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The Carletonian

Carleton overhauls sexual misconduct complaint process

<r-long review of the student sexual misconduct complaint process, which relied heavily on the feedback and discussions of students, faculty, and staff, has resulted in a new set of processes and support resources for the 2010-11 school year.

The new procedures will make it easier to file a complaint and make involved parties as comfortable as possible during what can be a traumatizing process, explained Heather Campbell, a 2010 alum hired by Carleton to oversee implementation of the new standards, explained.

“The old way was too painful and not transparent enough,” she said.

Under the old procedures, a complaint would be decided by the VP/Dean of Students. Students voiced concern about having such an important decision adjudicated by only one person. If his or her decision were appealed, the case would be heard before a review panel. Students often found this panel ill-prepared to handle such important and sensitive matters.

Now, students will have their case heard first before the newly formed Community Board on Sexual Misconduct, while the administrator will fill the appellate role. The panel will meet every other week, whether it has a case to hear or not, in order to be well-informed on how to resolve issues of sexual misconduct.

Julie Thornton, an associate dean, will chair the CBSM, which is composed faculty, staff, and students. For each hearing, a panel of three representatives will be selected to hear the complaint.

Each party involved in a complaint will select a Sexual Misconduct Support (SMS) Adviser from a pool of trained Student Life staff, an idea the committee crafted after observing the success of a similar program at Macalester College. Having personal advisers will prevent students from getting “passed from step to step” as in past years, Campbell said. “There was no one who was consistent.”

Thornton added, “Whether a student is found responsible or not, a student will continue to have support.”

And, whereas in past years one could appeal the initial decision simply because he or she was dissatisfied with the result, appeals can now only be made if important new evidence has come to light, or if the student feels a procedural error was made or sanctions significantly conflicts with precedent.

Under the old procedures, students could initiate the formal complaint process through a number of people, however not all of these people were actually prepared to start the process. To reduce confusion, all student complaints this year initiate with Amy Sillanpa, Associate Director of Residential Life.

If students wish to make the class deans aware of a problem but don’t wish to file a complaint, they can fill out an online Community Concern Form.

“The first intention was for the form to be used in cases of sexual misconduct, but it can really be used for anything in the community that’s troublesome,” Sillanpa said. By increasing communication with the Dean of Students office about concerning behavior (whether or not it rises to the level of a policy violation), students enable the deans to intervene in the event of dangerous patterns of behavior and ensure that all students are getting the support they need. Intervention of this sort may prevent sexual violence, or even other forms of violence like suicides or school shootings.

Another new support mechanism installed this year is the Healthy Relationships—Healthy Community Advocates program. These advocates attend special events designed to equip them with information to help prevent instances of sexual misconduct  and help those who have experienced it. Any member of the Carleton community can join this group.

We wanted to create a way for community members at large to be actively engaged in these issues, even if their official role isn’t as a support member.”

The first event for Healthy Relationships – Healthy Community advocates is an October 21 dinner and lecture with educator Mike Domitrz entitled “Can I Kiss You?”

In order to increase transparency, Campbell spent a lot of time this summer creating a comprehensive website to assist students facing sexual misconduct issues ( sexual_misconduct).

Though the complaint process has been radically updated, the definition of what constitutes sexual misconduct is relatively unchanged. And, as in past years, the Chaplains and the Wellness Center staff are the only outlets in which a student can speak completely confidentially. In addition, the revisions only apply to student-to-student complaints. Situations involving faculty or staff members are adjudicated through another process.

While confident in the procedure revisions, Campbell acknowledged this is a “pilot year,” and the whole support team will conduct evaluations and make adjustments throughout the year.
During New Student Week, administrators emphasized that streaking, somewhat of a Carleton tradition, violates the sexual misconduct policy.

“It’s tricky,” Campbell explained. “[Streaking] can create a hostile environment.”

A handful of streakers ran across the stage during the NSW talent show, with many RAs in attendance. The policy states that RAs are required to report instances of sexual misconduct they witness, but Campbell said no complaints were filed.

The review process began in the spring in 2009, after what started as discontent expressed in an email campaign from students to the Carleton administration grew into a campus-wide dialogue on the sexual misconduct complaint process.

Campbell said the students took their complaints to Hudlin Wagner, Dean of Students, who brought the feedback to the College Council. “It was really an amazing thing to have an administrator who, in the face of vehement criticism, says ‘thank you for the criticism, let’s work together to change this’” Campbell said.

Carleton has been wrestling with how to set up a solid process for some time. In 1991, four women sued the school for failing to adequately handle their complaints. The lawsuit was settled the next year and the college agreed to revise its existing regulations.

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