April is dedicated to Sexual Assault Awareness and this year, awareness is even more crucial on a local level than national. After new instructions were provided by the Education Department on April 4 about the responsibility of public schools, universities and colleges to prevent sexual violence, the Obama administration has been urging campuses nationwide to encourage their students to report any cases of sexual assault. During Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the University of New Hampshire, he shared with the audience that many campus sex crimes go unreported because students fear no discipline of the accused will actually occur.
A prime example that displays many of the current issues arising with sexual assault is Reed College in Portland. A debate arose at the private university after the resignation of student Judicial Board member, Isabel Manley, because of her disapproval of Reed’s process of dealing with sexual assault. The highly secretive process based on student honor codes had also been criticized by two outside experts last year during an investigation being done by the Center for Public Integrity.
The student Judicial Board oversees the process of each case and it is also reviewed by Reed’s president, Colin Diver. Participants are only permitted to discuss their case with medical professionals, designated advocates and procedural aides. Students are criticizing the process not only because of this rule, but also because the accused offender is able to preview the victim’s testimony prior to hearings, and victims have to attend those hearings in the presence of their offender, often sitting at the same table.
Despite the college staff’s assurance that they would continue to alter their policies and had hired new expert staff specifically for the assault cases, many students say that they have seen few changes. A recent survey done on the campus found that sexual assault and its handling at Reed was the top concern among students.
The controversy at Reed is certainly not an example one to follow in any shape or form, according to Pacific’s Vice President of Student Life, Eva Krebs. She said that no case of sexual assault should be taken lightly. More importantly, a lack of reporting these cases because of an unjust system is “not only unacceptable” for any college campus, but it is especially “not the climate we want here” said Krebs.
Pacific’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy states in its first paragraphs that, “The University is charged with determining whether voluntary consent existed, not in determining the precise details of the offense.” Krebs said that this is the most important detail for students to be aware of because when they report a sexual offense, they may “submit whatever level of information they choose.” Before appearing at a hearing, students may fill out a sexual misconduct report form, found in the Student Life office or may meet personally with Krebs.
Krebs also pointed out the differences between Reed’s policy and Pacific’s such as a student’s choice of either an informal hearing or a formal hearing. Informally, the students involved are able to appear separately before a trained university member known as a Conduct Administrator. Formally, both students will need to appear in the same room and have their case reviewed by the Sexual Misconduct Review Board. Again, Krebs stressed that in whichever the type of hearing the student chooses, the issue being deliberated is a lack of consent, not the extremity of the act.
Because Krebs maintains that there can “never be enough information” about sexual assault awareness and that many students still remain uninformed, Student Life has made sure that there are always numerous resources for students in cases of sexual assault. Students may go to Campus Public Safety and outside law enforcement, but Kim Chadwick, Campus Wellness Coordinator located in Walter Hall, is an on-call staff member available to help students.
Krebs said that even though “where you find more people, you’re going to find assault,” the issue of assault is not fully eliminated at small schools like Pacific or Reed. But, on smaller campuses, a safe environment is definitely achievable and has to always be a goal. Each campus “has to be a healthy place not just for you, but for the people around you.”