University News

Sexual assault task force releases final report

Recommendations build on those of interim report, include overarching policy, new Title IX Office

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In its final report released Tuesday, the Task Force on Sexual Assault proposed implementing a unified policy on sexual and gender-based violence, creating a Title IX Office and developing a clear trial process led by a Title IX Committee rather than the Student Conduct Board, President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote in a community-wide email Tuesday.

The 63-page report marks a continuation of the task force’s interim report, which was released Dec. 17. Paxson responded to the initial report Jan. 22 and confirmed that she had implemented nearly all of the recommendations that did not require long-term planning, such as introducing a 30-day limit to the appeals process and shifting all evidence-gathering responsibilities to trained outside investigators.

One of the most sweeping reforms the task force suggested is the implementation of an overarching University policy on sexual and gender-based harassment, sexual violence, relationship and interpersonal violence and stalking. The policy would apply to all levels of interactions between Brown students, faculty members and staff members and would replace the student sexual misconduct policy, the University sexual harassment policy and the Faculty Rules and Regulations policy on sexual harassment.

The task force considered other institutions’ policies when crafting the new policy and the report as a whole, said Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.

Complementing the “Policy” is a list of recommended guidelines for a reformed process that would defer all hearings in gender-based and sexual violence or harassment cases to a Title IX Committee rather than the Student Conduct Board and allow the committee to recommend a sanction to a designated administrator should the respondent be found guilty.

“These matters are unlike others,” Carey said. “They involve the impact of trauma … and training is needed for individuals to be sensitive to the dynamics of these types of issues.”

The Title IX Committee would comprise different faculty members, staff members and students on a case-by-case basis. The committee members present at each hearing would differ depending upon the demographic of the complainant and respondent, Carey said. For example, a medical student would sit on the Title IX Committee at a hearing involving a medical student, he added.

If a student were charged with violating both the “Policy” and the Code of Student Conduct, the student’s case would be heard only by the Title IX Committee, which would determine an appropriate sanction, the report states.

Following the appointment of Amanda Walsh as the University’s first-ever Title IX program officer, the task force also urged the formation of a Title IX Office that would oversee all processes surrounding sexual and gender-based violence and harassment. The office would comprise current faculty members selected as Title IX coordinators for undergraduates, graduate students and medical students, Carey said. These Title IX coordinators would partner with other University resource centers, such as the Department of Public Safety, Health Services and the Office of Student Life.

The report also suggests the formation of an oversight committee comprising students and faculty members to review the status of the task force’s recommendations every three years, beginning in spring 2016. The oversight committee would meet a few times per semester to monitor the Title IX Office’s work, Carey said.

Complainants should be allowed to enter into an informal or formal resolution process, the report states. The informal process would be voluntary and would not result in any formal disciplinary action.

Task force member Katie Byron ’15 said the idea behind an informal process is supported by research that she and Will Furuyama ’15 conducted last summer about survivors’ experiences with the University’s adjudication process.

Byron and Furuyama interviewed about a dozen students who either had or had not decided to report an incident of sexual assault, Byron said. “Every student expressed some desire for some space for that student who had harmed them to acknowledge that what they had done was wrong,” Byron said, adding that survivors were also wary of becoming involved in a lengthy adjudication process.

“Having an informal process still affords students the opportunity to have accommodations like housing changes … and classes changes,” she said.

Acknowledging that sexual misconduct cases have become increasingly legalistic, with some hearings involving outside lawyers, the task force recommended that the University release a list of local lawyers willing to represent either complainants or respondents pro bono.

The task force did not reach a definitive conclusion as to whether the University should hire an internal or external investigator to gather evidence in sexual misconduct cases, the report states.

Near the end of their work, the task force members were leaning toward an internal model, Byron said. “There’s certainly concern for bringing people into the University when people are already questioning the University as a whole,” she said.

The task force’s studies of other schools that have used the external investigator model showed that it may slow down the process, since the hire often also works as a lawyer and is busy with other cases, Byron said. “Having someone internal, you can hold them more accountable, because they have a more direct relationship with the University,” she said.

The implementation of the final report’s recommendations would come at a cost to the University, Carey said, though he declined to specify particular expenditures. While University resources are always considered in decisions about new initiatives, “the goal and the importance of the work that needs to be done has already been given extremely high priority and I would expect that continue,” Carey said.

The report stressed the need for a trauma-informed perspective regarding both parties involved in cases. “As a task force, we kept coming back to that … ensuring that we were being equitable for both the complainant and respondent,” said Michele Cyr, professor of medicine, associate dean for academic affairs and co-chair of the task force.

But the University can still put in place interim measures, such as changing residence halls of either party once a complaint has been filed “without the presumption of a violation of a policy,” Carey said.

