Constructive student protest last year has resulted in substantive enhancements in combating sexual assault at Reed. Students became involved in committee work, wrote broadsides in the Quest, performed guerrilla theatre in commons, and circulated petitions calling for action to correct shortcomings in Reed’s policies and procedures in the area of sexual assault.
Addressing several hundred students at a campus forum on sexual assault on April 27, President Colin Diver declared: “You have stirred up a huge debate on an important issue that’s got everybody’s attention. The problem needs to be addressed. We want to do better.”
Changes to Reed’s confidentiality rules went into effect earlier that day. A review of Reed’s policies in light of a “Dear Colleague” letter from the U.S. Department of Education made clear that Reed had been out of compliance with federal regulations. Institutions receiving federal funding may not prohibit either the accuser or the accused in a college disciplinary case involving a sex offense from redisclosure of the outcome of the case. Participants may now share the nature and outcome of the case, the identity of the accused, and the sanctions imposed.
The petition (signed by 847 students) anticipated several recommendations by a committee on sexual assault (COSA), established by Diver in fall 2010, which released its findings on April 26. In particular, COSA called for Reed to step up its education and prevention programming; hire an expert in sexual assault prevention; provide more support for survivors; and establish a special non-student hearings board for cases of sexual assault.
Subsequently, the position of assistant dean of students for sexual assault prevention and response was created and a search was launched in July. “It’s a very important position. The person in this role will have the full support of the college to develop a first-rate sexual assault prevention and response program at Reed,” said Mike Brody, vice president and dean of student services. “With the COSA report as a guide, the assistant dean will focus on education, prevention, and support for survivors.”
Changing the jurisdiction of the J-board requires a change to the judicial board code, which can be a complex and lengthy process under the community constitution. The first step is a review by the Community Affairs Committee, whose chair, Paul Hovda [philosophy 2002–], is currently drafting a proposal to change the way Reed adjudicates cases involving sexual assault.
Of course, survivors of sexual assault at Reed can always call the police and bypass the J-board altogether. However, some anonymous students have been quoted in the media as saying that they were discouraged from doing so.
College officials have insisted, however, that complainants are encouraged to report sexual assault to the police. “Sexual assault is a crime, and we fully support students who would like our assistance in reporting incidents of sexual assault to the police,” wrote Gary Granger, director of community safety, in a letter to the Quest.
To underscore that message, several outside experts spoke at the April forum, including Multnomah County deputy district attorney Don Reese, Portland Police detective Ken Whattam, and Multnomah County victims assistance coordinator Helen O’Brien, who demystified how sexual assault cases are handled in the criminal justice system.
Granger reported that most complainants choose not to report these incidents. In the last academic year, nine individuals reported 11 accusations of sexual assault. Four of those reports were made within 24 hours of the incident; the remaining seven were made between 30 days and two years after the incident. All nine individuals were offered assistance in making a report to the police; all declined.
Questions at the April forum revealed considerable confusion about J-board procedures. J-board chair Hannah Brannan ’12 explained that under the current code, parties can ask individual members of the J-board to recuse themselves from hearing a particular case if there is any concern about impartiality. Parties can also appeal the J-board’s decisions; Diver makes the final decision in all honor cases. Further, the J-board’s standard is “a preponderance of the evidence,” as opposed to the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” that governs criminal trials.
According to a summary published by the J-board, nine cases of sexual assault were adjudicated in the five years prior to the April forum. In each case, the J-board found a violation and imposed sanctions. In six cases, the respondent was judged to have violated the sexual assault policy because there was an absence of effective consent. One of these students was expelled; five were suspended and required to participate in a range of educational and restorative activities. In the three other cases, the J-board found that there was effective consent, but that the respondent had nonetheless behaved dishonorably. These respondents were not suspended or expelled, but did receive sanctions that included community service, workshops, evaluations, and no-contact orders. (These statistics do not include cases that were not fully adjudicated prior to the forum.)
Brody commended the students for their advocacy and for bringing the community together to effect change. “The strength and compassion of any community is revealed when its members face and attempt to resolve its most difficult problems,” he wrote in a letter to the community. “The town hall meeting showed Reed at its very best. As a community, we engaged an intensely difficult issue, aired our concerns, and took action toward making Reed a better, safer, and more responsive community.”
Read more about preventing sexual assault at Reed.