Six students attend sexual misconduct committee session

by Abigail Mihaly | 4/27/18 2:40am

Six students attended a student community session held by the Presidential Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct on Apr. 25. The session took place in One Wheelock and was intended to provide students with the chance to offer input on questions raised by the committee.

The session consisted of a short presentation by comittee members and a longer open discussion. Similar future sessions will be held for faculty and staff, according to Leslie Henderson, Geisel School of Medicine dean of faculty affairs and chair of Presidential Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

“This is really a first step to begin to engage the community in the same discussions that we’ve been having as a committee,” Henderson said, adding that the “listening sessions” are meant to serve as “informal conversations” between community members and the committee.

The committee was created in February to examine the College’s sexual misconduct policies and processes and began meeting weekly in mid-February to discuss possible improvements in the campus-wide sexual misconduct and consensual relationship policies and procedures. The committee is tasked with reporting suggestions to the senior leadership of the College in May, when the committee’s work is scheduled to end, Henderson said.

The Steering Committee’s domain is threefold: to look into ways in which Dartmouth might improve campus-wide sexual misconduct policies, to examine possible methods of creating greater clarity and consistency between polices and to identify areas into which Dartmouth should consider incorporating education and training for all on-campus constituencies, according to an email advertising the community session.

Henderson mediated the event, along senior associate dean of student affairs Liz Agosto ’01, assistant dean of postdoctoral affairs at the School of Graduate and Advanced Studies Victoria Blodgett and biology professor Mark McPeek, who are all members of the committee. Associate general counsel at the College Dana Scaduto was present to answer legal questions.

Henderson began Wednesday’s session by presenting questions the Presidential Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct had been considering, including whether Dartmouth should adopt a single policy to address all areas of sexual misconduct, and whether this singular policy should cover faculty, students and staff consistently.

Currently, the College’s most comprehensive policy is the Unified Disciplinary Procedures for Sexual Assault, which generally applies to students and student organizations. Henderson called the policy “good” and “well-vetted,” but emphasized that it is not a “full umbrella policy,” as there may be cases concerning faculty and staff not covered by the procedure, such as issues of sexual misconduct where both reporting and responding parties are faculty members. She said some of the policies that do exist are old, do not connect well to other policies or lack associated procedures.

Henderson also said in the presentation that part of the committee’s recommendation to senior leadership will be to create an online platform called the Sexual Respect Website in order to house all of the school’s policies in a single location. She added that following the “listening sessions,” the committee will post questions and information on an electronic site that will allow community members to provide written feedback.

The student discussion and question portion of the event raised a variety of issues, including the pros and cons of the involvement of a private investigator versus a community member panel to determine responsibility and sanctioning in sexual misconduct cases.

Agosto noted that though she always hopes for higher attendance, she “got a lot out of” the Wednesday session. Agosto said she valued hearing student input on the topic at the session, due to the importance of a training, knowledge and awareness program that meets the needs of students, faculty and staff.

One of the most discussed topics was faculty training. Though new employees at the College attend a new employee training which includes a module on Title IX, there is currently no shared training among all members of the wider Dartmouth faculty and staff.

“[Training is] so important and so vital to making sure our community has a shared baseline language around sexual violence and gender-based violence and a shared baseline understanding of their rights and responsibilities,” Agosto said.

McPeek said that the committee was also discussing how to structure training to feel more like “community engagement” than an obligation.

Agosto echoed this sentiment. “How do we build a program that is mandatory, but also embedded, and just part of what we do at Dartmouth?” Agosto said. “[It] takes a long time, and that takes a lot of work.”

Henderson said that the committee has and will continue to discuss the pros and cons of universal training.

“I definitely feel like I have a clearer sense of what the committee has been focusing on and a sense of where they’re moving,” attendee Clara Batchelder ’19 said. Batchelder is a member of MAV and an intern for the Sexual Violence Prevention Project.

SPCSA executive chair and MAV and SAPA member Paulina Calcaterra ’19 expressed her concern about the lack of student voice on the committee.

“Just asking for student feedback in a one-time session gives the impression that it’s not an integral part to the committee’s work,” Calcaterra said. “I think it’s cool that they’re integrating feedback from all of the student, faculty and staff pieces of it, but I wonder why a student is not on the committee.”

Calcaterra said she was “uncomfortable” with the current lack of a mandatory training for all faculty members, especially in light of the recent sexual misconduct allegations of Dartmouth psychology and brain sciences professors. She added that the committee’s timeline is concerning. Due to the stated inconsistencies — such as a lack of comprehensive policy for staff members — Calcaterra felt these issues required more urgent action than the Steering Committee allows for.

“This committee is just going to form recommendations,” she said, adding that implementation would have to be a second process and interim measures would be one way to take immediate action and speed up reform.

She stressed that she did not want to sound negative, and said that having a committee to think about these issues is a “good start.”

Henderson said she expected to find support for increased training among senior leadership.

“The Dartmouth community recognizes the benefit of having good policies and training now, rather than looking back later and wishing you had,” Henderson said.

As to funding and support from the College, Agosto said College President Phil Hanlon “hasn’t let up the pressure on it since he started in terms of continuing to work on finding ways to engage on this issue [of sexual misconduct], and that’s really heartening for me.”