DavidsonNews.net
8:23 am
Fri May 9, 2014

With March And Petition, Davidson Students Seek Changes In Sexual Misconduct Policy

Davidson students and residents marched away from the college union Thursday morning
Credit David Boraks / DavidsonNews.net

Students, faculty and some area residents marched across the Davidson College campusThursday morning in the latest public facet of a debate over sexual assault and the college’s sexual misconduct policy. The march, an online petition and other discussions have showed widespread support for reform among students. And in brief remarks, college President Carol Quillen called for change in how the campus addresses this devastating but often unreported crime.

Thursday was “Reading Day,” the last day before exams at Davidson. Hundreds gathered at 10:30am at the Alvarez College Union amphitheater for the march. After leaders were interviewed by reporters from TV stations and other local news outlets, the crowd began a quiet walk across campus to Main Street and back, following students carrying a blue banner that read “Safe Walk – Unify. Listen. Demand change.”

The campus debate and march followed the April 28 publication of Davidson College junior Susanna Vogel’s article “The Gap Between Being Found Responsible and Being Held Responsible for Sexual Assault” at HerCampus.com. The nationwide website is aimed at college women. In it, Vogel recounted her rape last fall by a fellow student and her ordeal pursuing the case through an on-campus misconduct hearing. (See “Student’s account of her rape on campus prompts a debate”.)

While Thursday’s march came in response to one student’s testimony, organizers said the march was not about any one individual.

“While we were moved most recently by Susanna Vogel’s article … this is not ‘The March For Susanna,’ rather a demonstration of our desire to see reform that makes campus safer on behalf of all students,” organizers and Davidson College students Gabriel Perlow and Samuel Castle said in a statement over the weekend.

CALLING FOR CHANGE

Students, faculty and some area residents marched across the Davidson College campus Thursday morning in the latest public facet of a debate over sexual assault and the college’s sexual misconduct policy. The march, an online petition and other discussions have showed widespread support for reform among students. And in brief remarks, college President Carol Quillen called for change in how the campus addresses this devastating but often unreported crime.

Thursday was “Reading Day,” the last day before exams at Davidson. Hundreds gathered at 10:30am at the Alvarez College Union amphitheater for the march. After leaders were interviewed by reporters from TV stations and other local news outlets, the crowd began a quiet walk across campus to Main Street and back, following students carrying a blue banner that read “Safe Walk – Unify. Listen. Demand change.”

The campus debate and march followed the April 28 publication of Davidson College junior Susanna Vogel’s article “The Gap Between Being Found Responsible and Being Held Responsible for Sexual Assault” at HerCampus.com. The nationwide website is aimed at college women. In it, Vogel recounted her rape last fall by a fellow student and her ordeal pursuing the case through an on-campus misconduct hearing. (See “Student’s account of her rape on campus prompts a debate”.)

While Thursday’s march came in response to one student’s testimony, organizers said the march was not about any one individual.

“While we were moved most recently by Susanna Vogel’s article … this is not ‘The March For Susanna,’ rather a demonstration of our desire to see reform that makes campus safer on behalf of all students,” organizers and Davidson College students Gabriel Perlow and Samuel Castle said in a statement over the weekend.

CALLING FOR CHANGE

The march took students past the fraternity houses where drinking culture is seen as one of the leading causes of sexual assault, past academic buildings where their colleagues were feverishly cramming for finals, and back to the College Union, where Quillen spoke.

Quillen urged listeners to share accountability for rape and sexual assault on campus. “I will not be a bystander!” she concluded, fist raised. “I will not be a bystander!” the crowd shouted back. Her speech and the speeches of the other students and staff shared a common thread—a focus on accountability and shared responsibility to prevent, sanction, and most importantly, openly discuss sexual assault.

The March, though hastily organized and planned, came in the midst of a perfect storm of discussion about campus sexual assault, both on and off campus. It was inspired in part by the recent White House task force report on sexual assault, and by Vogel’s article that already has more than 40,000 views on HerCampus.com. It was relevant and important enough to draw a large student turnout the day before finals.

Demands for change drove students to create a Change.org petition calling for the creation of a task force to reform campus sexual misconduct policies and procedures. The petition garnered 900 signatures in a little more than 24 hours.

In an interview with WBTV, Davidson Associate Dean of Student Life Kathy Bray endorsed at least one of the petition’s demands: “I think that we are open to creating a task force according to the recommendation submitted by the petition. In the process of creating that task force we will explore any and all recommendations that students want to bring forward.”

She also expressed admiration for the strong student response to this issue: “Given the national attention that has come to bear on this important issue, it’s no surprise and it’s actually gratifying that students care so deeply and genuinely about this issue, and are willing to act on their convictions.”

