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.