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Legal Scholar Tackles Sexual Misconduct Policies

By Grace Hitzeman

Gill Gualtieri ’12 presented her Summer Legal Scholars research project on college sexual misconduct policies on Friday, Oct. 14 to the Kenyon Athletic Center theatre. Gualtieri’s project was entitled “Writing Sexual Misconduct: Articulation, Enforcement, and Revision Pattern for Sexual Misconduct Policies at GLCA Institutions as Related to State Laws.” The College is a member of the GLCA (Great Lakes Colleges Association) and its sexual misconduct policy is due for review by the Campus Senate this year.

“In March, Yale University was experiencing an investigation by the Office for Civil Rights [OCR] for failing to address a hostile environment,” Gualtieri said. “The game completely changed.

“[Sexual misconduct] policies serve a dual purpose of protecting students in the specific social environment they serve and keeping colleges legal in terms of institutional liability.”

Colleges consult the Cleary Act and the Office of Civil Rights when writing sexual misconduct policies. They must submit a report of crime statistics to the department of education, and they have to keep a crime log. The Cleary Act gives sexual assault victims a bill of rights, which is often replicated in college policies. Most importantly, Gualtieri said, “OCR emphasizes that if anything is reported, you have to investigate.”

Gualtieri also referenced a “hook-up culture.” “The ambiguity of the hook-up culture leads to a culture of silence,” she said, but “policies rely on reporting.” The 2000 National College Women’s Victimization survey found that one in five college women will experience completed or attempted sexual assault during her undergraduate years, but only 5 percent of these assaults were reported.

“Alcohol plays a big role in the hook-up script,” Gualtieri said. “There are huge social ramifications, especially at small colleges where ambiguity is nearly impossible for reporting an issue of sexual misconduct,” she added.

The idea of consent is part of most policies. “Some schools have very explicit ideas of what consent is … but there was no pattern of defining consent for all the colleges,” Gualtieri said.

During the process of writing a policy, “administrators are grappling with this tension between legal factors and social factors,” Gualtieri said. “The Office of Civil Rights requires that every single report of sexual misconduct that is presented to an administrative office … must be investigated.”

Administrators also grapple with gossip. “One of the major frustrations voiced by administrators is the rumor mill, especially at small college campuses,” Gualtieri said.

Kenyon began reviewing its sexual misconduct policy this year, and Gualtieri is serving on the board to perform this task. “I think that in terms of Kenyon’s policies, these Office for Civil Rights investigations and regulations are going to have to potentially be amended into the policy,” she said. “Right now, we have this mediation element of our policy, which under current OCR … standards can’t happen anymore. You can’t mediate a violent crime.

“Mediation means that if sexual assault were to occur and the student goes to report it, a student can say, ‘I don’t want to start an investigation. … I want to talk to this person in a structured way,'” Gualtieri said.

Kenyon’s mediation option is still available, but administrators plan to alert any interested students of its possible problems.

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