The Brown University “Standards of Student Conduct” goes up for review every three years, and as part of this year’s review the Office of Student Life is recommending some important changes to the section on sexual misconduct. There’s a lot of things I like about how Brown is going about making these changes (as being reported by the Brown Daily Herald) so I wanted to highlight them here. (This comes a week after I wrote about the cool workshop at Brown about educating students on how to support friends who confide in them about sexual assault. Keep it up, Brown!)
First up, student input!
A committee of faculty, staff, undergraduate students and graduate students reviewed the Standards for Student Conduct, with Philip Gruppuso, associate dean of medicine for medical education, chairing the committee. “There was quite a bit of student input while we were formulating the recommendations,” Klawunn said.
Next up: specific, clear, easily accessible definitions of sexual assault and and associated sanctions. Not to mention actual concern with students being aware and able to understand what constitutes assault and how the disciplinary process work.
The changes to the Sexual Misconduct Policy would create two separate tiers representing two levels of sexual offenses. The first tier, IIIa, consists of sexual misconduct that “involves non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature.” The second tier, IIIb, consists of sexual misconduct that “includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force or injury.”
The creation of the two tiers in the Sexual Misconduct Policy was spurred by an effort to make the specificity of offenses more clear, Klawunn said. “In some of these cases, as it stands now, (the sexual misconduct code is) very general. Cases would go forward and students would come out with a decision and not know where it falls,” said Yolanda Castillo, associate dean of student life.
Trish Bakaitis-Glover, sexual assault response and prevention program coordinator with Health Services, said the new tiers prevent students from “being in an unknown place” about why a sanction is applied and what evidence is necessary to prove a violation.
Establishing sanctions that are appropriate given the offense and send a message that the school takes sexual assault seriously.
According to proposed new language to the sexual misconduct code, offenses falling under IIIb will “result in more severe sanctions, separation from the University being standard.” “We needed to clear up the language on what the actions would be. The sanctions will be serious,” Klawunn said.
Again, showing that the school takes sexual assault and associated discipline seriously by dedicating resources to the issue including—IMPORTANT!—training the faculty, staff, and students (yes!) who will be hearing cases.
Aside from the creation of the two tiers of sexual misconduct, the report presented to the BUCC also included the possibility of installing an Office of Student Conduct to manage all academic and non-academic offenses…An Office of Student Conduct would “encourage a ‘community standard’ ” and provide deans with “a plan for shared management of cases,” according to the presentation. “We want to have one group of faculty, staff and students who are trained and share some training so that there is one office for student conduct,” Klawunn said.
Paying attention to peer institutions and best practices.
Klawunn said that this distinction mirrors Rhode Island state law. The policies of Brown’s peer schools have more specific levels of misconduct, she said.
And finally, admitting that there’s a problem. So many administrators try to downplay sexual violence on campus, publicly stating that it’s just not a big problem at their school. It’s refreshing to hear university staff openly say that rape is a serious problem on campus, and that they are being proactive about tackling the issue.
Bakaitis-Glover said that, based on statistical information from the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five women experience rape or attempted rape in college and one in 33 men experience rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes. “We don’t have any reasons to believe it will be different on our campus,” she said. Bakaitis-Glover said that many sexual assault cases are not reported and that charges are not filed. “It’s very underreported everywhere, and we figured it must be true here,” Klawunn said.