Following the guidance of the White House and the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of Student Conduct introduced several changes to Georgetown’s sexual misconduct policy last week.
Hearing panels in sexual misconduct cases, which previously included three faculty or staff members and two students, will now consist of two faculty or staff members and one student in order to limit the number of people involved.
Additionally, the university plans to hire outside investigators to look into all complaints prior to conducting a hearing. Previously, sexual misconduct hearings were conducted in the same manner as hearings for other breaches of the code of conduct.
“I really like [the changes] because it looks like what they are doing is that they are trying to standardize a lot of the reporting process and making it less subjective and trying to create a more supportive environment,” Sexual Assault Peer Educator Haley Maness (NHS ’15) said.
The White House created a Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault last January and the Task Force has since issued recommendations for effectively responding to sexual assault incidents and for sexual assault prevention.
The new changes in the sexual assault policy arose after students and faculty members expressed concerns at a forum last spring about Georgetown not having a survivor-centered conduct process.
“A lot of the changes were based on commitments that were made during the Sexual Assault Forum in April,” Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) said. “What the summer provided us with was an opportunity to take stock of all of that was said and figure out what it would look like when we rolled out [the changes] in the fall.”
Under the new policy, survivors of sexual assault can avoid coming face-to-face with their perpetrators during their hearings through the use of closed-circuit video technology. The incorporation of this technology, which has already taken effect, is an effort on the part of the university to make the conduct process more survivor-centered.
“[The cameras] are immediately ready to go, and that will be part of cases going forward,” Tezel said.
In addition to these changes to the student code of conduct, the Division of Student Affairs’ Sexual Assault Working Group has developed a Survivor Bill of Rights. This document serves as a resource to inform survivors of their rights both at Georgetown and at the national level and outlines the sexual misconduct process for both complainants and respondents.
“We are preparing an email that will go out this week about the Survivor Bill of Rights,” Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson said. “It will go out to all students on the main campus and will outline the steps, some of the resources, and will include a link to the Survivor Bill of Rights.”
While the updated code of conduct and the increased resources mark a significant change in the university’s sexual misconduct policy, students and administrators have expressed their hope to see continued conversation with both students and faculty and staff at Georgetown.
“One thing that I recently have found to be really important is seeing faculty members get trained,” Maness said. “Oftentimes when you are in college, you feel a little lost, so you find an adult that can guide you through a difficult time; a lot of the time, you would go to a faculty member about [an issue].”
Last year, the Title IX Office offered training sessions to about 500 Georgetown faculty and staff.
“The Title IX office is ramping up to do a similarly ambitious program this year, so that it reaches a whole lot of individuals that work with students,” Olson said. “There is currently not a program for faculty and staff that is like ‘I Am Ready,’ but this Title IX training is probably the most focused training that directly addresses these issues.”
Beyond these trainings, students are pushing for clearer explanations of who is a mandatory reporter and who is a confidential resource on Georgetown’s campus. Mandatory reporters are administrators, faculty members and staff members who are required to report any student disclosure of sexual assault to the Title IX Office. Sexual Trauma Specialist Erica Shirley is the confidential resource in Counseling and Psychiatric Services, while Sexual Assault and Health Issues Coordinator Jen Schweer and Sexual Assault Services Specialist Bridget Sherry are confidential resources in Health Education Services. Certain faculty members and religious leaders are also designated as confidential resources.
The Women’s Center and the LGBTQ Resource Center are designated as safe spaces, meaning that student disclosures of sexual assault are submitted to the Title IX Office for statistical purposes, but personal information is not released.
“I would love to see it included on syllabi because it means that professors would understand their role and students would understand it, too. It is not necessarily a bad thing that they are mandatory reports. All it means is that they have to let someone else know so that numbers can be reported and that the survivors can have all of the resources necessary,” Maness said. “For me, one of the worst things possible is for a survivor to go to a professor and to disclose and to be surprised when that professor has to tell someone else.”
Formal conversations about sexual assault occurred New Student Orientation this year, as Sexual Assault Peer Educators led discussions about affirmative consent and bystander behavior.
Additionally, student activists and faculty and staff members are looking to improve the sexual assault conversation on Georgetown’s campus through events like “What’s A Hoya,” the freshman-oriented lifestyle program.
“The great thing about ‘What’s A Hoya’ is that we can get a large group of people in one room, but the challenge that you have to work with is that a lot of these conversations should not be taking place in a large lecture hall, so we need to be very conscious of size and what resources on the student side there might be to facilitate smaller group discussions,” Tezel said.