Assault policy clarified
Recent allegations on the Hill have fostered a campus-wide discussion regarding sexual assault. Both students and faculty alike have been voicing their opinions and concerns on the Community Digest of Civil Discourse, demonstrating that people are eager to maintain the spirit of activism and inspire change in this community.
In a recent interview, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students James Terhune described the College’s procedure when students come forward about sexual misconduct. Certain faculty members are “mandated reporters,” which means that they have a legal obligation to report incidents of sexual assault to the Waterville Police Department. Deans, Community Advisors (CAs) and employees of the Office of Campus Life are some examples of mandated reporters on campus. In this position, however, they do not disclose the victims’ personal information—they are merely required by the Clery Act to disclose crimes on and around the campus. “For Clery purposes, it’s just a tally mark,” Terhune said. Unmandated reporters, however, such as doctors, nurses, counselors and members of the clergy, are prohibited from notifying the police because of confidentiality laws.
If a student approaches the Dean of Students Office, the staff would first “try to get an assessment of where that person is from a health standpoint—both physical and emotional health,” Terhune said. The administration would advise the student to visit either a local hospital or the Garrison-Foster Health Center, which also offers confidential counseling services. Terhune emphasized the importance of “making the traumatic moment as easy as possible….If they would prefer to meet with someone on our staff of one gender or the other, we’d do that.”
The dean will ask the student to describe the nature of the circumstance, and various potential action plans will be offered. Since deans are mandated reporters, the police will be called to come to campus and have a conversation with the student. “They are very clear that they will not take control of the victim in that case,” Terhune explained. “If the survivor would say ‘I don’t want to follow through with this in Waterville courts,’ then [the police] would honor that. Likewise, [that’s what] we do [at Colby].”
If a student chooses to handle his or her incident on campus, many different courses of action are available. “One option is to pursue things through our disciplinary system,” Terhune said. According to the Sexual Misconduct pamphlet distributed to students’ mailboxes each year, when an assault is reported, “The student against whom the allegation is made is notified that an inquiry is being conducted once statements have been collected from the accuser and any witnesses.” An “interim suspension” of the accused may occur if there is reason to believe “a potential for future harm exists.” Sexual Misconduct Hearings will take place with members of the College’s staff and faculty, and other students are not present. If the accused is found guilty after the Hearing, he or she is subject to suspension or expulsion.
Victims are not required to go through the disciplinary system. Some students choose to take no further action than notifying administration, while others decide to engage in a mediated conversation with the assailant in the presence of their dean. If the victim prefers not to face the attacker, one party can also be on the telephone during these conversations.
One concern that students who are under 21 years old have is that there will be repercussions for the underage drinking that often accompanies sexual assault. But Terhune stressed, “We’re not interested in alcohol offenses in these instances. People should not ever hesitate to come forward and get help if they’re underage and they’ve had something to drink.”
Underreporting of sexual assault is one of the biggest problems that the College faces. Nurse Practitioner Lydia Bolduc-Marden said that only one student has reported an instance of sexual assault to her this year. “The administration gets criticized for keeping things secret, but the administration’s hands are tied if people don’t come forward,” Bolduc-Marden said. “A huge reason for not reporting is fear of being labeled as the one who came forth and got another student in trouble.” Though if one student comes forward, others may feel comfortable enough to do the same, Bolduc-Marden said.
In the coming weeks, Waterville’s Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center will be working with the Health Center, Student Health on Campus (SHOC) and the administration to offer workshops for students. According to Bolduc-Marden, the Support Center will be promoting sexual assault advocacy, providing bystander training and possibly bringing one of their educators to the Hill.
SHOC Co-Presidents Sarah Falkof ’12 and Winsor Wesson ’12 met with the Support Center and said there was talk of bringing back the College’s sexual assault hotline, which ended a few years ago. The Support Center used to hold weekly drop-in hours for students on campus, during which victims discussed their experiences with a trained staff member. Though few students have utilized this resource in the past, SHOC and the Health Center discussed the possibility of reinstating such drop-in hours.
At present, SHOC’s primary goal is to create a safe space to talk about sexual issues. The stories SHOC collected for the Sex Narratives event are now on display in Pulver Pavilion. “The Discourse is a great way to start a conversation, but when people read these personal stories, it’s a way to talk about this not just electronically,” Falkof said. “Because that’s just text. We need to have real conversations.”
Other campus clubs have become increasingly involved in the issue as well. Male Athletes Against Violence (MAAV) President Eric Barthold ’12 has been working with members of his club to raise awareness about assault. “We’ve already made a handout of a condensed format of the Sexual Misconduct pamphlet,” Barthold said, and they passed it out to students last week. “I think there’s a misunderstanding about what Colby’s policies are…so the idea was to just clear that up.”
MAAV works toward the dual goal of raising awareness for sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus, and making it an issue for men. Each male sports team has a MAAV “captain” who acts as the liaison to his team regarding sexual awareness events on campus.
In Barthold’s experience, both coaches and teams have been very supportive of the club. “I think that [in light of recent events], the whole campus is going to come out of this learning and growing as a community,” he said.
Gender and Sexuality Diversity Resource Officer Berol Dewdney ’13 believes that confusion surrounding sexual misconduct reflects a “missing baseline of education for members of the community. As a community, we must educate ourselves and make ourselves accountable to that knowledge and to our values.”
The College’s culture breeds disconnect between students on campus. “There is a lot of tension, anger and sadness that polarizes us. It is essential that we come together as a team,” Dewdney explained. Encouraging conversation and closing gaps between student groups are the first steps that we can take toward bettering the campus as a whole.
“I hope this can be a learning moment and not just a moment of reaction,” Dewdney said. “This is such an opportunity to change Colby for the better.”