CAMPUS CULTURE AT ISSUE

But questions about the administration’s approach to sexual assault are only the tip of the iceberg—the real problem, according to many of the event’s participants, is the culture “down the hill,” where fraternity houses are located.

Senior Sam Taylor, a member of Fiji House, the fraternity with the strongest turnout at the event, said that frat culture is to some extent to blame for the prevalence of sexual assault: “I think fraternities are an arena where rape is sometimes seen as socially acceptable,” he said during the open mic session that concluded the Safe Walk March.

Senior Jordan Luebkemann welcome Fiji’s presence. “I think it’s great that we have a fraternity. To have a reaction like that from one of the social institutions that we typically see as one of the most harmful sources of sexual violence on campus—the Greek system, drinking culture,” he said.

“To have a fraternity come out and say it’s important that we be part of the solution is a very big deal,” he added.

Some students questioned whether momentum on the issue will continue after students leave for the summer. The campus will largely shut down after graduation May 18.

Luebkemann, one of the march’s co-organizers with junior Sam Castle, sophomore Hailey Klabo, and Perlow, was optimistic: “I think that we can leverage enough support from this movement to get the faculty to agree to create a task force. And the task force will probably sustain itself.”

Senior Grace Dover, who joined the march, was less optimistic: “It’s hard to get the student body educated and passionate about an issue in a long-term way, because semesters are so short and there are so many breaks. We’re generally very short sighted.”

Despite concerns about the movement’s staying power, the atmosphere at the March was mainly celebratory, with students carrying signs, flags, and breaking out in a spontaneous rendition of “Lean on Me.”

Vogel herself spoke, more students have already begun to share their own stories of sexual assault at events like Take Back the Night thanks to this issue’s higher visibility.

“It really just takes one person to start talking about it,” Susanna Vogel said, “and then people really want to talk about their experience, because it’s not an easy thing to keep to yourself. Once the dialogue begins, a lot more people will come forward and participate.”

A theme throughout the march was that, although the semester is ending, this march is only the beginning.

“We have listened to courageous testimony from members of our community,” Perlow said in his opening speech, “and this is the beginning of our response.”

DEBATE CONTINUES

In the 10 days since Vogel’s article appeared, students have discussed the issue in a variety of forums. The Davidson Student Government Association (SGA) debated the subject at its closing session of the semester last Thursday. While senators agreed that examining the college’s sexual misconduct policy more closely was a necessary response, they disagreed over the role of the SGA in examining sexual misconduct on campus.

And the article has prompted a formal response from Davidson College leaders. In an email to the campus community Monday, the college reminded students and staff of the details of the college’s sexual misconduct policy.

Davidson College General Counsel Sarah Phillips outlined the college’s efforts since 2011 to revise its sexual misconduct policy to match national standards for institutions of higher education. The efforts were a response to calls from the US Department of Education and an act addressing sexual violence on college campuses passed in March 2013 by Congress, Phillips said.

According to the email, sexual misconduct as defined by Davidson College includes “any non-consensual conduct of sexual nature, sexually exploitative behavior, and sexual harassment,” a standard “significantly higher than that of the law.” The threshold for finding the accused responsible for sexual misconduct is significantly lower than law, as well: those accused of sexual misconduct are found “responsible” by a campus review board if “it is more likely than not that the violation occurred.”

A detailed explanation of the sexual misconduct hearing process is outlined in Phillips’ email to the campus community, reprinted below. Information on the policy can also be found on the Davidson College website.

Phillips’ email concluded by saying that the college appreciates student and staff concern over the policy and welcomes continuing dialogue on the issue, but does not promise a specific policy review in response to problems highlighted by students in recent days.

DAVIDSON COLLEGE STATEMENT

Davidson College responded to campus discussions about sexual misconduct with an email Monday, May 5, 2014:

Dear Members of the Davidson College Community:

Over the past several days, questions have been raised about how Davidson College responds to reports of sexual misconduct. While the college is not in a position to comment on individual cases, we want to make clear to the community that we understand how devastating and traumatic sexual violence is for the victim and how disturbing it is for the larger community, as well. Through ongoing and new efforts, the college is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for our students and the entire campus community.

Addressing sexual violence on campus is and has been a priority for Davidson. In fact, Davidson has long had a sexual misconduct policy and a Sexual Misconduct Board (the “SMB”) comprising faculty, staff, and students to hear cases of student sexual misconduct.

Overview of Davidson’s Policy

In April 2011, the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education published what is known as a “Dear Colleague Letter,” regarding colleges’ Title IX obligations to eliminate sexual harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. As a result, Davidson took the opportunity provided by the Department of Education’s call to action to re-examine all aspects of its sexual misconduct policy. A team of staff participated in education and training on best practices for addressing campus sexual misconduct led by nationally recognized consultants, and a working group was established to draft significant revisions to our policy. In spring 2012, the Student Conduct Council, comprising faculty, students, and staff, reviewed the proposed revisions and recommended that the president approve the revised policy. The revised policy went into effect the fall semester of 2012.

