Guest Post: How Does your Private College Respond to Rape and Sexual Assault?


Photo credit: Hilary Whyte
This is a guest post from Wheaton College students Alyssa Colby, Caitlin Libby and Ariel Perry, who we connected with during the Feministing tour this Fall.
On Friday May 7th, the Wheaton College (MA) Hearing Board convened to review a case of alleged rape. Like many other women on this campus who have reported a rape, the victim was required to stand in front of her two accusers, the board, and her accuser’s character witnesses and testify her story. Ultimately her alleged rapists were acquitted by the Hearing Board but her story prompted students on this campus to organize to change the policies and procedures by which Wheaton College responds to and deals with sexual assault and rape.
Today at 12:00 we are organizing on the college quad to demand that our college create a committee to reexamine and reform the existing policy and make necessary changes to it next year. We demand that our college create this committee to be appointed in the following Fall semester. We demand that this board consists of students, faculty, and trained professionals, as well as administrators. We demand that steps be taken to further this before the May 22nd 2010 commencement, and that this board be established at the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester and begin reviewing the policy immediately.
We, members of the Wheaton College community, believe that the sexual misconduct policy currently in place is flawed. We believe that this case is not a unique or isolated incident. Rather, we feel that the case outcome is a failure of the Wheaton College Sexual Misconduct policy itself, and that therefore this policy must be changed immediately.


We find many flaws in the existing policy and procedures:
We take issue with the fact that cases of sexual misconduct are heard by the college hearing board of students, faculty, and staff. Despite how competent these individuals may be, without the proper training and knowledge regarding sexual assault, we feel they are incapable of arriving at an appropriate decision. We feel that having a board that decides on cases of plagiarism and underage drinking, also make decisions on rape allegations belittles the incident itself and is insulting to the victim.
We take issue with the fact that in cases of alleged sexual assault the complainant is expected to effectively argue her own case, without support, and in the presence of her accused rapists. We find this aspect of the current policy insensitive and a severely inhibiting factor in the complainant’s ability to accurately articulate her account.
We take issue with the policy that mandates that the Dean of Students has the discretion to suspend a student accused of sexual misconduct while waiting for a hearing and whether or not the accused is a threat to campus safety. We believe this should be a collaborative decision made by trained professionals on a sexual assault response team, rather than individuals within the administration. We also feel that the opinions of those involved and witnesses to the events should be taken into consideration when deciding this.
We take issue with lack of amnesty for students who are violating other college policies (such as underage drinking) when they are assaulted. Because of how serious sexual assault is, we believe that encouraging students to come forth and report regardless of external factors should be at the forefront of the college’s agenda.
We believe that it is essential that information regarding the hearing board case procedures are thoroughly and repeatedly provided to the complainant so that this student is aware of all of the necessary measures she/he should take in order to effectively reach a just decision. We also believe that the sexual misconduct policy must be more available and readily accessible. We believe that the steps that a victim could take following an assault should be made clear even if the complainant is unsure that he/she wishes to pursue a hearing. Furthermore, we think that this information should be better advertised among the general student body, and not just those who have suffered an assault.
We believe that the college must begin circulating preventive information about sexual misconduct that is not solely aimed at victims. It must recognize that in order to stop rape we must teach the student body the boundaries of sexual conduct, and that under no circumstances should a victim be made to feel accountable for her/his assault based on external circumstances at the time.
We encourage other students at private institutions to review and challenge their existing rape and sexual assault policies and procedures to ensure that they meet the standards of civil justice.
By Alyssa Colby ’11, Caitlin Libby ’10, Ariel Perry ’11

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