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University News

Community questions sexual assault policies

Petition urging revision of policies gathers almost 2,600 signatures ahead of BUCC meeting

Metro Editor
Thursday, April 24, 2014

President Christina Paxson proposed breaking the Code of Student Conduct review into separate pieces to “fast track” the sexual assault policy review process at a Brown University Community Council meeting Wednesday.

The day after Lena Sclove ’15.5 publicly revealed the details of her alleged rape and experiences with the University disciplinary hearing process, students circulated a petition Wednesday urging the University to revise its sexual assault policies with more stringent penalties for students found responsible for sexual misconduct.

The petition, which was initiated by Emma Hall ’16, was distributed on campus and online starting at 11 a.m., and five hours later, nearly 2,600 signatures had been collected, Hall said.

Hall presented the petition at Wednesday’s Brown University Community Council meeting, which aimed to highlight the University’s sexual misconduct policy as a “point of discussion,” according to a campus-wide email sent Tuesday by Margaret Klawunn, interim dean of the College and vice president for campus life and student services.

The petition asked that “Brown requires that anyone found responsible for sexual misconduct be suspended until the person they have assaulted graduates, or until two years have passed” ­— whichever is longer, according to the text of the petition.

“We’re not here waiting to hear words. We hear words everyday about how Brown cares and how Brown won’t tolerate sexual assault, but it clearly does tolerate sexual assault,” Hall said at the council meeting. “We are here for action, and we’re not going to step down until we see it.”

Tuesday evening after her press conference, Sclove created a public Facebook group entitled “Justice for Lena and Survivors Everywhere,” which has already accumulated more than 1,500 members.

Much of the planning for the petition, including activism at the University’s A Day on College Hill event and the council meeting, happened publicly online, said Daphne Xu ’14, one of the organizers in the Facebook group.

Sclove “told the group of students (at the press conference) that we could use her story for change,” Xu said. “There’s a lot of momentum, and we wanted to show the school how serious we are.”

Students debated on the Facebook group about how they wanted to present the issue to prospective students at ADOCH. They eventually decided to print paper versions of the petition to collect ADOCH participants’ signatures and to hold signs displaying phrases such as “I don’t want to graduate with a rapist” at prominent locations around campus for prospective students and their families to see.

“We in no way want to harm prefrosh or use prefrosh as collateral,” said Xu, who collected signatures from ADOCH participants in Faunce Arch. The activists engaged with prospective students on an issue about which they should know and in which many of them are interested, she said.

“The people who would want to go to this school care about this,” Hall said.

Jim Miller ’73, dean of admission, wrote a letter addressing the efforts that was distributed among ADOCH participants. “During your time on campus, you may hear from students on any range of issues, and particularly from students who are advocating for modifications to the University’s sexual assault policies and sanctioning standards,” he wrote. “Students are vital to policy deliberation and debate at Brown, and the University actively supports the free and open exchange of ideas, which sometimes takes the form of protest.”

The letter also incorporated a copy of the campus-wide email sent by Klawunn Tuesday, including the details of the council meeting.

At the council meeting in Brown/RISD Hillel, President Christina Paxson addressed a crowded room of faculty members, administrators and students, many of whom held up signs about Lena’s story and University sexual assault policy.

Sexual misconduct “is something we all have been and will continue to be concerned with,” Paxson said.

“We cannot discuss individual cases, and we also can’t re-adjudicate cases that have come through the system. But we can focus on what we do to improve our policies and processes, and that’s why we want to hear from the community today,” Klawunn said.

In particular, the University will solicit community input on revisions to the Code of Student Conduct, which are slated to be finalized in spring 2015, she added.

The University is obligated by its own policies to review the Code of Student Conduct every five years, Klawunn said. The most recent review, which began in 2009 and was adopted in May 2011, involved “a lot of student input” and resulted in “some very substantive changes, particularly for sexual misconduct,” she said.

During that revision, the student conduct code was altered so as to outline two separate levels of offense for sexual misconduct: (3a) “sexual misconduct that involves non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature” and (3b) “sexual misconduct that includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force or injury.” The Student Conduct Board — a group of students, deans and faculty members charged with holding and reviewing University disciplinary hearings — was also formed, restructuring the hearings process.

