Columns

Meropol ’13: U. has effective, compassionate sexual assault policies

By
Guest Columnist

I am the president of a Brown fraternity and a member of Brown’s Student Conduct Board, and like many college students, I have witnessed and obstructed sexual harassment. I have friends who have been sexually assaulted on campus. I commend Chris Norris-LeBlanc ’13 for reiterating how horrifyingly normal my experience is (“Rape happens here, too,” Nov. 28). Not only rape but the whole spectrum of sexual assault does occur here, and being frank about this fact is the essential first step toward crafting a safer community.

While I thank Norris-LeBlanc for adding openly to a conversation that desperately needs to be had, his article was misinformed, which made it dangerous to print and counterproductive in assisting victims of sexual assault. I believe that, if left uncorrected, Norris-LeBlanc’s article contributes a net negative to the conversation. Here’s why: Norris-LeBlanc’s claim that the University’s sexual assault policies are “ignorant and unsympathetic” is misguided and grossly untrue. In reality, the University has achieved great strides in setting up a positive and powerful system for helping victims of sexual assault gain resolution and disciplining the perpetrators of that assault. But no victim would speak to an administration they believe will be callous and unhelpful. In falsely denouncing the Brown administration as uncompassionate and incompetent in cases of sexual assault, Norris-LeBlanc’s article discourages victims of sexual assault from coming forward with their experiences.

As a member of Brown’s Student Conduct Board, a disciplinary board that often hears cases of sexual misconduct, I have experienced firsthand how seriously and compassionately Brown handles cases of sexual assault. I would like to clear up the ambiguity and misinformation surrounding Brown’s policies by detailing Brown’s standard procedure during sexual assault cases.

When victims of sexual assault report their cases, they have several options. Students are always provided with the opportunity to pursue a police case, and the University has resources to advise students about that process. All criminal complaints go through the Providence Police Department, but may start with the Department of Public Safety, which has a civilian worker whose specific job is to work with students on these issues.

The University will often issue an immediate no-contact order between the accuser and the accused. This is done at the University’s discretion. This is a decision made to ensure the safety of the accuser, and the University is prepared to take stronger measures if necessary.

Victims also have the option of requesting a disciplinary hearing before the Student Conduct Board against their attackers. While deliberation on accusations of sexual misconduct is challenging for all parties involved, it is integral in determining an accurate verdict in each case. The University goes to great lengths to make sure these hearings are as fair and as comfortable as possible for both parties. The accuser is never required to face his or her alleged attacker and has the option of having an advocate present during the hearing who is experienced in providing support in such cases. Both parties may request in advance to disqualify a member of the board whom they feel may be prejudiced by association with the case. Additionally, victims are not required to be present during the entire hearing, but may instead choose to be represented by a trained dean who will make their case for them.

During the hearing, the board hears testimony from – and rigorously questions – both parties. Both parties are able to request witnesses to speak before the board on their behalf. Once the board adjourns, it takes extreme care to determine the facts of the case and whether a violation has been committed. If it determines there has been a violation, the board suggests an appropriate sanction to the senior associate dean for student life, who makes a final verdict. Both parties receive this verdict within five days of the hearing, and both have the ability to appeal this judgement. There is no maximum sanction set for any case before a hearing. Sanctions are determined on a case-by-case basis.

It was horrifying to read about Norris-LeBlanc’s friend, whose shocking story he recalled in his op-ed. Cases of sexual assault are incredibly emotionally difficult, and no system is perfect. Brown certainly has room for improvement, and faculty members are constantly working with students to enact specific policy changes. But Norris-LeBlanc’s call for Brown’s policies to be overhauled is not constructive and is profoundly unwarranted. We should not be discouraging victims of sexual assault from coming forward and seeking help through the University, which has worked extremely hard to provide many channels through which students can do so as comfortably as possible. It is important that these victims be encouraged to speak up as soon as possible so they can receive immediate emotional support, and so they and  the rest of campus can be protected from their attackers.

This is something we all can do to contribute to a safer space at Brown.

