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Sexual Assault Report VII

The most recent annual report on sexual assault is out. Let’s spend 10 days talking about it! Today is day 7.

Over the 2013-2014 school year, the college received 14 reports of sexual assault, as well as one of dating violence and stalking. Of these 15 cases, five were brought forward for adjudication within the college’s disciplinary process. Four students were found responsible for violations of the college’s sexual misconduct policy, and one was found responsible for violations involving dating violence or stalking. All five of these students were separated from campus. Two students were expelled, and three were suspended. The average length of suspension was two years. One student brought a case forward through the police and the district attorney’s offices. Ten students who reported assaults during 2013-14 have chosen not to participate in disciplinary or legal processes as of this time. Of those, five worked with the Dean’s Office to arrange accommodations to increase their well-being on campus, including academic arrangements, housing changes, no-contact orders, and advisory conversations.

Comments:

1) Kudos to the College for providing this level of transparency. The more that the Williams community understands about sexual assault cases, the better.

2) We need more transparency, more details about each of these cases, about the exact complaint, the response and the judgment rendered. This is not hard to do! Consider one example from the latest report (pdf) from the Honor Committee:

A junior was accused of several dishonest actions relative to a paper. First, it appeared the majority of the paper was taken verbatim from a website without citation. Second, the student attempted several times to deceive the professor when he realized he had accidentally shared information that made it very likely that his plagiarism would be discovered. The student readily admitted that this was what he had done. The sanction was failure in the course with disciplinary probation of one semester.

Federal law (and common sense) require that the College not identify specific students. Agreed! But Williams could still tell us, for starters, the class years and genders of the students involved in sexual assault cases. (Isn’t the problem very different if all the accused are seniors than if they are all first years?) And more details on the cases would allow us all to judge whether or not the College is doing a good job. It would also provide guidance to students about precisely what sort of behavior is likely to get them in trouble.

3) Do readers find 15 cases shockingly low or shockingly high? If the 1-in-5 statistic were correct, we would expect over 50 cases a year.

3) Who remembers this wonderful piece of misdirection?

“No group, including varsity athletes, is over-represented among those accused of sexual assault,” Kolesar responded. He said the school’s athletic director, coaches and team captains “are very much partners in the broad campus work on the prevention of sexual assault.”

First, this is gibberish because, obviously, men are much more likely to be accused of (and guilty of!) sexual assault than women are. Second, the Record ought to follow up with Kolesar/Bolton to see if that claim is true for these 15 new cases. I would bet a great deal of money that male helmet sport athletes (football, hockey, lacrosse and (maybe) baseball) are overrepresented in this group. Third, it is quite possible that men from less elite backgrounds are over-represented, although this is more speculative. Certainly, the acceptable standards for interactions with young women at Andover and radically different than they are at big city high school.

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Sexual Assault Report VI

The most recent annual report on sexual assault is out. Let’s spend 10 days talking about it! Today is day 6.

(For more information on our current policies, see titleix.williams.edu or the dean’s office website.) Now that we have had these new processes in place for more than a year, we will be assessing them carefully and inviting feedback to learn how we might improve them further.

1) I am not expert enough to know how these policies compare to those of other elite schools. Comments from readers? My sense is that Williams is following the standard set of best practices that the Obama administration would like to see all colleges follow.

2) This is a good sign:

For the purposes of this description, the person who reports an experience of sexual assault or sexual misconduct is called the “complainant”. The person who is accused of committing sexual assault or sexual misconduct is called the “respondent”.

Too many colleges use the term “victim” to describe the person who files a report. The Williams approach is better because, until the investigation is complete, we can’t know if this person is a victim or not. Even at Williams, people do make false accusations.

3) The College, I think, is doing everything it can for students who have been subjected to a sexual assault. But what about students who have been falsely accused? (And false accusations have happened at Williams in the past.) What advice do we have for them?

