Dartmouth Students: Proposed Sexual Misconduct Protocol a 'Major Step Backward'

Mar 1, 2019

Credit Allison Quantz for NHPR

The addition of a live hearing to proposed new procedures for resolving sexual assault complaints at Dartmouth College is facing criticism. 

Dartmouth is in the process of crafting a new misconduct policy for students, faculty and staff. It’s one of several efforts to improve equity on campus following a high-profile sexual abuse lawsuit that detailed years of harassment and assault in the school’s psychology department.

But the policy review also comes as federal guidance on how colleges and universities should handle Title IX complaints is in flux.  

Under proposed new rules from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos,  schools would be required to hold courtroom-like hearings where both the accused and accuser can cross-examine each other. The rules, which victims’ rights advocates say would have the effect of retraumatizing and silencing survivors, have not yet been finalized.

While Dartmouth's proposed policy is still being developed, some on campus are not happy with what they've seen.

“Not only do the proposed hearings add no value to the current judicial affairs investigation protocol, they also pose a serious threat to the well-being of survivors,” wrote a campus group focused on issues of sexual violence in a response Thursday. “We see the change as a major step backward.”

In its response to Dartmouth's proposal,  the group -- Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault -- accuses the school's leadership of attempting to preempt the federal changes.

But a Dartmouth spokesperson said the policy, still in an early draft phase, is distinct from DeVos' proposal. The hearing process the school has outlined is significantly more limited in scope, spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email Friday.

Dartmouth’s draft also differs from the federal proposal in that it does not allow both parties to directly question each other in the hearing. Instead, individuals would address questions to the panel overseeing the session, which can then decide whether to take up any given issue.