Letter from W. Rochelle Calhoun
Dean of Student Affairs
April 29, 2010
Dear Members of the Skidmore College Community,
A week ago the Sexual Assault Task Force held an open information session to inform the community about the work of the task force since it began meeting in September, 2009 and to listen closely to the concerns of members of the community. Thank you to those of you who were able to attend. As the Task Force—and members of the Skidmore community—we were grateful for the level of candid sharing and humbled by the passionate expressions of both concern and conviction. We especially want to acknowledge the courage that it took for members of this community to share their stories. It was not an easy or comfortable gathering. But, it was an important beginning to the community dialogue necessary to change the culture of silence that surrounds sexual assault and acquaintance rape on college campuses and at Skidmore.
The Task Force set hearing the concerns of the community as its highest priority for this first meeting on April 27th, 2010. However, at the meeting and since the meeting, we have heard from some of you how frustrating it was at times not to have answers. While we don't have all the answers yet, we are writing this letter to the community to acknowledge that we did hear your voices and concerns. The Task Force hopes that this letter reflects what we heard at the community meeting and articulates more clearly what the Task Force has done and will do in the future.
What the Sexual Assault Task Force heard at the community meeting about the problem and possible solutions:
- Sexual assault and acquaintance rape are a serious problem on college campuses and Skidmore is no exception; community members report that they often do not report these incidents because of fear and uncertainty about how the allegations will be handled if it is reported.
- Community members believe that our current system for the reporting and resolution of sexual assault cases on campus is not working.
- Survivors of sexual assault who choose to go through the disciplinary hearing process need options that allow for them not to be in the same physical space as the accused.
- Skidmore needs to establish a "zero tolerance" culture on the issue of sexual assault.
- Faculty voices are critical to the conversation if real institutional change is to occur.
- The current standard of proof, "clear and convincing", creates undue burden for the complainant.
- Skidmore College has an opportunity to be a leader in higher education on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.
- Skidmore's values and high expectations for community behavior should dictate how we address sexual assault on campus and not the policies and practices of the criminal court system.
- The college should clarify and communicate how sexual assault issues are handled over the summer.
- Everyone handling a sexual assault report, including the conduct hearing board, needs to have special training.
- Men in the community need to be involved in the conversation; this is not just a problem for women to address. Some male students on campus have an attitude that encourages a culture of behavior that permits sexual misconduct.
- Campus Safety alerts to the community about incidents on campus should not perpetuate but challenge core assumptions about personal responsibility. Messages such as—"don't walk home alone" can be read as blaming the victim, especially if they are not paired with messages directed at potential perpetrators.
- FYE Scribner Seminars offer an opportunity to begin early discussions about sexual assault.
- Continuing the open discussion about sexual assault is important and this meeting was just a beginning.
The Sexual Assault Task Force was created in September, 2009 by the Student Affairs Subcommittee of the Institutional Policy and Planning Committee (IPPC) to do a comprehensive review of the current sexual assault policies and procedures and to make changes (and/or recommendations for changes) that improve the process. That review is complete and the implementation for change has begun.
What the Sexual Assault Task Force has done and is planning to do:
- At its first meeting, the Task Force established four working groups to review the sexual assault policies, procedures and community education.
- Report intake
- Case management
- Conduct hearing process
- Community dialogue and education
- The chair of the Sexual Assault Task Force gave regular updates to the Student Affairs Subcommittee of the IPPC throughout the fall and spring semesters.
- Comprehensive training of all who handle sexual assault reports will be conducted by Saunie Schuster, a partner in the Ohio-based law firm of Schuster & Clifford, LLP, and former faculty member and associate dean of student affairs at Ohio State University. Ms. Schuster is recognized as a leading national expert on the issues of sexual assault on college campuses.
- Several members of the Task Force and current conduct hearing board members attended a webinar, "Moving Beyond Discipline" by Professor Peter F. Lake of Stetson University College of Law. We are also planning to attend a two-day conference at UAlbany in June, "Effective Responses to Sexual Assault on College Campuses: Putting the Pieces Together."
- Building on the primary prevention efforts that are already in place on campus (such as the Red Zone and other efforts of the Office of Health Promotions and the Center for Sex and Gender Relations), the student members of the Task Force held a student focus group discussion about consensual sexual relationships/rights and responsibilities. This discussion will frame one of the continuing dialogues in the fall.
- Building on the current structure, a sexual assault response team will be established and trained by May 30, 2010. That team will include:
- *An advocate for both parties (new)
- Two representatives from the Center for Sex and Gender Relations
- Two specially-trained Campus Safety Officers
- Representatives from Health Services
- Representatives from Counseling Services
- A campus conduct administrator
- Specially-trained members of the Administrative Hearing Board
- By June 1, 2010, a letter from the dean of student affairs will go out to all students living on campus this summer to inform them of the sexual assault policies and campus and community resources (including the names of the new sexual assault response team).
- To discuss way to increase the engagement of faculty on this topic, the task force will meet with key members of our community. Our first meeting is scheduled for May, 4, 2010. Leslie Mechem, Co- Director of Gender Studies, Winston Grady-Willis, Director for Intercultural Studies, Jen Burden, Director of Health Promotions, and Beau Breslin, Assistant Dean of the Faculty/Director of FYE have agreed to join us.
- The Task Force has asked that our consultant, Saunie Schuster and our college counsel review with us three specific areas of our current conduct hearing process:
- Complainant's options to present testimony without being in the presence of the accused if this is the complainant's choice.
- The appropriate standards of proof in campus conduct hearings.
- The appropriate conduct hearing proceedings for sexual assault cases.
- The Task Force will produce a draft version of revised sexual assault policies and procedures this summer, which will be open to review and comment by the Skidmore community in the fall before it is finalized.
Though Thursday's meeting was difficult, the Task Force appreciates the dialogue that was created and is committed to working to create a campus environment where community members feel safe and a part of a community that does not tolerate sexual assault and acquaintance rape. We look forward to continuing our work together with you.
The Sexual Assault Task Force
Director of Clinical Services, Health Center
W. Rochelle Calhoun
Dean of Student Affairs
Health Educator, Counseling Center
Director, Campus Safety
Visiting Assistant Professor, Government
Don Hastings, chair
Associate Dean of Student Affairs/Director of Campus Life
Associate Dean of Student Affairs/Director of Campus Life & Associate Professor of Sociology
Community Coordinator, Residential Life
Ralph Peer '10
Director, Counseling Center
Gemma Striker '10
*The Advocate will be an administrator or faculty member appointed by the dean of student affairs to support a student involved in sexual misconduct. Advocates will be available to both the complainant and the respondent. Advocates will be trained, knowledgeable, neutral and empowered. They will listen, believe, support, refer, empower, inform and help the student throughout the process.