Panel on sexual violence explores F&M’s policies [unabridged]

BY LAUREN BEJZAK ’13
Editor-in-Chief

Sexual Assault and Violence Education (S.A.V.E.) sponsored a panel entitled “Sexual Violence in College Communities,” as the first event of S.A.V.E. and One in Four’s cosponsored Week Without Violence during Common Hour Tuesday. The panel featured Alison Kibler, associate professor of American studies and women’s & gender studies, Jan Masland, director of sexual assault services, Anne Schuman, member of the sexual assault task force, Alex Hartline ’13, president of One in Four, and Chetan Joshi, licensed psychologist with F&M’s counseling services. The panel was intentioned to provide an honest discussion about sexual violence and to explore F&M’s relevant policies. It was proctored by Michelle Carroll ’13 and Dani Roth ’14, co-presidents of S.A.V.E.

Carroll and Roth began the panel by broaching the topic of the recent articles about survivors at Amherst College and their tribulations staying at the school. Carroll explained they wanted to begin with this topic because a specific victim, former student Angie Epifano, published a widely-read op-ed about her experiences and therefore was comfortable with others using her story as a jumping off point. It provided a real example with which to begin the talk instead of grounding it in F&M’s own recent events due to the sensitivity of the issue.

They transitioned into a discussion of the Jeanne Clery Act, which mandates all crime statistics on campus to be published, among other things. Particularly they brought up that the Safety and Security Report for the past few years has not exactly reflected the expected frequency of sexual assaults on campus. For instance, the reports show there was one rape in 2009, none in 2010, none in 2011, and no attempted rapes in any of those years, despite student knowledge of a different truth.

“There are certain loopholes in the Clery Act,” Schuman responded. “If [the victim] goes to counseling and doesn’t want any action done, there is confidentiality. The victim is given choices of how she would like to proceed. Does she want to proceed criminally? Does she want to go forward with a campus judicial investigation? She can do nothing or she can go to counseling. Those statistics are based only on what’s reported to Public Safety.

“It’s widely known that sexual assaults tend to go unreported,” Schuman continued.

In response to this notion, Hartline suggested students may not feel the same as DPS does.

“From a student’s perspective, I don’t think a lot of people actually know that,” Hartline said. “I think if you ask the average student, they might say zero or one rape occurs on campus each year. I think this all just perpetuates the notion that sexual assault doesn’t happen.”

Masland redirected the panel to a more thorough discussion of Title IX’s implications, which most people think of for its rules about women in athletics. However, the Obama administration sought to enforce the other parts of Title IX beginning in 2011, which basically focus on non-discrimination against women and has particular bearings on college campuses.

According to Masland, the College is required to provide equal opportunity and equal action for education on campus, and sexual harassment interferes with a woman’s civil rights. With regard to assault, Title IX covers equal access to education in that the victim needs to be returned to pre-assault state following such an act. This means he or she must be able to access housing, classes, etc. like he or she would have before the assault occurred.

To answer a burning question, Masland explained why the College did not issue a campus-wide timely warning of the recent sexual assault on campus as mandated by the Clery Act, as F&M does for non-sexual crimes such as muggings.

“Dean Trachte used to put out a timely warning about every sexual assault that happened on campus, years ago,” Masland said. “[The Sexual Assault Response Team] asked Dean Trachte to stop doing that because it made the victims feel very exposed, and we were hearing from the victims that this was very upsetting. So, unless it’s necessary, unless we feel that there is a predator, or there is a risk, we’re not doing timely warnings for sexual assaults.”

“So, unless the person is deemed a predator, it is not in violation of the Clery Act not to notify the campus?” Kibler asked to clarify. Masland agreed.

Carroll asked Hartline for a student’s perspective.

“I would rather know,” Hartline said. “I mean, I’m not a survivor, so I don’t know how it feels, but there has to be a balance between victim’s privacy and public knowledge.”

Kibler went on to bring up recent events at Dickinson College regarding sexual assault notification. She explained it is great that something is being covered to the letter of the law, but that’s not necessarily all that should be happening. A group of students at Dickinson demanded that there be a notification of every sexual assault, and the administration conceded. They also created a new consolidated website specifically about sexual assault procedure. At Amherst there is new mandated training for all faculty members as a result of student response.

“F&M also has a website; you can find it if you go to Student Health on the left-hand bar,” Kibler said. “But if you go to Public Safety, you have to click twice to get to that same page, and it’s not on the sidebar. I thought that was probably not good enough.”

Masland responded that the College is working hard with Sri Dasgupta to create a separate website for sexual assault.

Carroll then steered the panel to what actually happens when an incident is reported, stating many of the attendees were probably there because this process is not widely known. According to Masland, after reporting an incident to the Sexual Assault Line (SAL) or the Sexual Misconduct Committee (SMC), the victim is asked to meet with Masland where he or she is able to discuss what happened and what options are available moving forward. The student may decide to do nothing or to take more time. Ultimately they can decide to move forward with a criminal charge or with the F&M judicial process.

