Editorial: Calling for more transparency, accountability in discipline for sexual assault

Editorial Board

In 2014, Yoonsang Bae ’17 sexually assaulted another student while on campus. After lengthy legal proceedings, the Berkshire Superior Court found him guilty of rape on Sept. 6, and has since sentenced him to three years in prison. The College readmitted Bae after a four-semester suspension, and he was allowed to graduate in 2017. While we do not know the details of this case and do not wish to comment on it specifically, we believe it does raise important questions about how the College sanctions those who commit sexual assault.

Bae’s case is far from unusual. Of the 86 registered complaints of sexual misconduct since 2011, 34 prompted formal disciplinary proceedings, 29 of which resulted in findings of responsibility and only five of which led to a student’s expulsion from the College. Only one in four students found responsible for sexual assault in the past eight years have been expelled; the others faced suspension. 

We at the Record consider the lenience of these penalties and the lack of information around what factors go into them to be irresponsible and dangerous. No student should be forced to walk through the same halls as their rapist, and no student should be made to feel unsafe around a classmate or peer. Furthermore, all students ought to know clearly what their school’s disciplinary policies on this crucial issue are. We draw inspiration from those who have elevated this conversation in recent days, particularly Abby Lloyd ’20, who wrote a powerful op-ed critiquing Bae’s 2016 readmission to the College (“On giving rapists a Williams degree: Why the College fails its duty when it readmits offenders,” Sep. 18, 2019).

First, we take issue with the College’s lack of public information regarding the standards for suspension or expulsion. If a student faces a semester-long suspension for sexual assault, the community currently has no way of knowing why. We as students do not even know if the College’s standards for penalties differ from year to year or from case to case. Nor does information exist as to whether disciplinary sanctions differ for cases of stalking, relationship abuse or sexual harassment as compared to sexual assault. This lack of transparency is worrying in its own right, but the College’s opacity could also intimidate and discourage survivors from reporting and pursuing cases. In the future, a rubric must clearly set out the severity of offense that merits each sanction. 

Furthermore, we 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. 

Such a policy is not motivated by a desire merely to punish assailants; it is about ensuring the very safety of our community. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 63 percent of men at one university who admitted to at least one rape or attempted rape also admitted to multiple offenses. A 2019 peer-reviewed study further found that 87 percent of sexual assaults involving alcohol were committed by a repeat perpetrator. Even absent a repeated assault, however, an assailant’s presence on campus could damage students’ perceived security and hinder academic and social growth. Attending the College is a tremendous privilege, and is not one that should be afforded to rapists. 

We recognize that increased penalties for sexual misconduct necessitate serious contemplation of the evidentiary standards that are required for a finding of responsibility, and the College must work to ensure a fair process for both parties with no presumption of guilt for the accused. Either sufficient evidence exists for a finding of responsibility or it does not, however, and we maintain that punishments short of expulsion can hardly ever be appropriate when such evidence is found. 

The central mission of the College is and must be to provide a space for academic and personal growth in an environment conducive to learning and personal safety. The presence of a rapist on campus makes such an environment impossible. For the sake of survivors, the student body and the campus community at large, the College must strengthen its penalties for sexual assault and increase transparency around those policies.

The editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record’s editorial board.