The following provides an overview of DartmouthChange’s input to Dartmouth College’s proposed sexual assault policy revisions. This letter was first published in The Dartmouth on April 15, 2014. The full input as submitted to the College can be found here.
I am encouraged by Dartmouth’s efforts to improve its sexual assault investigative process. The guidelines to better identify and remove perpetrators show responsiveness to longstanding community requests. While experimental, the proposed investigation-only model of resolving complaints has shown promise on other campuses. In combination, the proposed changes will help create a safer environment for all Dartmouth students. The President and the Board of Trustees are to be commended for this significant step. However, the draft published last month needs revision. In February College President Phil Hanlon attended a meeting of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, but the proposal he and the Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson released points to a lack of understanding of the regulatory landscape and what is being discussed in that task force.
The College needs to create a policy that is as supportive of survivors as it is of perpetrators. The proposed policy encourages the survivor to make a “timely” report of the assault. In contrast, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights addresses the promptness of a school’s obligation to investigate and resolve reports of sexual assault. Implying that survivors are obligated to make a timely report also goes against the spirit of Title IX. A survivor should be able to report whenever he or she is ready. In fact, even criminal law has done away with this “prompt complaint” requirement, as Michelle Anderson, CUNY School of Law dean, explained in a 2004 Boston University Law Review article titled “Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault.” Dartmouth’s new proposal does not do enough to ensure the school fulfills its own obligation to timeliness. The proposal offers a 60-day limit for the investigation but no time limit for the disciplinary process as a whole.
Additionally, the proposed policy fails to adequately deal with confidentiality. The policy states that “if possible and appropriate,” anonymity will be protected. As written, a survivor could not make an informed decision about to whom he or she could make a confidential report. Clarifying confidentiality around reporting is a key issue being addressed by the White House Task Force as well as the OCR, and both will soon publish significantly updated recommendations.
Moreover, the College must make an equally vigorous commitment to removing the social and cultural supports of sexual violence at Dartmouth. The College seems to act impressionistically rather than comprehensively, lacking a clear, thorough and public understanding of the root causes of sexual assault and harassment at Dartmouth and how these policy changes will address these root causes. For example, how might this mandatory expulsion for perpetrators of a limited range of sexual assaults — which prima facie sounds promising — have a chilling effect on reporting and increase survivors’ burdens if people still believe that survivors are rarely truthful? How can the College move forward with this proposal without a concurrent and significant update to its sexual harassment policy to include related behaviors like cyber-bullying, stalking and gender-based hate speech?
This is a monumental proposal. The higher education regulatory landscape is under revision, with important updates to the Clery Act and new regulatory guidance to Title IX about to be published. We strongly urge the College to take more time to craft the right policy and work with outside resources who have the requisite expertise on these issues, including Title IX and Clery Act legal experts, local law enforcement, the county prosecutor and the local rape crisis center.
As a member of Dartmouth Change, a coalition of alumni, faculty, students and community members that advocates more effective action against sexual violence on campus, I am confident that the College can rise to the challenge of crafting an effective policy that supports survivors. We at Dartmouth Change will publish our detailed comments on the policy proposal on our website at www.dartmouthchange.org and have submitted them to the private email address provided by the College. We look forward to the next revision and another opportunity to help.
Susy Struble ’93
Co-founder of DartmouthChange