 

Dan Meropol ’13 cares deeply about creating a safer space at Brown. He can reached at daniel_meropol@brown.edu.

  • bluestocking

    Further clarification is needed. Rape is a violent crime. But it is called “sexual misconduct” by the University?

  • Anonymous

    rape is not treated like a crime at he university. It’s treated as “misconduct.”

  • Anonymous

    Sexual misconduct refers to the entire spectrum of sexual assault, not just rape.

  • Anonymous

    I was a victim of long-term sexual assault and abusive behavior, and the University turned a blind eye toward many of the warning signs. Fellow students likewise closed their doors and ignored the obvious–including screams. When I tried to seek help through the administration, I was constantly run around in circles and even told to not make such a big deal out of it. I was even discouraged from filing a complaint–the deans would rather “remind” the other student about the stipulations of the no-contact order rather than enforce it. It was not until my parents’ intervention that I received serious attention and, finally, access to the very compassionate and helpful services and people. But I don’t think the student body as a whole knows about these services, counselors, and DPS measures. So yes, the University has great policies in order, but they are often difficult to access or downplayed. Additionally, the culture to ignore is still strong on campus (though improving)–and that is perhaps the biggest problem of all. I think it’s easy to forget that victims of these situations often can’t “speak up” clearly and confidently, even when all the resources are laid out in front of them–and especially when they are not.

    • Anonymous

      What does long-term rape and abuse constitute?

  • Anonymous

    yet another incident of a white male downplaying a problem

  • Anonymous

    yet another incident of a white male downplaying a problem

    +1

  • Anonymous

    I will be celebrating my 30th reunion next at Brown next year. I was raped in Delta Tau by a guy whom I thought had come to my aid at a frat party. Those were different times and it never occurred to me to report the incident. Women should ALWAYS be encouraged to report sexual harassment, and rape is a violent crime. To say it is “misconduct” does more than a grave disservice to the women who have been violated.

  • alum '12

    Here’s a tip: Bypass the University completely and call 911. The PVD police will take it more seriously than the University will.

  • Anonymous

    Hey morons- are you familiar with trigger words? Hearing the word rape every day of the week can further aggravate serious PTSD. Calling it “misconduct” especially when in the same sentence he calls it “assault” is not downplaying the severity of the crime.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve heard so many stories from people who suffered from sexual assault. of course a white male in a fraternity who helps the university out would have this perspctive.

  • Anonymous

    I think a lot of the commenters are arguing against points the author didn’t make. He wasn’t trying to downplay neither the atrocity nor the frequency of sexual assault. He was merely making the point that people should not avoid looking to the university for help in cases of sexual assault because they can be a help.

  • Anonymous

    Good job “obstructing” sexual assault on campus! With good people like you, why should we fear?

  • Anonymous

    Direct from Brown Student Conduct Code:
    III. Sexual Misconduct
    a. Sexual Misconduct that involves non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature.
    b. Sexual Misconduct that includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force, or injury.
    Comment: Offense III encompasses a broad range of behaviors, including acts using force, threat, intimidation, or advantage gained by the offended student’s mental or physical incapacity or impairment of which the offending student was aware or should have been aware. Harassment, without physical contact, will not be deemed sexual misconduct under these provisions. Violations of Offense IIIb will result in more severe sanctions from the University, separation being the standard.

    Note: Some forms of sexual misconduct may also constitute sexual assault under Rhode Island criminal laws and are subject to prosecution by State law enforcement authorities – which can take place independent of charges under the University’s Student Code of Conduct.

    “Sexual misconduct” is a broad category that includes many things beyond rape. Even slapping someone on the behind could be considered sexual misconduct. The point is that sanctions are decided on a case by case basis

  • Anonymous

    Attacking the author’s views based on his gender and race is just despicable. It makes people unwilling to engage with the issue of rape and other sexual misconduct if their views are shot down based on their demographics, not based on constructive arguments.

  • Anonymous

    Why does university handle cases like this? Criminal acts should be handled by the police, that is why we have them around. I think the main problem is that universities have no authorities to do detailed investigations.