If they do choose one of these options, they submit a written report or complaint to Steven O’Day, senior associate dean of the College, with help from the SMC. The victim is then appointed a non-faculty adviser for the process. The accused is also assigned a non-faculty adviser after meeting with O’Day. While the process is mandated by Title IX to take less than 60 days, its pace is ultimately decided by the victim. Investigators look into the victim-submitted report and their notes are seen by O’Day and Masland. If the victim wants to go the judicial route, three people, not students nor faculty members, hear the case and decide the outcome. If the accused plead guilty, he or she would be given a sanction by the College without such a hearing.

The process is important, and the victim’s choice of how to proceed is important, but overall the consensus was that the victim’s safety is the most important. Advice from Joshi and Schuman was for the victim to be examined as soon as possible, even if they aren’t sure they would like to go the criminal route.

“The most important thing is [the victim’s] safety,” Schuman said. “I urge women to go get examined. There is no need to press charges but the evidence can be held for up to two weeks just in case the victim changes her mind. There is only a 72-hour window when viable evidence can be collected, and the hospital can hold the evidence for up to two weeks.”

After this discussion of victim safety, Kibler directed the panel towards the problem of administrative response to sexual assault. She brought up articles in The College Reporter and the fact that Dean Trachte responded in a Letter to the Editor after an editorial criticized POSSE but the only voice responding to sexual assault was college communications re-explaining the Clery Act.

“I think that the administration missed a significant opportunity to clarify these policies for the entire community, of course I’m not criticizing Jan, but there are other people who are in the position to describe and remind the college community what the policies are and to say they are indeed in line with the best practices, if they are,” Kibler said. “POSSE students can be sexually assaulted – these things can overlap – I don’t understand how you can read The Reporter and decide to respond to one thing and not the other. To me that says we care a lot about [POSSE], but we’re not so sure we care about [sexual assault].

“I don’t know if Dean Trachte would have [written an editorial] it would have violated someone’s confidentiality to say A. here are our policies and B. we take these issues extremely seriously,” Kibler continued.

Next Carroll directed the panel to whether there is an F&M-specific correlation between weekend culture and sexual assault, the weekend culture being one focused on binge-drinking and going to parties.

“There is an expectation of sex,” Hartline said. “It’s like, ‘it’s college, it’s the weekend, I’m going to get drunk, I’m going to have sex.’ That’s how sexual assault occurs.”

Schuman indicated the binge-drinking culture has interfered with students’ good decision making. Masland agreed, stating, from her experiences as a sexual victims advocate, that 99 percent of cases do in fact involve drugs or alcohol. Joshi emphasized marijuana also has negative effects that people tend to forget about, and similarly it is also a drug that commonly leads to sexual assault. All these statistics coalesce to show the culture here is for students, both female and male, to approach the weekends here as a conquest or a game, in Masland’s opinion.

“We have made no progress whatsoever [since the sexual revolution],” Masland said. “We have to address this culture and change it.”

After the existence of this type of culture was affirmed, the discussion shifted to the effects of assault on an average F&M student.

Joshi explained after years of speaking to victims he has found they have a tendency to feel very numb and to blame themselves.
“One of the first steps towards recovering is to be able to correctly assign the blame for the action,” Joshi said. “The victim must be able to say, ‘My actions weren’t the best, but that did not give them the right to have sex with me.’ It takes most victims at least several months to get to that point.”

Otherwise many victims will try to talk to friends about their experiences. In Joshi’s opinion it is harmful when friends don’t ascribe the necessary gravity to the situation or don’t respond correctly, but he also believes if just one friend supports the victim it does a world of difference. The correct way to act is to affirm the victim that what happened was not right and they need to take action, whether that is just going to counseling or if that is going to the administration.

The panel ended with Kibler imploring students to do more with their time here than to accept the status quo.

“We have strong student leadership here,” Kibler said. “You should ask for more, way more. I don’t know why you accept the status quo. The tendency here is to accept the tradition. For instance, Take Back the Night, a yearly event, still has not been given a standard fund. Every year we have to ask for funding and justify it. Why is this made difficult? It could be better! Take a hint from students at other schools. Don’t leave it at ‘is the letter of the law being followed?’”

“If a survivor on campus doesn’t think assaults are occurring, they will believe they are the only one going through that,” Hartline added. “That’s why there needs to be a balance.”

Masland made it clear that students can go to pages 35-44 of the College Life Manual to find more specific information on F&M’s policies that directly affect students with relation to sexual misconduct. It details that students should report to Masland, David Proulx, CFO of the College and Title IX administrator, or go to counseling, where confidentiality can be maintained.

Questions? Email Lauren at lbejzak@fandm.edu.

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