Dartmouth’s Office of General Counsel recently released a draft of a new Unified Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures in order to get feedback about the proposed policies. However, members of the student body have expressed concerns that students have not adequately been able to offer feedback on the draft, which was written as part of the College’s new Campus Climate and Culture Initiative. This criticism comes after College President Phil Hanlon delivered a keynote speech at a summit on sexual assault and sexual harassment in higher education at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD earlier this month.
College spokesperson Diana Lawrence said in an email statement that the Presidential Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct advised the Office of the General Counsel on the drafting process by studying the work of other colleges, reviewing best practices and holding six individual sessions to solicit direct input from community members. She explained that the primary change in the proposed sexual misconduct policy is that it is a unified policy that covers faculty, staff and students, with specific resolution processes based on the affiliation of the accused — as opposed to the multiple sexual assault policies that have existed in the past.
With the release of the draft, an online feedback page was created so that community members could read the policies and procedures and share their feedback anonymously until April 9 — though the deadline has since been extended. According to a statement by Hanlon that was published on the website, the feedback system was established in an effort to make the process more inclusive.
Paulina Calcaterra ’19, the 2018-19 executive chair of the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, said that she believes the release of the draft and the feedback process were not adequately publicized.
Information regarding the new policies and procedures was sent to students at the beginning of spring term via an email from interim dean of the College Kathryn Lively, but Calcaterra said that the email included other unrelated information which “cluttered” the message about the draft and call for feedback.
Calcaterra said she believes that many emails from the College are rarely read by students, and that in the past, the College has understood this and has worked with various student organizations to spread relevant information. She cited the changes to the Homecoming bonfire and surrounding programming as an example.
“There were ways the College could have worked harder to ensure that students knew that a draft of the policies [was] available to be reviewed,” she said.
Both Emma Guo ’20 and Jeffrey Cho ’22 said they were unaware that a draft of the sexual misconduct policy had been released and would have sent in their thoughts if they had known.
“I think that, given such liberty, we should take advantage [by] voicing our opinions,” Cho said.
According to Calcaterra, the members of SPCSA did not realize that they were going to be one of the few student groups directly contacted by the College for their input, and therefore did not understand how important it was that they review the policies. Additionally, she said this led to some members not attending the meeting and few reading through the entire document.
She also said that the length and language of the draft make it difficult for students to get involved in the process. Because of this, SPCSA has requested that the College write an executive summary of the policies.
Calcaterra said she is concerned about the hearing process outlined in the draft and feels as though Dartmouth may prematurely be complying with national Title IX changes proposed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who called for colleges to move away from the evidence standard of “more likely than not” and to have some level of cross examination added to the investigation processes. Lawrence wrote that if the U.S. Education Department Title IX regulations are adopted, the College will review them and “consider their options.”
According to Section 2a of the “Process for Resolving Reports Against Students,” both the complainants and respondents may submit a written statement to the hearing panel, which will be shared with the other party. A final investigative report will also be submitted to the hearing panel. Both parties have the opportunity to also meet with the panel if either party wishes, and neither party is required to participate in the hearing. The format of the hearing and deliberation is at the discretion of the panel.
“[SPCSA] was reassured that the hearing had more to do with oversight of the independent investigator and to give opportunities to both parties to air their questions and concerns,” Calcaterra said. “We are still concerned about the opportunity the hearing gives each party to ask each other questions. We think those questions would be hostile, judgmental or retraumatizing.”
The current draft allows both parties to proffer questions for the hearing panel to ask; however, the panel has the discretion about which, if any, of the proffered questions it wants to ask.
Lawrence added that the proposed hearing would only occur in limited situations, and a victim of sexual misconduct would never be required to confront or respond directly to the alleged perpetrator.
“Our goal, as always, will be to promote a safe community that responds to situations with fairness and equity for all involved,” she wrote.
However, following a meeting with some of the writers of the draft, Calcaterra said that the proposed live hearing might be modified in order to adress concerns about parties posing questions to each other.
Calcaterra said that SPCSA also asked the College to work with Judicial Affairs to reach out to survivors and responding parties that are still on campus, as well as faculty who have worked with sexual misconduct cases in the past, to make them aware that the policy is being updated “because they are equipped to give feedback, have read this sort of language before, and have lived it.” She added that the policy contributors had responded to SPCSA’s request and said they would attempt to work with Judicial Affairs.
Additionally, Calcaterra said that although they have the opportunity to respond through the feedback form, their experiences are being lost among the comments of “non-experts.”
“My main concern is whether this protocol is more harmful to survivors than the old protocol,” she said.
Lawrence emphasized that the College has the community’s interests in mind.
“Dartmouth is committed to protecting the safety and well-being of everyone on our campus and we take the issue of sexual misconduct seriously,” she wrote.
Guo is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.
Correction appended (April 21, 2019): The original version of this article stated that the proposed live hearing might be removed from the final policy; however, only aspects of the hearing related to posing questions to opposing parties might be modified in the final policy. The article has been updated to reflect this change.