Recent grad’s post last week highlighted the recent Record editorial calling for more “transparency and accountability” in cases of sexual assault on campus.  One of the statements made in the editorial was that:

[W]e believe that sexual assault should not result in mere suspension except in the rarest of cases. Rather, the College should establish expulsion as the presumptive, though not mandatory, punishment for students who are found responsible for sexual assault

You may agree or disagree with the Record’s opinion on this issue, but if the College were to make expulsion the sanction in most cases where a student has been found responsible for “sexual assualt” (I’ve put it in quotes, because the College has a specific definition of the term which I will get to in a moment),  this would raise the stakes dramatically for anyone accused of sexual assault.  While suspension from the College is a significant punishment, expulsion is life altering, in the sense that it deprives that person of a Williams degree (and probably excludes that person from the College community for life, although I’m not certain what the collateral punishments are), as well as the financial consequences.

The College provides a definition of sexual assualt:  “Sexual Assault means any non-consensual sexual intercourse or other non-consensual sexual contact” (emphasis added).  “Other non-consensual sexual contact” can mean a lot of things, including, for example, groping in a crowd at a party.  People can disagree on whether that type of activity should result in expulsion, but any student facing the possiblity of expulsion would certainly want to do everything possible to avoid that.

The procedures for investigating allegations of sexual misconduct (which includes sexual assault), are set forth here.  I will try to go through them in more detail in future posts, but for now I want to highlight one section which, as a lawyer, really jumped out at me:

Both the complainant and respondent have the right to have an advisor of their choosing present with them for all parts of the process, including any meeting with campus officials, with the hearing panel, and with the investigator.  The advisor can speak to the complainant/respondent at any time during the process but cannot speak directly to the investigator or to the hearing panel.

(emphasis added)

As I read this section, the College will allow someone being investigated for sexual misconduct to have a lawyer (or another advocate/advisor), but that person cannot interact with the investigator or the adjudication panel on behalf of the accused.  For a student facing automatic expulsion, that seems to put the accused in a very difficult spot.  While I think this section of the procedures is unfair even today, if the College were to make expulsion the default punishment, it would be even more egregious.

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