The task force further expanded upon the idea presented in the interim report that the University host mandatory sexual assault training prevention for all students.

A committee headed by Liza Cariaga-Lo, vice president for academic development, diversity and inclusion, has already begun gathering student feedback and preparing a new education program for next year’s orientation, Carey said. Student feedback indicated that not enough time was spent discussing sexual assault and consent during previous orientations, he added.

The final report’s recommendations also include standardizing practices for administering medical exams relevant to cases, including toxicology tests.

In a March 18 letter to the members of the task force included in the final report, Paxson wrote that every attempt should be “made to provide students with access to date-rape drug testing that meets forensic standards.” The suggestion followed a Herald article that revealed a University-hired laboratory improperly conducted a hair test, as well as subsequent protests by the student movement Act4RJ against what participants saw as the University’s mishandling of the related sexual assault and date-rape drug cases.

“The recommendation would not have been there should this issue not have been raised in such a public way, and that activism has been really essential in forming these policies,” Byron said.

In her community-wide email, Paxson stressed the importance of the enforcement of confidentiality provisions. The final report defines the difference between privacy and confidentiality in more specific language than sections of the interim report, which many found confusing, Carey said.

The availability of sexual misconduct resources for graduate and medical students also surfaced as a topic of concern in the final report.

“Many of the support services that are in place feel to some (graduate and medical students) like they are more in place for undergraduates,” Carey said. Graduate and medical students can feel isolated from the main campus, and while resources like “Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services might be second nature to undergraduates, they may not be on the radar” of graduate or medical students, he said.

Flow charts explaining the reporting process for graduate and medical students will be featured on the Title IX website. While the process is not particularly different than for undergraduates, certain stages may vary depending upon the faculty members with whom graduate and medical students must work, Cyr said.

If Paxson decides to implement the “Policy” and the “Process,” the flowcharts detailing the undergraduate reporting process created after the interim report will need to be updated, Carey said.

The task force also recommended that Paxson appoint a senior officer to the statewide task force on sexual assault and implement an annual program for tracking and reporting information regarding sexual assault to the Brown community.

Members of the task force relied on student feedback following the interim report’s release to construct their final report, Carey said.

“Feedback was generally really positive or drew our attention to problem areas that we needed to adjust … within the final draft,” said Justice Gaines ’16, another member of the task force.

“I really encourage people to find the time to read the report,” Gaines said. “It’s a long report, but it’s a total overhaul of our policy.”

Paxson wrote in her community-wide email that she will issue a response to the final report by the end of the semester, so that the implementation of accepted recommendations can begin over the summer. Carey said he does not expect many recommendations approved by Paxson to require the further approval of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

  • James Wupherthal

    Lots of words. Nothing done. No help. As usual. Why don’t we just fire Paxson, Carey, and Klawunn?

    • Vacenza

      What a useful contribution to the discussion.

      • Aznecav

        Wanna discuss, come to me. Wanna rape someone, go get a list from Paxson.

  • Vacenza

    My only real problem with the final draft policy is the inclusion of the word “manipulation” among the factors that invalidate consent.

    The word “manipulation” is so completely broad and generic that it creates no clear standard for prohibited behavior. “Manipulation” literally means to alter or influence. Any time you say or do anything (or refrain from saying or doing anything) with the goal of altering or influencing anything in your universe, that is manipulation. The term is so broad that it could easily be applied to the entire process of courtship.

    Do you tell a joke with the hope of coming across as funny and charismatic? That’s manipulation. Do you buy someone a gift with the hope that it will win their affection? That’s manipulation. Do you wear a short skirt with the hope of attracting a particular man’s eye? That’s manipulation.

    If that term were removed from the language, I’d be broadly supportive of this new policy.

    • Greek Alum

      What word should be used instead? (not trying to be argumentative, also struggling with what the right word should be)

    • Greek Alum

      I should have withheld my previous comment until I finally found the policy (god forbid the BDH include a link to the actual final report in the article – http://www.brown.edu/web/documents/president/SATF-Final-Report.pdf)

      Since coercion is also in there I’m curious as to what conduct they were thinking of when they chose to also use “manipulation.” Were they trying to get at “under duress” although is that really different from coercion?

      • Vacenza

        The term ‘coercion’ literally means: “To compel by force or threat.” In that sense it is largely synonymous with duress. Though the term is often used much more loosely in the context of university sexual assault policies.

        • Greek Alum

          So do you think manipulation should be removed or replaced?

          • Vacenza

            Removed.

            It serves no purpose other than to make the policy vague and arbitrary.

  • Greek Alum

    “Having someone internal, you can hold them more accountable, because they have a more direct relationship with the University,” she said.