The committee charged with reviewing and recommending changes to the Code of Student Conduct “is going to reflect the different constituencies of the community” and will include faculty members, deans, administrators, undergraduates, graduate students, medical students and other advisers, said Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio, associate dean of student life.

This spring, the committee will form and hold initial meetings, Castillo-Appollonio said. It will finalize its recommendations to present to the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, in spring 2015, she said.

In particular, the committee will consider questions about negotiated agreements, sexual misconduct, investigations, hearings, sanctions, appeals processes and separation — especially whether the policy for cases of harassment or sexual misconduct should be excluded from general University policy on separation, which allows students who are suspended or expelled to remain on campus during an appeals process, Castillo-Appollonio said.

“This sounds terribly legalistic,” Paxson said. “It’s codes, it’s policies, and I think what that disguises is what we really aspire to be for this University,” she said. “We want a campus that feels safe for everybody, and that’s a shared value I think for everyone in this room.”

“We want a system that is sensitive and fair and just when these cases do arrive,” Paxson added.

Women Peer Counselor Alexandra Sepolen ’16 said she knows two first-year students were sexually assaulted this academic year, and “when they sought out resources on this campus, they were not believed.”

Sepolen added that the victims went to the Department of Public Safety, where officers allegedly told them “they were asking for it” because they were intoxicated at the time of their assaults.

“I don’t want students to be let down, because they do not deserve that,” she said.

Other students raised concerns about the standards for expulsion of sexual assault perpetrators.

“Most students on this campus are not rapists,” said Maggie Jordan ’16. But by refusing to remove the small group of perpetrators from Brown, “we are continuing to put all people on this campus at risk.”

“Evidently strangling a student and raping her is not enough to get expelled,” said Chelsea Feuchs ’14, referring to Sclove’s remarks at her press conference. “I’d like to know what conditions you have to meet.”

Justice Gaines ’16 criticized the restrictive appeals process, which must occur in a short time frame and requires new evidence or a procedural error in the hearings, he said.

“We should be thinking more about the victim and less about the perpetrator,” Gaines said. “Perpetrators should not be allowed back on campus before their victims graduate,” or better yet, should be expelled, Gaines said, adding that “Brown is not brave enough to go that far.”

Klawunn responded by suggesting that a standard sanction policy would be an important addition to University policy.

Paxson introduced the idea of breaking the review of the Code of Student Conduct into pieces in order to “fast-track” the sexual assault policy review.

“I could see your faces when you saw the timeline that said we’ll come to decisions … a year from now,” Paxson said.

Klawunn and Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey said they thought reviewing the sexual misconduct policy and procedures before the rest of the Code of Student Conduct would be feasible.

Following the meeting, Noah Lupica ’16 said he thought the idea of fast-tracking the review of sexual assault policy ahead of the review of other parts of the Code of Student Conduct was important. “How we hold (administrators) accountable I think is the question,” he said.

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  1. GirlAgainstIllogicalFeminists says:

    Paxson is unfairly being criticized as ‘worse than Ruth’ on these issues or worse than other universities- this isn’t true at all. Many schools have sexual assault policies similar to Brown’s, and Ruth had her fair share of poorly handled sexual assault cases. They were different, in that one in particular (will mccormick- beth dresdale case) gained national fame for most likely punishing a student who didn’t rape the alleged victim- the McCormick was sent back to his hometown without a hearing, trial, or any physical evidence against him- because Dresdale’s father was a billionaire who had donated heaps of money to the university and intervened with any semblance of a fair trial. It was later uncovered that Beth Dresdale had made false accusations of sexual harassment against a high school science teacher who caught her cheating on a test. Ruth’s administration was hardly better- punishing the victim is bad, but so is punishing likely innocent students.

