The Road Forward

College discusses transparency, sexual history in misconduct policy


Alex Toole ’14 asks a question about the Sexual Misconduct Policy during the town hall Meeting held by Bylander and Roseman on Wednesday, March 19

Following a school-wide controversy that led to the reconstitution of the President’s Working Group on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault and Title IX, President Nancy Roseman said on Monday that a lack of communication caused misunderstandings about the school’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.

“I think we learned a lesson from this in terms of communicating,” Roseman said in a March 24 interview with The Dickinsonian. “I don’t think you can ever over-communicate, [but] I don’t think I appreciated that substantial changes were made to [the Sexual Misconduct Policy]. I think in some people’s minds substantial changes were not made and so they didn’t feel like they needed to report anything out [to the community.]”

At a March 19 open town hall meeting, students voiced their concerns about a perceived lack of transparency in college governance processes during the past two years as the Sexual Misconduct Policy was amended and implemented. Among other concerns, students objected to the fact that only two students served on the working group and that the student body received no reports from the working group until the policy was approved in May. Students also voiced their objections to changes that were made to the document after the working group disbanded in May 2013.

According to Roseman, Dickinson College’s senior leadership team will consider these concerns as they develop plans for reappointing the working group, which disbanded upon the approval of the policy in May 2013.

“I don’t have any issues with having additional students [on the committee], particularly given the energy that has surrounded this,” Roseman said during her interview. “I just want people who can continue [into the fall], and I know there are some committees [such as the Enrollment and Student Life Committee and Faculty Personnel Committee] and parts of campus who have to be at the table.”

Roseman also said that her failure to reestablish the committee earlier this year was caused by common miscommunications that accompany transitions between administrations. In an email to the campus on Sept. 28 2012, then-President William Durden announced that it would be the annual responsibility of the president to appoint a working group on sexual harassment, misconduct and Title IX. Roseman said that she did not know it was the president’s duty to do so each year.

“I didn’t know – it didn’t hit my radar,” Roseman said. “It’s one of those transition things that maybe we should have [done] and we didn’t. It wasn’t purposeful, it’s just that nobody told me so it didn’t happen.”

The presidential working group for the 2012-2013 academic year was charged with combining multiple related documents about sexual misconduct into one comprehensive policy that covers rules for faculty, staff and students. Joyce Bylander, dean of students and Title IX coordinator, explained in a February Student Development report what major changes were made to the policy.

The policy came under scrutiny when two faculty members at the meeting expressed their objection to one of these changes at the Feb. 4 faculty meeting. Professors Amy Farrell and Jerry Philogene raised objections to the word choice in one section of the policy entitled “Prior sexual history, bad acts or pattern evidence.” Found on page 41 of the document, the sentence states that “any other prior sexual history of the Complainant is typically not relevant and will not be permitted.” Farrell and Philogene proposed that the word “typically” be removed from the text of the policy because it made the admissibility of past sexual history in the context of a panel hearing unclear.

Bylander agreed with Farrell and Philogene’s objections and promised to amend the language of the policy. Following the February meeting, the three met with the college’s legal counsel Dana Scaduto to discuss alternative wording for the policy. They approved a new version that was presented at the March faculty meeting, which raised questions of the means of amending the policy without the input or existence of a working group.

“[This change] obviously happened after the 2013 working group had ceased functioning together,” noted Doug Edlin, associate professor of political science. At the March 6, 2014 faculty meeting, Edlin raised a motion for the faculty to discuss and vote on the policy due to what he perceived as a lack of transparency in the amendment process.

“I will only speak for myself, but it is not transparent to me,” Edlin said. “I would like to see the campus community participate together in a dialogue to respond to the document that affects this entire community.”

The faculty was unable to act on Edlin’s motion because they did not have the necessary 100 members present to hold a vote. The faculty’s discussion of the Sexual Misconduct policy came to general student attention when Ben West ’14, an all-college committee senator, left the meeting to announce to students in the cafeteria that the faculty needed more professors to conduct a vote.

Rumors began to circulate across campus when students were denied entrance to the meeting by a rule in the college bylaws. By the time students returned from break, much of the conversation on campus and social media centered on the sentence about prior sexual history that Farrell and Philogene had objected to in February. Roseman and Bylander called for the town hall meeting on Wednesday, March 19 to dispel these rumors.

At the meeting, Bylander announced that the Presidential Working Group would be re-assembled and that she intends to recommend that they remove the contentious sentence about past sexual history. Still, however, concerns remain amongst students and faculty about whether removing the sentence will be enough to prevent concerns that would lead to underreporting of sexual misconduct.

“My reading of the policy is removing that sentence will still allow a student’s prior sexual history to be used against her [or him],” said Edlin, noting the dangers this causes for issues such as underreporting. “One of the many reasons that sexual assault is such a drastically underreported offense is the concern that a student’s past sexual history will be used against [him or] her, and there is a serious problem with underreporting at Dickinson.”

“The Report of the Student Development Division that was provided for the March faculty meeting indicates that, to this point in the 2013-14 academic year, there has not been a single incident of sexual assault involving sexual intercourse adjudicated through the college’s hearing process,” Edlin continued. “Given the national statistics on incidents of sexual assault on college campuses, this is a real concern.”

Bylander agrees that there is a problem with underreporting at the College, but does not believe that the policy itself is the cause.

“I agree that there is underreporting at Dickinson,” Bylander said. “We have students who come forward to report sexual assaults but then we have reluctant victims who choose not to go forward. The reasons they give for not moving forward are never ‘the process is too difficult’ or ‘the policy is not victim friendly enough.’ The reasons we often hear are that victims are afraid of the social stigmatization that might result from their reporting someone. They have said they are afraid of retaliation from the respondent’s friend circle. I think this points to a larger cultural problem.

Scaduto encourages students to feel confident in the policy and its high standards for considering relevant information from the past.

“It remains subject to interpretation, but what I can say is there remains in the policy a mechanism for the introduction of relevant information for the determination of responsibility,” Scaduto said. “Sometimes the way an individual has acted in the past provides relevant info about the present. Dickinson promises that only relevant info will be used.”

As students, faculty, and staff continue to discuss the policy, Roseman announced two additional town hall meetings for this semester scheduled to take place in the Antia Tuvin Schlecter Auditorium from 12 pm – 1 pm on April 8 and 8-9:30 pm on April 30. According to her email to students on March 20, Roseman hopes that these meetings will continue open conversation for issues that concern the entire campus community.