Following a year-long effort by student and faculty representatives in the Task Force to Review the Student-to-Student Misconduct Policy, Wellesley College unveiled a new comprehensive Student Sexual Misconduct Policy this summer that establishes an affirmative model for consent and grants fact-finding powers to external investigators in conjunction with the college’s newly-hired Title IX Coordinator, Kathy Stewart.
The policy broadens the scope of influence by Wellesley College in the event and prevention of sexual assault and harassment. According to Assistant Director of Health Education Claudia Trevor-Wright, the document applies to incidents on and off campus and is not limited to incidents involving just Wellesley College students.
“The committee members strove to provide a sort of point of entry into what’s available to you no matter where you find yourself in relation to other students here and at other institutions,” Trevor-Wright said.
While the policy cannot exert judicial influence off campus, it can provide students with confidential resources at Health Services, Stone Center Counseling Services and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life to aid in the reporting process.
The policy aims to encourage reporting of sexual misconduct on campus. According to the Wellesley College Fire and Safety Report of 2014, there were 12 reported sexual offenses on campus between 2011 and 2013.
While this number may reflect a multitude of factors, like the relatively small size of the student body and a unique campus culture, Assistant Director of Resident Life Don Leach says that the previous policy’s reliance on hearings to determine facts was a deterrent for many students wanting to report sexual misconduct.
“The old process involved students. It also involved faculty and for similar reasons, it creates a barrier to students bringing reports or charges forward… We very intentionally removed students and faculty from our process in handling charges,” Leach commented.
The new adjudication process involves both internal and external investigators, which complies with state and federal regulations like Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.
Title IX requires colleges to use impartial investigators to determine facts in a sexual assault or harassment case or else denies federal funding.
The policy also complies with The Campus SaVE Act and the Violence Against Women Act. The Campus SaVE Act requires colleges to provide annual crime and safety reports as well as establishes basic requirements for handling sexual assault and harassment. The Violence Against Women Act heightened the criminal justice system’s response to gender-based crimes such as domestic violence and stalking. However, the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy takes liberties in supplementing legal ambiguities where laws have fallen short, particularly with respect to the standard definition of consent.
Neither Massachusetts law nor federal law establishes a standard definition of consent, leaving Wellesley College the creative freedom to draft its own model. Adopting an affirmative consent model, Wellesley College shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused by applying a “yes means yes” formula to misconduct investigations. The previous, ‘No means no’ formula sought to determine whether the accuser had communicated their unwillingness. Now in order for consent to be granted, parties engaging in sexual activity must communicate “affirmative, voluntary, knowing and continuous agreement,” either verbally or physically. There is no consent if either party is incapacitated.
The president of Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone (SAAFE), Hannah Lipstein ’17, lauds the removal of “No means no” from campus policy as a victory for the crusade against sexual violence on campus, referencing the previous Student-Student Sexual Misconduct Policy’s definition of consent as the absence of coercion.
“A lot of what [the policy] used to be was a very prohibitive model that wasn’t clear on the different ways in which consent could be communicated, so a lot of times we heard this phrase, “No means no.” But a lot of things could also mean no and it’s a very narrow way of looking at consent. There have to be a lot of variables that come into play,” Lipstein said.
Opponents to the “Yes means yes” movement assert that investigators will face difficulties in determining what constitutes as nonverbal communication and will deny the accused of due process, arguing that investigations will focus on proving innocence rather than guilt.
To further encourage students to report sexual misconduct, Wellesley’s policy institutes the “preponderance of the evidence standard” in determining guilt. Favored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, investigations will make conclusions “based upon what is more likely than not to have occurred.” This new standard of proof contrasts with the previous policy, which did not explicitly define what constituted as evidence.
Students seeking assistance, as well as bystanders and witnesses, will be protected under the Responsible Action Clause, which asserts that Wellesley College will “generally waive an Alcohol and Other Drug Policy violation.” Specific instances when violations will not be waived are not mentioned in the document. While the previous Student-Student Sexual Misconduct Policy held this standard as a de facto clause, the document itself did not explicitly state it.
Many students feel that this measure will be conducive to helping students report incidents.
“It’s silly to insist on measures that will just make sexual violence harder to report. After all, if someone thinks they’ll get in trouble for it, of course they’ll just keep quiet. We need to encourage students to be open about sexual experiences, positive or negative,” Lucy Cranston ’19 said.
Absent from the investigation process is a strict timeframe. Accompanied by a rough estimate of 60 days, the duration of an investigation was made intentionally unlimited to ensure the accuracy of investigation.
“It can’t be done in one hearing, it shouldn’t. It takes building trust, which takes time as well,” Leach explained.
The new sexual misconduct policy is particularly notable for its emphasis on pre-reporting as well as post-reporting influence. Community Guidelines, in conjunction with the Honor Code, encourage students to take an active stance in preventing sexual misconduct as participants by “conduct[ing] sexual interactions with honesty, integrity and respect” and by “be[ing] educated, empowered and engaged in preventing sexual misconduct” as bystanders.
According to Trevor-Wright, the policy was designed to function as a “teaching document” that defines terminology and prohibited conduct as well as outlines confidential support resources available to students.
“We always tried to write a policy that we could teach from. When we’re training student leaders, all we need to look at is our policy because that’s going to cover the most important things that people need to know,” said Trevor-Wright.
Bringing the policy’s educational prevention strategy to light, SAAFE organized a student-led effort during Remix last Friday to educate Wellesley students and guests about consent at Wellesley and initiated a campus-wide discussion about healthy and legal sexual.
Photo by Bianca Pichamuthu ’16, Photo Editor