College revamps protocol for sexual misconduct

It can be seen all over campus. Stuffed into mailboxes, tacked onto doors, plastered on the inside of bathroom stalls, and printed on pamphlets in the hands of Community Advisors is a message: the College is reforming its sexual assault policies.
In the wake of a national media storm and increased attention from the Obama administration, nearly 80 colleges and universities are being federally investigated under Title IX for their botched handling of sexual violence cases. Although the College is currently excluded from that list, it is making considerable efforts to comply with the 1972 law, which mandates gender equality in educational institutions.
The reform is two-fold: prevention and response.
The first may be more conspicuous. Outdated restroom signs with barely-legible phone numbers, bearing the words “If Sexual Assault Happens to You” have been removed. Taking their places are bright, color-coded posters with numbers for emergency services, confidential support, and Title IX coordinators. Last year, the “Sexual Misconduct Policy” comprised seven pages of the College handbook. This fall, it claims 30. Additionally, a new website contains contacts, information, example scenarios and a “common myths” section, all educating students on how to report and prevent sexual misconduct.
Apart from sheer visibility, the College has instigated a larger degree of student training. Emily Schusterbauer, the director of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Program, led separate sexual violence information sessions for CAs and COOT leaders upon their arrival in August. Two weeks ago, Dean of Students Paul Johnston briefed all club leaders on the College’s new policies. The entire community of faculty and staff will undergo mandatory training on a cycle of half going one year, half going the next, but the full group attended the briefing this fall before beginning the every-other-year pattern.
Schusterbauer also spent much of last spring designing a peer-prevention approach that makes students the educators. Throughout September, a trained student task force led mandatory sexual violence prevention sessions for first-years.
“In October, these peer educators will be conducting mandatory sexual violence prevention trainings with second-year students,” Schusterbauer said. “The trainings for second-years will focus on developing advanced bystander intervention skills.”
In the spring, Schusterbauer will open the task force again to anyone who wants to become a peer-educator.
“It’s reactive versus proactive,” Johnston said of the College’s prevention campaign. “Are we doing this because the White House says we have to, or is it time? How do we take care of one another so that this doesn’t happen?”
Yet Title IX is primarily concerned with the response side of this issue. To that end, the College has moved from internal handlings of misconduct to external. It has hired an outside investigator to assess all formal reports of sexual violence.
Ann Chapman, the College’s Portland-based investigator, will collect evidence, conduct interviews, and present her findings to the sexual misconduct panel. That panel is comprised of the Dean of Students or a designated substitute, a member of the faculty chosen by the Dean of the Faculty and a Title IX coordinator. Johnston plans to have Chapman on campus in October to discuss her role with any interested students.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women will experience sexual violence and undergraduates are at much higher risk. Outraged over the handling of sexual violence, students nationwide have written op-eds, petitioned their administrations and in Columbia University’s case, carried a mattress around campus. As higher education institutions face mounting pressure to standardize procedures and eliminate campus assault, the College continues to re-examine its protocols and prevention efforts.