First, do not underestimate how much trouble you are in, even if (especially if!) you are completely innocent. (See former Williams professor KC Johnson on the railroading of Peter Yu at Vassar.) If you were alone in a room with your accuser (and you probably were), then it will be her word against yours.

Second, call a lawyer. Andrew Miltenberg seems active in this area. In particular, he seemed to do a good job in helping Taylor Carmola fight against the accusations from Lexie Brackenridge. But the main point is not that Miltenberg is a good or bad attorney. The main point is that you need a lawyer now.

What advice do our readers have for a student falsely accused of rape?

4) For the benefit of future historians, I have copy/pasted some of the material from these links below the break and saved a copy of others here.
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Sexual Assault Report V

The most recent annual report on sexual assault is out. Let’s spend 10 days talking about it! Today is day 5.

The changes we implemented included using a professional investigator for every case (so that complainants, respondents, and witnesses are all questioned by someone with deep expertise in doing this work), as well as creating a hearing process in which students who are raising or responding to a concern never have to discuss their experiences in front of other students or their professors.

If this is such a good idea, then why doesn’t the College do the same thing with regard to the Honor and Discipline Committee? Williams could, easily, use a “professional investigator” to examine cases of alleged plagiarism, someone with “deep expertise in doing this work” — much deeper than current committee members like, say, Quamrul Ashraf or Cheryl Shanks. Williams could, easily, arrange a process that did not force accused students to “have to discuss their experiences in front of other students,” like, say, current committee members Tyler Sparks ’15 or Adam Pollack ’18.

The reason this would be a bad idea, obviously, is that the more that the Williams community governs itself, the better. Faculty like Ashraf and Shanks will always have a better sense of the standards of the Williams community than any “professional investigator.” Students like Sparks and Pollack will always be better judges of their peers. (And, as a side benefit, students on the committee almost always view this service as one of the most valuable parts of their Williams education.)

Adam Falk is often guilty of prattling on about the importance of “faculty governance” at Williams. But he has done more to undermine such governance, to make faculty less powerful and less involved in the running of Williams, than any president before him. Removing faculty from investigating, judging, and punishing accusations of sexual assault is another slip down the long slide toward faculty irrelevance.

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Sexual Assault Report IV

The most recent annual report on sexual assault is out. Let’s spend 10 days talking about it! Today is day 4.

And, we must work relentlessly on prevention, doing everything we can to reduce the prevalence of assault on our campus until it ceases.

Really? “[E]verything we can?” This is such utter hooey, I am embarrassed to be quoting it. There are many things that the College could do to reduce sexual assault on campus that it chooses not to do, for reasons both practical and ideological.

First, the College could go back to the days of single sex dorms with no opposite gender visitors in the rooms. This clip from Animal House gives a flavor of what that was like 50 years ago.

The vast majority (all?) serious sexual assaults at Williams occur when a male and female student are alone together in a Williams dorm. Make such a situation a violation of college policy, and the rate of sexual assault at Williams would decrease significantly. The College will never do that (nor should it, since such a rule would decimate admissions from elite applicants) so Dean Bolton should stop blathering on with gibberish about doing “everything we can.” She isn’t.

Second, the College could tell female Ephs the truth about alcohol use and sexual assault. Women who stay sober (and/or drink in moderation) are vastly less likely to be sexually assaulted than those who don’t. In fact, the College could just point female students to this Emily Yoffe article in Slate:

College Women: Stop Getting Drunk

But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.

Third, the College could do a better job of explaining that men and women are different and that, therefore, women may not have an accurate idea about what their male classmates are thinking when he brings her back to his dorm room. Hint: He does not want to discuss Plato!

Now, of course, she may not want to discuss Plato either! And that is OK. But, unless she has the benefit of a non-PC upbringing, she may not be aware of just how different the male outlook is from her own. If the College really wanted to do “everything” it could to reduce the frequency of sexual assault, it would tell female Ephs not to go back to a male Ephs dorm room unless she has a good deal of evidence to conclude that he is of high moral character.

