Last Thursday night, March 20, in Chapman Auditorium, the Student Government Association, Greek Council, and the President’s Office sponsored the Sexual Assault Forum, where Saundra Schuster, a partner at the National Center for Higher Education and Risk Management (NCHERM), addressed the history behind current sexual assault policies and where the university plans to go in the future in relation to risk.
David Tuttle, dean of students and vice president for student affairs, began the discussion by recapping topics discussed at the Sexual Assault Forum that took place earlier this semester.
“At the previous forum, we spent a lot of time talking about policy and procedures and trying to make sure people had accurate information about things that were taking place. We looked back a little bit. My hope for this evening is that we can look forward from where we’re at, and this is hopefully an ongoing dialogue,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle updated the audience on the changes already put forth by the administration. Some changes include moving toward an investigative process in dealing with accusations and adjusting the appeals process to better correct procedural errors. There was also mention of including more information about sexual assault policy and procedures in New Student Orientation.
“One of the students from the last forum talked about why our procedure doesn’t include a statement about past behavior from the parties involved. We have now drafted some language from our consultant that we’re adding to the policy,” Tuttle said.
Schuster explained in detail why the desires of some of those requesting changes to the policy cannot be made, such as changing the punishment for being found guilty to immediate expulsion from the university. Schuster explained that this policy, when carried out by universities in the United States before, lead to a massive decrease in the number of assaults reported, with victims believing that the policy gave them no say in the result of their assault, and the accused feeling as if they were not given due process. Schuster explained that there is a delicate balance between sentencing those who are found guilty and maintaining the rights and interests of both parties fairly.
“As a victim, that individual is entitled to have some say on the [consequences]. When hearing boards are faced with the fact that they have no responsibility in sentencing, they become hesitant [to prosecute the accused],” Schuster said.
When investigating the sexual assault policies on campus, Schuster confirmed that Trinity was moving in the right direction, especially compared to other higher education institutions.
“When I did my audit in the weeks prior to my visit, Trinity was way ahead of the game in policies,” Schuster said. “The adoption and the movement and the direction of this more fair and equitable approach regarding appeals is great. The reason we think it’s great is not because it benefits the administration. It’s because it continues to honor human dignity.”
Though student responses to the seeking of policy change vary, there are a few students really leading the movement. One of those is Anna van Buskirk, a junior who has helped push the policy change and education of students since the beginning of the issue. Van Buskirk meets regularly with Sheryl Tynes, associate vice president for academic affairs, senior Laura Kalb, and senior Nipur Agrawal to discuss policy changes and educational programs the university might instate in the future to further awareness and help with better response to reports of sexual assault.
“It’s essential that the students are involved,” Van Buskirk said. “They need to be given the opportunity to contribute where they need to.”
They are currently working on educating current students, and are drafting additional programming for New Student Orientation, to bring students to campus with an awareness of how to prevent sexual assault.
“It’s so important that students support each other,” Van Buskirk said. “I know Trinity students have the capacity to look out for each other.”
Schuster also explained that there is a delicate balance between sentencing those who are found guilty and maintaining the rights and interests of both parties fairly.
“In our campus the most extreme thing we can do is say “˜you can’t be a student here anymore’. That is devastating. But it doesn’t say you can’t be here anymore and you have to go to prison. What it says instead is that “˜you don’t meet the behavioral standards for our community. You pose a risk. You violate not only our policies, but federal laws too’…Trinity University Must engage in a fundamentally fair process before they remove a student from school,” Schuster said.