    Wouldn’t someone internal have a greater conflict of interest than someone external though? The University’s priority is its image. Maybe I don’t understand what an “internal” investigator is but if it’s someone employed solely by Brown then unless their job is somehow protected they will always feel pressured to find or not find whatever Brown wants which may not always be the truth.

    • As someone who worked on the task force, this was my perception coming in; I thought internal investigators were likely to be biased. However research has shown that the standards for external investigators at the moment are not high; while they aren’t accountable to internal politics, not being as accountable as a staff member also makes it hard to know if they are doing a good job. Many of them are not. There are many wonderful people in the university who truly care about this issue and would be capable of doing this job, the fact that higher administration is unlikely to be a good investigator doesn’t negate this possibility. Ideally other safeguards put into play by new policy would also decrease any pressures for an investigator to make certain kinds of findings. Anyways, I do agree with your reservation and it’s why there is no clear consensus as to which model is better. Both need to be considered carefully.

      • Greek Alum

        So can an internal investigator essentially have tenure? What are the safeguards that exist to protect the investigator from admin influence? I didn’t see anything about that.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Controlling principle

    Sexual assault is so evil that the facts are to be viewed in the light most favorable to conviction.

    This is a Democrat campaign meme and must be embraced…and we ain’t kiddin’ neither.

    • Greek Alum

      I hope you realize that my comment that you liked above was actually implying that an internal investigator is actually probably less likely to determine a rape happened since then Brown can say “no rapes happen on our campus” much like 32% of college presidents say that rape is a problem on college campuses but only 6% say it’s a problem on their own campus: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/college-presidents-appear-to-be-delusional-about-sexual-assault-on-their-campuses/

      Universities want are only getting on board with these demands because they want people to stop complaining about how bad they are at handling these things. You think the university isn’t going to pressure victims to take the unofficial route? It’s a win win for them. The victim feels like some justice was served and the university gets to claim that no misconduct occurred.

      • ShadrachSmith

        Yep, un-uh, absolutely. It is always easier to lie about data that you control.

        But in the actual university investigations, conducted in large part by the local Feminist Star chambers, in secret…I believe I have distilled the prevailing feminist Social Justice based wisdom…and I hope we agree about that 🙂

        • Greek Alum

          If misconduct hearings were a “feminist star chamber” then last month they would have found the student guilty of raping the girl after a Phi Psi party.

          The University’s agenda is themselves above ALL else. The negative PR storm is over and in the end they booted a frat off campus but didn’t have to punish any individuals and come clery act reporting time don’t have to include this case as a campus rape. That’s a triple win as far as they’re concerned. The university will swing whichever way benefits it most, doesn’t matter to them if that’s making victims suffer or railroading innocent students.

          So overall I do not agree with you.

          • ShadrachSmith

            Jeffrey Neely is the patron saint of all mature bureaucracies, and Brown University is clearly one of those. We agree about all of that.

            The rest of your post was incomprehensible 🙂

      • Trukard

        Thank you for saying that Paxson, Carey, and Klawunn are liars.

  • Student

    This is absolutely frightening. “Research” conducted by two undergrads? They don’t have the first clue what they’re talking about. This is literally institutionalized vigilanteism.

    If you’re a victim, go to the police. You will never get justice from a kangaroo court. Rape and sexual assault are felonies for which those found guilty are imprisoned. And no, being a victim does not grant you any right to subvert the legal system.

    If you’re the accused, go to the police and get a lawyer. If Brown decides you’re guilty despite the facts, sue them.

    • Doc

      Then that would negate their ‘privileged victim status’ .They don’t want to use the legal system because it requires a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to find someone guilty, they prefer emotional judgment which basically works on the following premise:
      Is he a male = yes= guilty
      Is he a white male = guilty without a doubt, case closed.

    • Survivor ’15

      Speaking as someone who was violently assaulted and has friends who went to the police, I’d rather NOT be subjected to the kind of abuse my friends went through at the hands of the police, thanks. Your recommendation to go the police says nothing of potential abuse at the hands of the powerful. I didn’t have the luxury of being able to ignore that, unfortunately.

      We can control our internal policies, which can and should exist. Hopefully this makes them better, because right not they’re not good.

    • An informal resolution isn’t a kangaroo court because it isn’t a court. They are designed for different purposes and therefore the potential sanctions and consequences are different. There are many times when state prosecutors can not or will not take a case to criminal court; these cases take a long time and if there isn’t “blood, bruises, or screaming” involved it is notoriously difficult to find a respondent guilty. In the meantime, what is a student who was assaulted supposed to do? There should be at least some mechanism for them to feel comfortable on campus, no?