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 firstname.lastname@example.org.