Forum Tackles Sexual Misconduct Policy

Senate, PEAC Invite Questions about Most Recent Policy Changes

PEAC Director Wilt, Title IX Coordinator Greco, and Dean Bylander present the SMP changes.

Talia Amorosano '17

PEAC Director Wilt, Title IX Coordinator Greco, and Dean Bylander present the SMP changes.

Katie Lasswell ’17, News Editor

The Prevention, Education and Advocacy Center (PEAC) and Student Senate hosted an informational session and open forum meeting about the Sexual Misconduct Policy (SMP) on Tuesday Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m. Over 60 students and faculty members attended the forum to learn about changes that have been made to the policy and to ask questions about the policy and the newly instituted investigational process.

Audience members were given an FAQ packet on the SMP and note cards to record their questions about the policy. Ian Hower, Student Senate president, introduced the evening’s panelists, including Vice President and Dean of Student Life Joyce Bylander, Title IX Coordinator Donna Greco, Director of the Prevention, Education & Advocacy Center Kelly Wilt and Mareen Holland, Dickinson College’s outside investigator for sexual misconduct complaints.

Bylander first reminded the audience that the Presidential Working Group on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault and Title IX drafted a policy that adhered to governmental standards and the concerns of the Dickinson community before submitting it to President Roseman. Roseman approved the policy at the end of the Spring 2015 semester. The policy was condensed as all parts of the process now apply in the same manner to students, faculty and staff.

Wilt discussed the confidential and private support options available to community members who have experienced sexual assault, intimate partner or dating violence and stalking. Confidential options for these victims include the Wellness Center, the Dickinson Advocacy Hotline, Carlisle YWCA’s Rape Crisis Services and Domestic Violence Services.

The Advocacy Hotline is a new addition to the confidential resources this year and is staffed 24/7 by trained representatives at the YWCA, who were present at the SMP forum. These  “are legally obligated to not share the information” they receive with any outside party unless they are given written consent of the informant, or if they believe that the person is a danger to themselves or others, according to the FAQ worksheet distributed at the meeting.

The private resources available to Dickinson students are Greco, Wilt, Bylander and Dolores Danser, assistant vice president of compliance/campus safety. As college employees, these representatives do not have legal confidentiality, but they will keep the information reported to them private amongst only essential parties.

Wilt stressed the fact that “the student is in control of the [complaint] process. They can ask how formal processes will look or they can just ask for certain measures to be taken without going through the misconduct process, such as having their classes changed because they are uncomfortable with the current situation.”

Holland then explained the process of a Title IX investigation. Dickinson has moved to an investigative team model, and has taken students off of the panels as per recommendations the working group received last year, according to Bylander.

The investigation is a three-phase process, beginning with separate one-on-one interviews with both the complainant and respondent, and any witnesses that either party or the investigative team believe would aid in the process. Next, a report on the interviews and evidence gathered is drafted and sent to both the complainant and respondent, who each have five days to review it and respond with concerns.

After any concerns are taken into account, a final report is created, including recommended findings, and is submitted to a review panel of three trained faculty and staff members to reach an outcome based on the preponderance of evidence standard. This written outcome is shared with both parties separately, and sanctions are imposed if necessary. Complainants can maintain safety accommodations whether or not the respondent is found responsible. Both parties have the right to appeal any part of the decision.

Dickinson community members can choose whether they want to move forward with this collegiate process or a criminal process, or they can do both.

Holland feels that “it is important to be transparent with the investigation process so that students feel comfortable coming forward.” She explained that a Title IX investigation takes 60 days, and both parties are notified if that would change for any reason, because they “understand that this is a very emotional process so they endeavor to move quickly without compromising the need to be thorough” in their investigation.

The sanctions decided by the panel at the end of the investigative process are tailored to each specific case from a range of sanctions that are listed in the SMP. According to Bylander, this range of sanctions was heavily pushed for by students in 2011 in order to create equity in sexual misconduct cases. These sanctions range from warnings to restrictions on college activities and expulsion.

Hower then posed questions to the panel from the audience’s note cards. One question asked about the process if someone filed a claim at DPS. Danser responded that a DPS officer will first inquire if medical actions need to be taken, and then will take the report that will be sent to the Title IX office.

The next question asked about third party reporting confidentiality. Wilt first recommended that anyone who wishes to report an incident for a friend should first inform the victim that they are going to make the report, but that the informant would be able to remain anonymous. She noted that some students, such as RAs and First Year Mentors, are mandated reporters. Student employees in the Dean of Students Office, PEAC and Dining Services are mandated reporters only while they are on duty.

The training process for RAs, First Year Mentors and Dining Services supervisors is in development, according to Wilt.

An audience member asked who sits on the panel that reviews the final investigative report and determines sanctions. Bylander explained that the panelists are taken from a pool of trained faculty and administrators. She added that both the respondent and the complainant would know the panel members and have the opportunity to protest the appointment of any member.

“Their training obligates them to recuse themselves if they can’t stay unbiased for a certain case,” furthered Bylander.

A student asked if there would be any situation in which the college could move any report into an investigation absent a formal complaint from a victim. Bylander stated that the college could and has taken action before if it is in the interest of the safety of the Dickinson community as a whole. In that instance, the college is required to inform individuals who have made reports against the respondent, but they do not need to participate in the process.

“Students have time to choose how they want to move forward through the process,” Wilt stated.

“Reports can happen at anytime,” said Bylander. “There is no statute of limitations. The college becomes more limited once a person has graduated, but it has the right to revoke a diploma.”

Holland explained that the system exists because of Title IX, that it is more student-centered and less daunting than approaching the local police department.

Bylander ended the discussion by saying that Dickinson has a more robust self-policing method than other institutions, in large part because of the protests of the sexual assault policy that occurred in 2011.

Caroline Pappalardo ’18 said she attended the event because she “knew about the policy before and [was] interested in hearing about the changes to it and why they were enacted.”

Robert Winston, senior associate provost of Academic Affairs and associate Title IX director for Academic Affairs, attended the forum as a resource to students.

“The system of questions on cards helped to explore a range of issues and facilitated clear and specific answers to the issues,” said Winston.

“Education is key to implementing change,” said Danielle Melnick ’17, the PEAC intern for Wilt and a member of the SMP working group. “Forums like tonight’s are a work in progress that help us navigate ways to provide the community with tools and accessible knowledge. Those of us involved in this process noted the key themes and concerns from the evening, and this will help us better understand where students are at in experiencing and understanding the policy’s effects. I think events such as these truly show how the community is being accountable for itself and that we have many people who want to create and maintain what makes Dickinson feel so special and safe.”

After the event, Danser said, “any opportunity for dialogue with students is effective.” She was glad for the turnout of the event, but would have loved to see more people attend.

“I see this as the start of many conversations,” stated Wilt. “And I hope that students will continue to reach out as they have questions or need information. We’re here to support them.”