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Community questions sexual assault policies

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

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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