College receives 25 misconduct reports

Julia Goldberg

The College received 25 reports of misconduct committed against members of the College community — 13 of sexual misconduct, four of relationship abuse, five of stalking, and three of verbal sexual harassment — over the past two academic years.

In 20 of the 25 reports, the person alleged to have caused harm was a member of the College community. The person who reported the misconduct in these instances had the option to pursue an investigation and adjudication process through the College. Three cases were pursued in this manner.

Of the three cases in which students pursued an investigation — all of which occurred prior to August 2020, when the College’s new Title IX disciplinary policies went into effect — one individual was found responsible for sexual misconduct and a second was found responsible for relationship abuse. They were sanctioned to a two-semester suspension and mandatory educational sessions, respectively. In the third case, the College found the individual not responsible for sexual harassment.

Both the number of reports and the number of students electing to pursue an investigation have sharply decreased this year, Director of Sexual Assault Response and Health Education Meg Bossong ’05 said in an interview with the Record. COVID-19 may account for the decline in reports, and the decline in investigations correlates with the new Title IX policies, which were established by former President Donald J. Trump’s administration, Bossong said.

The most significant change to the Title IX policy is that it now mandates a virtual live hearing for an investigation as opposed to a written report, as was customary at the College in previous years. “[The guidelines under Title IX] are creating a lot of opportunities for stress,” Bossong said. “Both people have to be there simultaneously. There has to be an opportunity for cross-examination by the other party.”

In the 2017-2018 school year alone, the College received 25 reports of misconduct, and in the 2018-2019 school year, it received 28. Bossong said that although the phrasing “report of misconduct” sounds formal, the language includes anyone who has spoken to one of the College’s resources in regards to sexual misconduct. “It feels really significant to be like ‘I’m going to make an appointment. I’m going to go talk about this’…but a lot of it is very conversational,” Bossong said. “It’s like climbing up on the high diving board and jumping off into pudding.”

The College’s remote instruction during the spring of 2020 and strict COVID policies in the fall of 2020 may have contributed to the decrease in the number of reported violations from 2020 onwards, Bossong said, as it is likely that many students would have to admit to violating the College’s COVID policies in order to discuss their experiences with misconduct.

The College does have an amnesty policy in place, which Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom outlined in a Feb. 1 email notifying the campus community about the misconduct reports. “If you are reporting [sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, or stalking], the College will not pursue disciplinary action against you for violations of COVID safety policies that were in place at the time the behavior being reported occurred,” she wrote.

Still, Bossong noted students who broke protocols may have been hesitant to speak with resources such as their Junior Advisors or their peers. “I think people just didn’t have those initial conversations about, ‘Hey, I had this experience — what do you think about this? Do you think I should talk to somebody? Do you know where I can go?’” she said. “People’s social networks are a huge part of helping them connect with on-campus and off-campus resources.”

Often, students’ desired outcomes — including supportive accommodations, changes in housing, and no-contact orders — do not require them to pursue an investigation. Only students who would like to seek disciplinary action from the College need to undertake the investigation process.

Bossong said that since the implementation of the new Title IX policies, students have expressed reluctance when she has explained the steps of the investigation process. “[They] think, ‘there’s absolutely no way I’m going to undertake this,’” she said. Still, Bossong emphasized that her job is not to dissuade anyone from utilizing the process. “What we want is to be transparent, so people can make the best decisions possible.”

Several specific types of misconduct cases, such as those that occur outside of the country, do not constitute Title IX sexual misconduct but still violate the College’s Code of Conduct. Although these cases may result in disciplinary action in accordance with policies within the College’s control, the majority of misconduct reports fall under Title IX. “There’s really not much wiggle room for colleges and universities to make any adjustments to their Title IX process,” Violence Prevention Coordinator Allison Jasso said.

If an individual has reported misconduct to the College but has not yet pursued an investigation and adjudication process, they may choose to do so as long as the person against whom the complaint was filed remains a part of the College’s community, Sandstrom stated in her email.