The most recent annual report on sexual assault is out. Let’s spend 10 days talking about it! Today is day 2.

The most important improvement that could be made to these annual reports is to provide much more detail about the facts surrounding the (alleged) assaults. The Honor and Discipline Committee does it right. Consider the first item from their latest report (pdf).

A sophomore was accused using extensive material from SparkNotes in a paper, without citation or attribution of any kind. The student argued that he had done nothing wrong, stating that he had read SparkNotes but that the discussion in the paper was entirely his own, and also that the paper submitted was not his final draft. The committee felt this explanation was insufficient in two ways. First, the Honor code applies to all work submitted, whether final draft or not. Second, the discussion in the student’s paper exactly followed that in SparkNotes, sentence by sentence, idea by idea, which made it highly unlikely that the student had generated it without some significant intellectual debt to SparkNotes, which thus needed to be acknowledged. The sanction was failure in the course, with disciplinary probation for two semesters.

Perfect. There is no way to possibly identify this student (which is important, and probably legally required) but we still have plenty of information about what he was accused of doing and what his explanations were. Compare this to the almost complete lack of details provided in the Sexual Assault Report. More transparency is better because:

1) It informs students, in the clearest possible terms, about what is allowed and what is not. A handful of public punishments transmit cultural norms much better than a hundreds workshops or role playing exercises.

2) It allows the community to judge whether or not the process is fair. Do the punishments fit the “crime?” Is the College handling sexual assault appropriately? Until Williams makes clear what happens to student X when he does Y, there will always be Ephs who worry about the seriousness with which we deal with sexual assault.

3) It discourages sexual assault. Williams students are smart! If they see that action Z results in suspension/expulsion — and that students are being caught when they engage in Z — they will do less of Z.

4) It provides information about risks, allowing students to modify their behavior (if they want to). If 10 students were assaulted after getting drunk at parties at Dodd, other students may decide that getting drunk at Dodd parties is a bad idea.

The Record ought to seek out more information and/or ask the Administration why the standards for reporting are so different between plagiarism and sexual assault.

So, next year, more details!

Since the topic of sexual assault at Williams is so important, I will delay the remaining 8 parts in our series until after Spring Break.

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