In the wake of seven reports of sexual assaults this academic year, several changes were made in this year’s revision of the student handbook, the biggest of which involve sexual assault policy.
Two major changes regarding the policy were centered around the inclusion of a “Title IX assessment” and how cases are reported, as well as removing public safety as the sole investigatory body for sexual assault cases.
The Title IX assessment will now happen before a formal investigation by public safety and, according to the new policy, “will assess the nature of the allegation, address immediate needs of the complainant and the campus community…This assessment will continue until the College has sufficient information to determine an appropriate course of action.”
According to Dean of Students Paul McLoughlin, “the assessment helps the College respond to complaints without automatically triggering an investigation.”
The new assessment goes along with changes to the reporting process and associated procedures. According to Title IX and Equity Coordinator Amy O’Neill, these changes allow for a better understanding of the cases before decisions are finalized.
“The Title IX Coordinator can assess, ‘Okay, what resources does this person need? If this person is requesting confidentiality, is that something that we can offer or do we need to go forward with an investigation regardless,'” she said.
While several of the changes came directly from needs seen by O’Neill and the Presidential Oversight Committee on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (POCSASH), much of the language clarification was made to address student concerns. According to the letter to the faculty from POCSASH, the language was added “based on student feedback, to clarify the purpose of the policy, the necessity of certain language and terms, and the highlight the availability of the Title IX and Equity Coordinator.”
The definition of sexual exploitation as a policy violation, as well as a clearer definition of consent by replacing the word “intoxication” with “incapacitation,” were also included in the changes submitted by POCSASH.
McLoughlin noted that although there are certain times the college will pursue an investigation, the complainant’s wishes in regards to such a decision are “heavily considered.”
The new policy allows the Title IX coordinator to appoint an investigator or an investigation team, whereas the previous policy limited the possibilities and efficiency in investigations, O’Neill said.
Supervisor of Environmental, Health and Safety Matt Hammerstone and specialist Christine Oliver in the same department are currently training to become the specialized sexual assault investigators for cases that come to O’Neill, public safety, faculty or staff.
“This is a start, and hopefully they’ll get more and more training and more and more experience, and we’ll be able to show that this is really successful,” O’Neill said.
In cases where there are major conflicts of interests, the new policy also allows for the college to bring in an external investigative team to handle the case.
“The College may choose to bring in an external agency to investigate a claim or series of claims,” McLoughlin wrote. “This might happen for a variety of reasons, including if the case is particularly complicated, if there might be a conflict of interest for College staff, or based on the College’s judgment that an external agency is best suited to investigate.”
The entire list of proposed changes regarding the sexual assault policy were submitted to the faculty on Nov. 20 by POCSASH and approved at the faculty meeting on Dec. 6.
The email sent out by McLoughlin with the revisions stated that changes to the handbook during the academic year are not common, however there were several changes that the college “needed to include sooner than the upcoming summer.”