerned about safety on campus, the Safe Campus Act would include more than just sexual violence.

“That’s really the indicator that there’s an intention in selecting that as the only type of violence or crime that is singled out for elevated standards,” she said. “That in it of itself could be struck as sex discrimination because sexual violence more often will affect women. And elevating a crime that’s affecting women over every other type of crime to have a higher standard doesn’t sit with fundamental fairness.”

Senators Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act to the Senate in Feb. 2015. This act is currently in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions as of July 2015.

Gillibrand and McCaskill called NIC and NPC’s support for the Safe Campus Act “misguided” during a phone call with reporters, the Huffington Post reported.

According to Gillibrand’s website, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act would establish campus resources for survivors, ensure that college staff meet minimum training to address sexual assault cases, create “historic transparency requirements” to show students, parents and officials the problem and how campuses are fixing it, require a uniform student disciplinary process across campuses and in coordination with law enforcement and incentivize colleges and universities to address the problem by establishing enforceable Title IX penalties and stiffer Clery Act violation penalties.

Foran wrote that the NIC has yet to take a position on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, but that representatives of the NIC have met twice with the senators and their staff in the past week. They will continue to work with any elected official or group eager to effect change, he said.

All national fraternity presidents at Dartmouth did not respond to requests for comment. Dartmouth Inter-Fraternity Council members declined to comment. Dartmouth Panhellenic Council did not respond to requests for comment. NPC also declined to comment. Title IX Coordinator Heather Lindkvist declined to comment on Monday, citing time constraints.

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