Sexual Misconduct Policy and Process Dialogue with Panel Members

Missy Ballinghoff
Co-Editor-in-Chief

On March 5, students, senior staff, and Public Safety gathered in Kelly Lecture Hall for a discussion about the sexual misconduct policy and process. Also in attendance were two members of the sexual misconduct policy panel, La Jerne Terry Cornish and Michael O’Leary. The discussion was one of many follow-up meetings following the SGA senate meeting on Feb. 20.

Cornish, Associate Professor of Education and TITLE, and Michael O’Leary, Vice President for Enrollment Management have served on the sexual misconduct panel for three years. O’Leary is the chair of the sexual misconduct panel, and Cornish is a member of the sexual misconduct panel.
Throughout the discussion, Cornish and O’Leary answered questions regarding the policy and process, clarifying misconceptions and highlighting areas within the policy that need to be revisited.

The sexual misconduct policy was created in 2003 and has been revisited in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012. The policy itself is viewed as a “living-breathing document,” that has allowed past revision each year, and will continue to allow future discussions to continue, according to O’Leary.

“I think part of the reason we are here, and revisiting the policy is because of the social media aspect we haven’t dealt with before,” said O’Leary at the beginning of the discussion, in reference to the social media uproar regarding two recent sexual misconduct cases at Goucher.

The basic process of reviewing a sexual misconduct case was reviewed during the meeting. After a complaint regarding sexual misconduct is filed by either a student, faculty or staff member, the complaint goes straight to the members on the panel. The next business day, a printed letter of notification is sent to the complainant and the accused from O’Leary regarding the accusation.

The letter contains a copy of the complaint, rights for the accused and complainant, and notification for both parties that they can go to the authorities. Two investigators are then appointed to the complaint: one male, and one female. The investigators write a detailed report with their recommended results for the panel. The sexual misconduct panel then meets and discusses the results. Both parties can request a meeting with the panel and are allowed to bring a third party for support.
“We keep this very confidential to avoid it spreading across the community and due to FERPA confidentiality laws,” said O’Leary.

All of the investigators and panel members go through special training in order to be part of the sexual misconduct policy process.

“When you think about the legal system, if someone is raped, call the police immediately…But our policy is not a legal system,” said Cornish. “If someone is violated during their freshman year and doesn’t feel comfortable making the complaint, then they can come back and make a complaint later…our policy allows you to make a complaint within four years,” stated Cornish.

There are no mandatory sanctions defined within the policy itself, rather, sanction guidelines are outlined. This allows the panel to decide on sanctions case by case.
“This is tough stuff. We are dealing with human beings, whatever occurred with two people occurred behind closed doors, with those two people,” O’Leary responded in regards to the panel members’ training. If there is any personal relationship between a panel member and party involved with the complaint, complainant or accused, the panel members excuse themselves from that particular case.

“We are asked to determine if the sexual misconduct policy was violated,” said Cornish. “Every case, our primary question is whether the policy was violated. If the answer is ‘yes’ then we go through the possible sanctions.” Both Cornish and O’Leary expressed past struggles with the wide range and flexibility in sanctions available.

Several people present helped clarify the difference between Goucher’s sexual misconduct policy and process, and the legal system and proceedings. Cornish and O’Leary both stressed that throughout the process, both parties are given the opportunity to go to authorities outside of Goucher.

“This is hard work and we do this for the love of students,” said Cornish. “When Michael and I started this we didn’t meet often. The policy is working. People are complaining. People are coming forward…We have the safety of every student at heart in our decisions.”

Another discussion with Professors Nsenga Burton, Seble Dawit, and David Zurawik will focus on social media frenzy and slander. The date and time for this panel has not been announced yet.

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