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Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy, and Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, sent a Feb. 21 campus-wide email detailing amended sanctions against the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, an organization previously found responsible for facilitating an environment in which a student was served a drink laced with the date-rape drug GHB. Carey and Klawunn previously announced in a Jan. 19 community-wide email that following a formal appeals process and an independent laboratory test that confirmed the drug’s presence in a student’s system, Phi Psi would be stripped of recognition and housing in Sears House for four years. In the Feb. 21 email, the administration walked back its previous absolute statements, finding, based on other evidence, “a very strong likelihood” the students were given alcohol “and/or” a drug. Phi Psi will be allowed to petition for recognition in May 2017.


Despite the merits of a transparent administration, the University’s handling of the Phi Psi case exposes its relative incompetence in properly addressing the ever-pressing issue of sexual assault and alcohol consumption on campus. While the implementation of the Sexual Assault Task Force’s interim recommendations and review of alcohol policy do indeed mark great strides toward a safer campus environment, President Christina Paxson’s P’19 administration does not appear to have gained a solid footing as of yet. It remains a reactive entity rather than a proactive one. The recent developments in the Phi Psi case bolster this claim.


Within a media landscape that has grown increasingly focused on the issue of sexual assault, the University was misguided in publicly releasing findings that were apparently not properly confirmed. Indeed, in the Jan. 19 email, Carey noted that there were new questions about the tests and that sanctions could be altered “after a thorough and final review of the physical evidence.” Why not wait four weeks, keeping the organization on strict suspension, until all tests had been completed and confirmed?


While it is incredibly important for the University to set a strict standard on the matter, these policies and punishments must be rooted in tangible evidence in order for them to be sustainable in practice. In Saturday’s email, Carey and Klawunn noted that “the laboratory test was only one piece of evidence,” but they have not yet provided other sources or testimony. Privacy is important in sensitive cases, but so is trust in the judicial process. Without conclusive evidence presented to the public, many are likely to see the amended punishment as admission of a wrongful conviction. Either Phi Psi administered drugs, in which case it should be suspended for four years, or it did not, in which case it should be punished only for the unregistered party. There is no middle ground.


We cannot keep reacting to issues of sexual assault and alcohol consumption as though they are new to college campuses. The review process should not appear as though administrators and the Student Conduct Board are fumbling through circumstantial evidence and then formulating arbitrary punishments. Why do we not have clear sentencing and transparency guidelines for these crimes that regularly occur on college campuses, including Brown? If we continue issuing punishments this way, trust in the University’s disciplinary process will evaporate.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Baxter DiFabrizio ’15. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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