But discouraging women from getting drunk and encouraging them to make better judgments when it comes to sexual relationships is something that the College, mainly for ideological reasons, is unwilling to do. And that is a shame.

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Sexual Assault Report III

The most recent annual report on sexual assault is out. Let’s spend 10 days talking about it! Today is day 3.

She [Meg Bossong ’05] also led the development of the CASA (Community Attitudes about Sexual Assault) survey, which got broad response. The CASA assessed the prevalence of sexual assault, stalking, and relationship violence at Williams as well as the helpfulness and availability of support resources and the community’s understanding of our policies. Nearly 1,400 students completed the extensive survey, and about 200 more answered some of its questions.

Really? I am surprised. A few days after the survey came I asked a dozen students what they thought about it. Not a single one had even bothered to open it! Any student who did open it would have been overwhelmed with the number of questions that it asked. It is shocking (to me) that 1400 students would have spent the 30 (?) minutes that completing this survey would actually require. If I were the Record, I would try to do some reporting on this claim, rather than continuing to serve as stenographer for the Administration. Comments:

1) Below the break is the e-mail announcing the survey.

2) Am I the only one surprised by the 1,400 number? Here (pdf) is the survey. It is 17 pages long! Here is a snippet:

survey

Since you are expected to consider a potentially different answer for each square in this grid, you need to make 60 different judgments for just this one question.

3) This wording smells of puffery. Why tell us “nearly 1,400″ instead of providing the actual number? I also have doubts about the distinction between “completed” and “answered some of its questions.” If a student answered every question except that crazy matrix, does that count as “completed” or not? I suspect that there was a lot of “rounding up,” that a student only needed to answer 80% (or 60% or . . .) of questions to count as “completed.”

4) In the spirit of transparency, the Administration ought to make the (aggregate) responses to this survey public. Once it does so, we can all take a look at the data ourselves.

5) None of this should be taken as criticism of Meg Bossong ’05, of whom I am a huge fan. There is no one better than she for the job of Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Williams.

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Sexual Assault Report II

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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Sexual Assault Report I

The most recent annual report on sexual assault is out. Let’s spend 10 days talking about it! Today is day 1.

1) Below the break is the version mailed to students. I think that this is the same as the web version. And, as always, thanks to our sources!

2) Why isn’t Meg Bossong ’05, Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, the author of this report, rather than Dean Bolton? Bossong has been at Williams for almost a year and has, by all accounts, committed herself fully to the job. Bolton is a busy person, so why doesn’t she delegate this important and time-consuming work?

3) This gets to the question of Dean Bolton’s attitude toward sexual assault at Williams. Being a charitable person, I want her attitude to be a good one: Williams should fight to decrease the incidence of sexual assault, but not at the cost of due process for accused students. If an informed observer, like former faculty member KC Johnson, thinks that Bolton is balancing these concerns in a reasonable way, than kudos to her! But I am concerned — and more than one (male) student has echoed similar sentiments — that Dean Bolton is more of a social justice warrior (SWJ) Dean, someone less interested in due process than she ought to me.

Comments from readers?

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Sexual Assault Report

A new edition to our collection of Annual Events covers the (now annual) Sex Assault Report from the Dean of the College, currently Sarah Bolton. Below the break is a copy of last year’s letter (in case it disappears from the web). Initial comments:

1) If Williams needs to have a full time “director of sexual assault prevention and response,” then I am glad that it is Meg Bossong ’05. After all, Meg is a former EphBlog correspondent! No doubt her engagement with the EphBlog community helped her get the Williams job. We have nothing but friends in Hopkins Hall!

2) Yeah Transparency!

Following the recommendation of the thirty students on the original Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness group (2011-2012), we make known to the community the number of sexual assault and sexual misconduct reports from the previous year each winter or spring, and also summarize the disciplinary outcomes of those cases

Good stuff. The more transparent Williams is, the more likely we are to be successful. Was this recommendation part of a written report? If so, where is it?

3) The (excellent) model here are the reports from the Honor and Discipline Committee.

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