Administration officials, student leaders discuss sexual violence policy, transparency

By EMILY HERMAN | May 2, 2014

As students protested on the Breezeway to increase transparency between the administration and the student body, Provost Robert Lieberman, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger and Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Chief Diversity Officer Caroline Laguerre-Brown met with seven students Friday to discuss the University’s sexual violence policy and increasing communication about administrative operations and policies.

The meeting had originally been planned in response to junior Eliza Schultz and sophomore Carlene Partow’s petition for changes to the sexual violence policy, but the discussion also addressed information released Thursday night by The Huffington Post. The article revealed that information about an alleged gang rape at the Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity house last spring was not disclosed to the community. In a federal complaint filed with the Department of Education, students accused the University of failing to notify the community of the report. One of the complainants additionally stated that Dean of Student Life Susan Boswell had misinformed her of the options for proceeding with legal action and had dissuaded her from formally reporting an assault.

“The only thing we know about this [federal] complaint is what was reported in The Huffington Post, [but] what the [article] alleges that Susan Boswell conveyed to this student does not reflect our policy,” Lieberman said. “We haven’t seen the Education Department complaints, [and] it’s not clear we ever will.”

Schultz and Partow, along with Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President and President-Elect Janice Bonsu, Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) co-directors Rebecca Grenham and Ella Rogers-Fett, College Democrats co-president Akshai Bhatnagar and executive member of Hopkins Feminists Lisa Lacampagne, asked the provost and vice provosts questions on the sexual violence policy and the administration’s new sexual violence working group.

To comply with the federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, which sets standards for reporting, administrative accountability and education about sexual violence on college campuses, the University must update the existing sexual violence policy before October. However, the administration plans to have new procedures in place before the fall semester begins.

Laguerre-Brown said that changes to the definitions of sexual violence, as were proposed in a resolution written by Schultz and Partow and passed by the SGA, have already been sent to the University’s legal counsel for approval.

“Our goal right now is to get the policy updated as quickly as possible,” Laguerre-Brown said.

In response to questions about changes in Freshman Orientation programs and education for returning students and faculty, Laguerre-Brown announced that the administration signed a contract to create an online sexual violence education module.

“[The module] will have multiple iterations for different constituencies here at Hopkins so everybody will be able to get training,” Laguerre-Brown said. “Our goal is to train the entire campus community.”

Although Shollenberger said that the administration is actively seeking recommendations for members of the sexual violence working group, which will include students, faculty and staff from the entire university, the students complained that there was a lack of awareness of the group’s recruitment.

Lieberman said he hopes to work more closely with the SGA and other student groups to improve communication between the administration and the student body on these issues.

“[Student group leaders] understand the nuances of student concerns and the student body in a way that we [don’t],” Lieberman said.

In addition to expressing her frustration about transparency regarding University policy issues, Bonsu also said that she was upset about the lack of transparency regarding Greek Life discipline. She said that when she asked Rachel Drennen, the coordinator of Greek Life and Orientation, for a list of fraternities who were on social probation, Drennen told her that the list was private because fraternity discipline was an “internal process.”

“I felt as Student Body Vice President and as a member of the student body, this list should have been provided to me,” Bonsu said. “In that sort of situation, I can’t choose to protect myself and not socialize around, because [fraternities] have parties whether they’re on probation or not.”

Bonsu also said that she felt the administration was sexist in disciplining Greek organizations. She mentioned the former Zeta Chi chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, which lost its charter in 2009 after several violations of their risk management policies. Bonsu also mentioned recent citations against sororities for “secret week” presentations, in which new sorority members received gifts from their “big sisters” often delivered by fraternity members in public displays that the administration deemed to be sexually explicit.

“Seeing the PIKE stabbing [in January] and now the gang rape [accusations], I don’t understand how they’re weighed differently,” Bonsu said. “I feel like there’s no consistency in the punishment between [sororities and fraternities].”

Schultz agreed with Bonsu’s claim of sexism.

“It is very clear to me that there is a double standard that needs to be addressed,” Schultz said.

Lieberman said that the administration plans to address the uneven application of University policy immediately.

“What you’re all pointing out about inconsistency about the way we apply policies is something that we’ve been thinking about, and it’s quite troubling,” Lieberman said. “We need to have standards and a baseline set of values, and we need to have policies that reflect those standards. Those policies need to be implemented fairly and consistently across groups and individuals. We want to understand, as best we can, the areas in which we’re better at that and the areas in which we’re not so good at that [so we can] fix it. And whether that has to do with Greek Life issues, or sexual violence and reporting issues or whatever it is, the goal is clarity and consistency.”

The students in the room unanimously agreed that the University needs to take firm disciplinary action against PIKE and any individuals involved in the alleged gang rape.

“If this doesn’t happen, then there [are] no legs that we can stand on to say that you cannot do this ever again,” Bonsu said.

Shollenberger said that the administration has plans to meet with members of PIKE next week to discuss the fraternity’s future on campus.

“I’m not prepared to say more because it’s not fair for [more information] to be out before I meet with the group,” Shollenberger said.

Shollenberger also said that it is very difficult for the administration to discipline fraternities for events that happen in their houses.

“Greek Life here does create interesting challenges because [fraternity houses] are off-campus property,” Shollenberger said. “Certainly, we can hold students individually responsible [for incidents, but] we don’t control that housing.”

The meeting also addressed services for victims of sexual violence. Lacampagne pointed out that Alyse Campbell, the University’s newly hired sexual violence prevention, education and response coordinator, works at the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW), which is located four blocks away from the main entrance of campus.

“[CHEW] is so far from everything,” Lacampagne said. “It’s really important to have [her office] in a closer space where people know she’s there.”

Schultz also urged the administration to create a women’s center, where students can go to receive support on issues related to sexual or gender-based violence.

“That does not exist here, and I think it is essential,” Schultz said. “There needs to be a physical space. I understand that there’s no student center, but the priority should be a women’s center.”

Shollenberger said that he has already begun researching ways to create a women’s or gender equity center and plans to discuss this further with Lieberman and other members of the administration soon.

 

Correction: This article mistakenly stated that the Towson student who was the victim of the alleged gang rape was among the complainants on the federal complaint that was filed. 

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