    I felt that Paxson was unduly criticized for Ray Kelly as well- students overstepped boundaries by going into the lecture and preventing those of us who wanted to listen to him, and perhaps talk to him about stop and frisk from doing so. Under Kelly, NYC’s crime rates dropped dramatically (look at the 1970s-80s vs. now), in part because of Kelly’s emphasis on preventative policing. He did do some good things from New York- my family has strong ties to the city, and we talk about the times in the 80s when it was incredibly unsafe to venture into Harlem, which it no longer is generally. Those students deserved to be punished- many people wanted to hear what he had to say, or debate his policies. Jenni Li and her cohorts prevented him from doing that.

    • Lone Proponent of Justice says:

      PS a few quotes from reader comments on an article that’s actually really good on the Mccormick case. helps prove my point that Ruth’s admin should never have let this case go anywhere, let alone expel the guy without a hearing:
      (all from:

      John Doe Anonymous

      June 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      ‘I attended Bronxville High School with Beth Dresdale and I must say that it is beyond ridiculous what occurred before she attended Brown. The science teacher who was dismissed because of her accusations occasionally made inappropriate jokes, but never said anything that would offend someone or even remotely be interpreted as sexual harassment. Even though there was no evidence supporting Beth’s claim, her family took action and the teacher was dismissed. I was not surprise to hear that Beth pulled the same stunt later in her life. She is simply that type of person. While we will never know whether she is telling the truth, it is the opinion of this writer that she is a compulsive liar who is very dangerous. Given the character of the teacher and his commitment to learning, it seems impossible that her claim would be true. I will, and most of my peers, will never speak with her again because of the fear of being accused of a crime. My heart is with the accused man who was dismissed at Brown.’

      and another:


      December 9, 2012 at 5:15 am

      One of my good buddies at Brown, an incredibly nice, shy, and normal guy, got accused of raping a girl spring of his freshman year. All that happened is they were both drunk, and she couldn’t take the fact that she had slept in the same bed with him when she was sober in the morning. She called rape, and with NO evidence against him, gone for a year. After not seeing him for 1 1/2 years, I was a junior and our friendship was never the same. It traumatized him to the max, I can’t even imagine. Once again, a rape case that never got reported to the police? WTF!’

      Brown’s sexual assault policy needs reworking, and has for a very long time.

  2. So far, most comments regarding sexual assault pretty much fall into one of the following categories:
    1) “Brown is not addressing this correctly. She was raped, and he must face justice.”
    2) “His side of the story is not represented! This is a lynch mob, and vigilantes have no right to enforce justice.”
    3) “Let’s compare this case to previous sexual assaults and rapes from years ago…” (even though the similarities might be sparse).
    4) “Let’s compare this universities with other universities…”

    But why hasn’t anyone stopped to question the culture from which this arose? Why not examine the hook-up culture without dating, without relationships, without courtship? Isn’t that what these two engaged in before the rape? Wasn’t the case below by “GuysGetScrewed” a product of this culture? Wasn’t Adam Lack a product of this as well? Has anyone noticed that these hook ups almost always occur in the context of alcohol or parties with alcohol? Why is everyone so oblivious to this?

    Maybe we should change “no means no.”

    Rather our new adage should be, “No AND Yes means no. Even if she is sober.”

    What’s wrong with a date with girl without alcohol and without going to bed? What’s wrong with just enjoying a movie, dinner at paragon, and talking? What’s wrong with dressing up and enjoying a clean evening? Is there anything wrong with spending the evening admiring her pretty curly blonde hair? What’s wrong waking up the next morning thinking about love?

    Is that so repulsive that the preference should be for drunken carnality with the odor of Jack Daniels and vomit? Should we unilaterally prefer waking up the next morning with that awful feeling of a hangover and that sinking feeling of dirtiness? Oh yeah, and you have to wash that stain on your shirt?

    Honestly, has anything good ever come out of any hook ups? Look back, and honestly ask, when has anything good come out of this… ever? Are there any BDH articles with guys or girls raving about how their grades went up because of hooking up? Has anyone discovered how their depression or anxiety issues heretofore undiagnosed is now suddenly cured because of hooking up?

    Before I went to college, my parents told me that when there’s a lot of drinking on a college, it really means there’s *nothing else to do.* When someone is promiscuous, it really means s/he never received a lot of love and/or attention. (i use both genders here deliberately).

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