Senate Set to Vote on New Sexual Misconduct Policy
Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
The rules and procedures that govern Kenyon’s approach to sexual misconduct incidents will soon undergo revision to fit new directives from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. This revision process, which occurs every four years, will focus on how the policy deals with both consent and the consequences of misconduct.
Kenyon’s current policy requires verbal consent for every action in a sexual situation, including any kind of intimate touching, kissing and so on. President S. Georgia Nugent acknowledged the shortcomings of this approach, which the College adopted in 2000. “There is a way in which it seems almost impossible to imagine it working in real life,” she said.
The existing policy also permits mediation of misconduct complaints across the four recognized categories: sexual harassment, assault, endangering someone’s health and inappropriate or unwanted touching. As of April 4, 2011, however, after the Office for Civil Rights issued its “Dear Colleague” letter, the mediation described in Kenyon’s policy became illegal. Now, mediation is permissible only for situations involving sexual harassment.
Samantha Hughes, director of student rights and responsibilities, said the revision process began with both the Dear Colleague letter and the need for student feedback in mind. Dean of Students Hank Toutain asked her to draft a proposal for Campus Senate, which must approve all changes to the misconduct policy. In November 2011, Hughes and her colleagues organized two forums soliciting student feedback. They focused primarily on why students were not registering complaints of sexual misconduct.
Despite hosting these forums and trying to reach “a representation of the student body” including athletes and fraternities, Hughes said she did not receive a lot of feedback. “It’s something that people don’t really consider too deeply until they’re put in the unfortunate position to have to [consider it],” she said.
The discussions that led to the 2000 adoption of verbal consent had more student involvement than the discussions earlier this fall, according to Hughes. Still, she hopes students will become more active. “It’s your policy,” she said.
Hughes worked with a review committee, including several Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs), to draft the revised policy language. These SMAs took the policy proposals to their own organization’s meetings and returned to the committee with feedback from their fellow advisors.
Gillian Gualtieri ’12, a member of Hughes’ review committee who spent last summer researching the legal factors involved in liberal arts colleges’ misconduct policies, said that because Kenyon receives student aid money from the Department of Education, it and other private colleges must operate according to federal laws. The Jeanne Clery Act of 1990, for example, requires the reporting of certain campus crimes, including sexual assault.
Administrators like Hughes have to balance federal laws and unique circumstances while crafting Kenyon’s policy, according to Gualtieri. For example, The Ohio State University (OSU) and Kenyon have different campus atmospheres. Sexual misconduct victims at Kenyon are more likely to know their aggressors than the victims at OSU. “Every school has to work the federal guidelines into their own policy,” Gualtieri said. “But … the guidelines are not necessarily written with a liberal arts environment in mind.”
The review committee based its work on the policies of Kenyon’s sister colleges (the Ohio Five and Carleton College), in addition to literature from the Association of Title IX Administrators. That organization’s model policy recommends clear non-verbal consent, an approach students at Kenyon also requested.
“Students were saying [that] there seems to be this hookup culture and something is missing,” Hughes said. Additionally, the current consent policy is “not realistic [and] it’s awkward and students aren’t upholding it anyway,” she said.
The new policy hopes to broaden the recommended sanctions for sexual misconduct incidents. Language such as “will be suspended” will change to provide more flexibility, an amendment that Hughes said was prompted by student feedback. Some victims would not necessarily want the offender to be kicked out of school, according to Hughes.
The policy’s language of mediation will also need to change to satisfy the Office for Civil Rights. Under the new approach, Kenyon will have Sexual Misconduct Review Board hearings and mediations in harassment situations.
Campus Senate plans to vote on the policy revisions at its final meeting of the year on May 3.