In March 2013, Congress passed the Campus SaVE Act, which complemented the Title IX guidance by the Department of Education and addressed the violence women face on college campuses, including sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. Prompted by this change in federal law, Davidson decided once again to review and reconsider its entire sexual misconduct policy. An expanded working group—including our Title IX coordinator, Title IX investigators, victims’ advocates, and Student Life staff—met over a nine-month period to draft revisions to the policy. Again, the group met with nationally recognized consultants and drew upon lessons learned from cases heard during the 2012-13 academic year. In February of this year, the Student Conduct Council unanimously approved the proposed changes and, with the president’s approval, the newly revised policy was enacted in late February 2014.

Davidson College’s current sexual misconduct policy is the result of a thoughtful and informed process that involved input from staff, faculty, and students, including students who personally experienced the process. It is the culmination of three years of training, education, discussion, and experience. We fully expect that the policy will evolve further as we continue to educate ourselves on the issues surrounding campus sexual violence and as the federal government refines its Title IX guidance and passes new regulations under the Jeanne Clery Act.

How Davidson’s Policy and Process Work

The following is a select summary of Davidson College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. We encourage all students and anyone else with questions or concerns to read the full policy, which is available at (http://www.davidson.edu).

Davidson’s definition of “sexual misconduct” includes any non-consensual conduct of a sexual nature, sexually exploitative behavior, and sexual harassment. The definition covers a broad range of behavior, from unwelcome verbal conduct that denigrates an individual because of that individual’s gender to non-consensual sexual conduct that would rise to the level of criminal sexual assault. At Davidson, the standard of conduct, including sexual conduct, is significantly higher than that of the law, and the standard of evidence required to find one responsible for misconduct is significantly lower.

If a student files a formal complaint of sexual misconduct, the report is investigated by a trained staff investigator. There is no expectation that the student will prosecute, defend or investigate his/her own case. The investigator interviews the complainant, the accused student, and any witnesses and prepares a report of the testimony and evidence collected. The Dean of Students reviews the report and determines whether further proceedings are warranted. If that determination is made, the accused student is charged with a violation of the sexual misconduct policy and the case proceeds to a hearing.

The faculty, staff, and students who serve on the SMB all receive training on our policy, Title IX, and sexual misconduct on college campuses. Either student party can request that the SMB panel hearing the case not include student members. Both parties have the right to select a trained adviser to assist them during the process, or to have a personal representative attend the hearing to offer support. At the hearing, the SMB receives testimony and evidence related to the alleged sexual misconduct. The SMB then makes a determination whether the violation of the policy has been proved by a preponderance of the evidence (that is, whether it is more likely than not that the violation occurred).

If the SMB finds it is more likely than not that a violation of the sexual misconduct policy occurred, then it considers the appropriate sanctions. The SMB may consider as possible sanctions the same list of sanctions considered for Honor Code and Code of Responsibility violations. As is the case under the Honor Code and Code of Responsibility, the sanction of definite or indefinite suspension can only be imposed if the violator’s continued membership in the college community is judged to fundamentally be at variance with the integrity of its educational mission, pose a specific threat to his or her own emotional health, or pose a specific threat to the minimal internal order of the community. Because the range of conduct defined as “sexual misconduct” is broad and the circumstances can vary so greatly from case to case, there is no predetermined sanction for a violation of the sexual misconduct policy. Further, the SMB must attempt to fairly fit the sanction to the violation seen in total context. Thus, a relatively minor sanction might appropriately be imposed for a serious violation where substantial extenuation is shown; or a fairly severe sanction might appropriately be imposed for a relatively minor violation which has been persistently repeated despite formal warning.

Either student has the right to appeal the decision of the SMB to the Review Board. The Review Board, which includes faculty and student members, hears appeals arising out of the Honor Code, the Code of Responsibility, and the Sexual Misconduct Policy. Either student may then appeal to the president on the question of whether the sanction of suspension is essentially appropriate in light of the seriousness of the violation. A case is not finally decided until all appeals have been heard.

At Davidson, we take very seriously our obligations to support victims of sexual violence and to provide a process that recognizes that all of our students deserve a fair hearing. We welcome and appreciate our community’s concern about campus sexual violence and the college’s response to it, and hope for a continuing dialogue about what all of us at Davidson can do to support students who experience sexual misconduct and to ensure that all students can live and learn in a safe campus environment.

Resources are available if you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence or harassment. More information is available here: http://www.davidson.edu/offices/dean-of-students/sexual-misconduct/policies-and-procedures

Sincerely,

Sarah M. Phillips ’01
Vice President and General Counsel
Davidson College