Critic’s Pick: Oversight

Now that we’ve explored several aspects of sexual assault policies, it’s time to examine how policies are monitored and revised. Who is in charge of enforcing the policy? Is there a review process to fix problems? How can students or other members of the community raise concerns about the policy and procedures? Every school must be mindful of oversight.

Regardless of what the school’s policy looks like, it is of utmost importance that oversight is clearly articulated. It doesn’t matter how good a policy is if no one is going to follow it as written. I’ve found some good examples of well-defined oversight that might be helpful as models for those schools that have yet to identify the management and revision of their policies.

Let’s begin with Sarah Lawrence College.

Disclaimer: At the top of Sarah Lawrence’s Assault Awareness page, it says, “This policy is currently under review by the Sexual Harassment/Assault Policy Review Task Force. The following policy will remain in effect until the task force completes its work in fall 2008. When the new policy is completed, the community will be notified of the change in policy and the new policy will be available online.” It’s currently 2011, and Sarah Lawrence has yet to get their shit together enough to put their revised policy online. So, I can’t guarantee that the information below is completely up to date, but it’s useful to look at as an example.

One of the tabs on this website is “Education Prevention Response.” At the bottom of this page, there is a section that clearly states the committees responsible for sexual assault education, prevention and policy recommendations, which is great. What’s even better is this statement:

Students, faculty and staff with questions, ideas or concerns about various aspects of the College’s sexual assault education, prevention and response program should contact the appropriate group below.

Students are then directed to one of the following: Health Education Programming Committee, Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Committee, or the Sexual Assault Policy Committee. For each one, Sarah Lawrence lists the responsibilities and a contact person. Fantastic! Students know exactly where to go and whom to contact if there are questions or concerns with the campus resources and policy.

Occidental College has a pretty comprehensive Sexual Assault Policy (for Students), which contains clear statements about policy revision and policy enforcement. Under “Institutional Responsibilities,” there is a bullet point saying:

Policy will be reviewed annually by the Dean of Students Office to coincide with the California Penal and Educational Code.

We know when the policy is reviewed, who is reviewing it and what kind of code it is following. Presumably, students could to go to the Dean of Students Office with concerns that might be incorporated into the policy review. In addition, most schools don’t review their policies annually (it’s often every 3 or 5 years), so it’s great that it takes place that regularly. Right under this, Occidental has a section titled “Policy Enforcement,” which says:

This policy was authorized and approved by the President of Occidental College and is enforced under the authority of the Dean of the College, Vice President of Student Affairs/Dean of Students, Vice President for Administration and Finance, Vice President for Enrollment Services, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, and Vice President for Information Resources.

This is also good—we know who has approved of the policy and who enforces it. To have a truly great policy, it is essential that what is written is enforced.

Another good example: Earlham College. There is a section under its Sexual Assault Policy called “Dissemination, Monitoring and Amending the Document,” which addresses where the policy and security report are available to read, which office maintains records and provides administrative review, how and when the policy can be amended, and whom to contact with proposed changes.

In addition, Earlham addresses many of the same issues under “Review and Revision” of its Judicial Policies and Procedures. There is a regular five-year review of the college’s principles and practices, and any community member or group can propose amendments (committee to contact is given). In addition, there is an extra provision:

Should unforeseen difficulties with this policy and process materialize, the Vice President and Dean of Student Development, in consultation with the enumerated Judicial Process Authorities, may institute temporary changes.

Earlham addresses the review and revision process in both its Sexual Assault Policy and its Judicial Policies. It’s extremely helpful to have it in multiple places to make it very accessible. Students should be able to make suggestions and raise concerns easily, as these policies and procedures affect them very directly.

The three schools that I just discussed above all acknowledge oversight explicitly in their sexual assault policies, but there are some schools that only bring up the issue in their general code of conduct or judicial processes. Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Marquette University are two such schools. SIUC has a whole section titled “Interpretation and Revision” under the Student Conduct Code, which discusses questions of interpretations, formal and emergency reviews, amendments and how newly updated policies and procedures will be disseminated. Marquette University has a bit of a less extensive section called “Amendments” but addresses whom to give proposed amendments and who will be responsible for approving those changes.

While it’s great that schools include sections on oversight, having them directly related to the specific issue of sexual assault would improve the policy significantly. So, for those of you who are now checking whether or not your school addresses oversight, the important things to include are:

  • Enforcement: is there someone in charge of making sure the policy is followed as written? Where can students get their questions answered?
  • Review: is there an office or person to regularly review the policy
  • Revision: can students and community members propose changes easily?

Make sure the school clearly articulates each of these points because they are essential to a strong policy. It is quite possible the school already has procedures in place but has not included them transparently in the policy. Oversight is such an important part of a school’s accountability in having and enforcing a sexual assault policy.

Campus News Round-Up (Student Newsaper Edition!)

A student at the University of Maryland used the Yale fraternity situation to take to her school’s newspaper and encourage her peers to think about how their language influences their behavior. Right on, Andrea: Our language cements destructive and outdated gender norms, which dictate that sex is a commodity women keep from men and a woman’s decision to have multiple partners makes her less valuable.”

A PAVE member over at UW-Madison wrote a great piece for the school’s newspaper about how complicated abusive relationships can be and why it’s important for friends to be supportive, rather than judgmental. And speaking of dating violence, the University of Mary Washington is launching a dating violence awareness campaign this month. It’s exciting to see some momentum around the issue, because we’ve noticed that very few schools address dating violence at any kind of institutional level.

Earlham College had “Positive Sexuality Week” on campus last week, which I think is a great way to re-frame what had traditionally been “sexual violence awareness week.” The week’s events were run by the student group Action Against Sexual Violence, and included an awesome-sounding student forum where folks discussed:

[I]ssues like gender and assumptions about perpetrators and survivors of sexual violence and assumptions about parties and “hooking up”. There was also discussion of the administration’s response to sexual assault. Students who spoke disagreed about the level or quality of support they thought the administration provided. Students also commented on the lack of student initiative and how this might impact the attitude or actions of school administration.

This is kind of interesting. When I posted my last Campus Round-Up over at Feministing Campus, a commenter pointed out the lack of gender diversity in the Dartmouth “Short Answer” feature which asked a group of students to weigh in on whether or not the school should be more active in addressing sexual assault. So this week, The Dartmouth opinion staff posed a question to their peers about whether professors had any place in the conversation about campus alcohol and sexual misconduct, and I was looking at the names. And yeah, 9 of the 10 students interviewed had names generally identified as male (Samuel, Jonathan, etc). What’s up with that? Not exactly representative of the student body, huh?

Buried in this article about how to address campus alcohol violations in the College of William and Mary’s school paper  is a great quote from an administrator about why they address sexual assault differently than other conduct violations:

“We see sexual violence as an act that deprives a student of control over his or her body or sexuality,” [Assistant Dean of Students] Gilbert said. “We don’t bring the students in and tell them they have to do anything- we provide options. You can do nothing, you can merely report it to the Dean of Students, you can adjudicate it in the conduct process or you can report it to the police.”

Finally, one update: remember that story about how 12 Central Washington University students were hospitalized and it was thought they had been drugged at a party? Turns out they became ill from drinking too much Four Loko, a new “energy” kind of a drink that is 12% alcohol and apparently contains as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.  23 students at Ramapo College in NY also went to the hospital because of the stuff. Let’s see how long it takes before it gets taken off the market.