Campus Dialogue Addresses Sexual Misconduct Policy
March 3, 2013 Leave a comment
Additional Reporting Courtesy of SGA Senate Minutes:
On Wed. Feb. 20, President Sanford Ungar addressed the social media frenzy, acts of vigilante justice and questions raised about Goucher’s sexual misconduct policy. More than 100 community members consisting of faculty, staff, students and senior staff were in attendance in the Hyman Forum at the Student Government Association (SGA) Senate meeting.
The discussion consisted of a large question and answer dialogue between students and Ungar, mediated by Dashell Fittry ‘13, SGA President. The meeting, which was originally scheduled to be a discussion focusing on Goucher’s new internship policy, quickly evolved into an emotional community dialogue.
“We are totally open to a public discussion of this policy,” said Ungar. “We’ve done this several times over the years. No policy can really be tested until it has been put into place.”
On the Tuesday before the Senate meeting, Ungar sent out a community-wide email in response to the aggressive social media postings on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, in addition to acts that would later be referred to as vigilante justice, consisting of posters spreading around campus bulletin boards and sliding under dormitory room doors.
“I’m assuming that people read my email…and I hope you read it carefully…This is not the Wild West frontier where people were put in stocks, or pilloried, or stoned in public; this is a civilized place where we try to do things in a proper, orderly, procedural manner,” he said. “But we’re also not a criminal court, so we do not convict anybody of anything. We find them responsible and not responsible for offenses of which they’ve been accused,” Ungar continued.
During the dialogue, several questions were raised in regards to the process of investigation and sanctions issued following a formal complaint of sexual misconduct.
“I can’t answer [the] questions ‘How much sexual assault is enough?’ or, ‘What kind of sexual assault qualifies for penalties to be more serious,’” said Ungar. “I can only tell you that the people who have been involved in investigating these complaints have been trained to be fair, they have been trained to be dispassionate, to listen well, and to try to make people comfortable,” Ungar said.
In his email, Ungar also explained the current process that proceeds a formal complaint of sexual misconduct.
“We can’t just listen to one side– we have to hear what various people have to say… An accusation is not tantamount to being convinced that something necessarily took place, so there has to be some kind of process, there has to be some fairness in that process…I think that any process like this has to be transparent,” Ungar continued.
Regarding those who sit on the appeals panel for sexual misconduct policy breaches, Ungar noted, “The people are not paid…They’re not doing it for self aggrandizement or anything of the sort. They’re doing it because they are trying to serve the college in the most sincere, effective way possible and if that’s not working then we need to do something about it.”
In response to the frustrations surrounding the sexual misconduct policy, a campus group called Feminonymous was formed earlier this semester.
“I want to be clear that we do not encourage or condone the vigilante acts that have occurred on campus or online,” said Monica Mainville ‘14, the leader of Feminonymous. “We are not concerned with the specific cases that brought this to us, but instead what happens after a party is found responsible for sexual misconduct. We are requesting a revision that will implement refined classifications of sexual misconduct and clearly state the sanctions attached,” she stated.
Cynthia Terry, Goucher College’s Chaplain, provided further comment after senate.
“I am glad that we are talking about these important issues around sexual assault,” she said. “Many people have been working on these issue for a long time, and we are so glad to have broader input and conversation.”
Also addressed were allegations about the current policy discouraging students from coming forward with sexual misconduct accusations.
“I would not tolerate any policy, any implementation of any policy that had an implication or an effect of intimidating people or discouraging people from coming forward and seeking justice,” said Ungar. “If our policy now does that, I am determined to fix it with your help and with the help of anyone else in the community who cares to participate,” Ungar concluded.
In a follow up email sent on Feb. 25th, Ungar introduced the creation of a new task force of students, faculty and staff. A series of “focus groups,” according to Ungar, will also be implemented. “A critical part of this process will be to improve methods to prevent sexual misconduct on campus,” Ungar mentioned. “I believe that the task force and focus groups will play a vital role in educating the community and helping us accomplish this goal.”
“For those who are themselves survivors of sexual assault, and for their friends, these past days may have been triggering, and certainly very difficult,” said Terry. “We have great counselors, chaplain, and rabbi, who are all confidential sources of support. Turnaround is nearby and offers individual support as well as group support.”