SGA passes bill calling for OIE to reform its practices

By RUDY MALCOM | December 6, 2018

The Student Government Association (SGA) unanimously passed the Title IX Policy Resolution, calling for the University to reform the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), at their weekly meeting on Tuesday. 

Junior Class Senators Miranda Bannister and Madelynn Wellons, who introduced the bill, said that the average time it takes for OIE to close an investigation is 128 days, according to the OIE’s annual statistics report. The resolution calls for the University to reduce the average duration of an investigation to comply with the Title IX federal standard of 60 days.

“OIE is messed up, and that’s just the shortest, most complete way I can say it,” Wellons said. “It’s a broken institution at this school. Something needs to be done, and the administration isn’t taking it seriously.”

Bannister believes that OIE staff members have lost focus of what is relevant. 

“They’re investigating nitty gritty details that oftentimes are more targeted toward the survivor’s motives, rather than looking at the case objectively and looking at evidence that is relevant,” she said.

Wellons echoed Bannister’s sentiments. As an example, Wellons said that the OIE did not reach out to an unbiased witness at the bar in Baltimore where Juan Obarrio, an assistant professor in the University’s Anthropology department, allegedly assaulted a visiting graduate student. 

Freshman Class Senator Eric Armstrong said it was important to have both a streamlined process but also a thorough investigation. He asked about the burden of proof that other universities require.

Wellons responded that as recommended by the Obama administration in 2010, many peer institutions require a preponderance of evidence, which is based not on the amount of evidence but how convincing the evidence is. Wellons believes that although OIE claims to follow this procedure on paper, it requires a higher burden of proof in practice. 

SGA also supported a petition to hold Obarrio accountable. Graduate student Talia Katz presented the petition at the meeting, explaining that the survivor had approved of it. 

“We take a survivor-centered approach,” she said.

She said that the OIE had ignored numerous anonymous complaints against Obarrio in the past and explained the importance of supporting the petition.

“It is really important that we work together to end a culture of impunity for sexual violence on campus and... to make sure that no more survivors have to endure such a difficult and traumatizing process of reporting,” she said.

SGA also unanimously passed the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Solidarity Resolution. In October, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memorandum in which he interpreted the Civil Rights Act to define sex as “biologically male or female.” This interpretation denies transgender individuals protections against discrimination.

Executive Secretary Aspen Williams, who introduced the bill, explained that SGA should respect and actively support the gender expression of all Hopkins undergraduates, including those who identify as transgender, intersex or gender non-conforming.

Next, Associate Director for Economic Development at the Homewood Community Partners Initiative (HCPI) Salem Reiner gave a presentation at the meeting. He said that the University has been working with stakeholders to invest in their shared interests, which include safer streets and better schools. According to Reiner, HCPI has spent approximately $6.5 million on grants to local nonprofits like the Central Baltimore Partnership.

The North Charles Street Safety Alliance deployed off-duty police officers for an additional 70 hours per week between 27th Street and North Avenue during times of high crime activity. Reiner said that though these efforts did not reduce crime during the three-year pilot period, there was a much lower incidence of crime during patrol hours. Beginning on Jan. 1, the program will operate independent of Hopkins funding.

Reiner stressed that long-term solutions to crime rates require collaboration beyond Hopkins. 

SGA passed a bill to give Spring Fair $1,500 for their kick-off fireworks on April 25. Seniors Sofya Freyman and Meera McLane explained that the fireworks are a meaningful tradition. 

Sophomore Class Senator Sam Mollin felt that SGA should ensure that the limited events it sponsors support the student body as much as possible. Junior Class Senator Omar Lloyd, on the other hand, said that Spring Fair would be strong without the fireworks and that SGA should give money to groups who truly need it and can impact the student body in a new way.

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