SGA Passes New Sexual Misconduct Policy

The Student Government Association (SGA) finalized and approved Colgate’s new Policy on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment on Tuesday, October 27. The Colgate Campus Life Survey (CCLS) made it apparent that many Colgate students (over 70% of the 1,691 students who took the survey last February) have experienced sexual misconduct or harassment.

According to Vice President and Dean of College Charlotte Johnson, the need for a new policy concerning sexual misconduct was discussed even before Johnson came to Colgate three years ago. The drive for the policy arose in the Dean of College Division and “has been informed by conversations with students, faculty and staff as well as a review of policies at peer institutions,” according to Interim President Lyle Roelofs. 

Prior to this new policy, there existed a more general sexual misconduct policy that applied to the faculty, staff and students.

“[The policy] really was not focused enough on student-to-student misconduct,” Johnson said.

The new policy is specifically aimed toward Colgate students and can only be applied if the accused is a current Colgate student and the accuser is either a Colgate student or a visitor to Colgate and not a faculty or staff member. If a faculty or staff member is involved, the policy applicable to University employees will be invoked.

According to Johnson, a small, dedicated group of faculty and staff have been working to create a concrete and reliable policy for a little over a year. Extensive research on similar policies employed in other schools was done, and a lawyer was involved in the crafting of the policy. 

“It is very important to implement the policy and begin the education process as soon as possible because of the implications it will have for the Colgate community,” Johnson said.

Moreover, Roelofs enumerated some of the strengths of the new policy.

“This new policy better supports students by clearly stating what constitutes harassment and misconduct, and by providing information on their rights and options moving forward,” Roelofs said.

The new policy explains the approach Colgate will take to investigating, adjudicating and disciplining acts of sexual misconduct and harassment in the future. It explains explicitly the meaning of mutual respect and clear consent, alerting students to what exactly constitutes misconduct.

There is no time limit during which an accusation can be made, and the policy holds even when misconduct or harassment occurs off-campus, although in these instances, it may be more difficult to respond to complaints, Johnson said.

“Many times, off-campus incidents can shed light on whether a student will be a threat to other students on campus [and the campus environment],” Johnson said.

The policy also describes the confidentiality surrounding filing complaints of misconduct or harassment. Although in many cases conversations with Campus Safety personnel, the University Harassment Officer or other administrators are not bound by confidentiality, the policy describes places students should go if they seek discretion. Such places include the Counseling & Psychological Services, the University Health Services and the Office of the Chaplains.

According to Johnson, Colgate is developing an online tutorial in order to promote awareness of the new policy. The tutorial is not mandatory, but is recommended.

“[The tutorial will be used to] inform and train students and faculty on the new policy,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, Education and Safety Sessions will be held in the residential halls to roll out the new policy and make clear what constitutes acceptable behavior. Dean of the Sophomore Year Experience Kim Taylor and Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Lyn Rugg are in the process of devising a training program to train staff and student leaders to lead these sessions. Dean Johnson believes that these sessions will be important and has indicated that they will be mandatory.

To publicize the policy, FAQ sheets will be laid out on tables in the  O’Connor Campus Center (Coop). In addition, the Department of Women’s Studies has already planned discussions for a Brown Bag lunch.

The high number of sexual harassment and misconduct incidents reported in the CCLS shows that drastic action must be taken to remedy the situation.

“The approval of this new policy is well timed given the work we are now doing to respond to the campus climate study,” Roelofs said.

Johnson likewise noted the urgency for a new policy. 

“We knew the cases of sexual misconduct were underreported, but I was surprised at the degree to which this was the case. The numbers are really disturbing; they show that we really need to address this problem as a community immediately. This policy is very important because it helps to raise awareness of the situation, as well as to illuminate the resources available to Colgate students in this situation,” Johnson said.

The new policy will help remedy the extent to which cases go unreported, but Johnson stressed that there needs to be more action taken on the part of students.

“There needs to be a certain level of individual accountability from students for their own actions,” Johnson said. “Policies and education sessions can only do so much; eventually it boils down to the students’ behavior.”

According to Johnson, this message needs to come from the students, staff, and faculty as well as from the policy.

“This new policy is an important step forward in our campus community’s effort to ensure the health and safety of all students,” Roelofs said.

There are high hopes that the implications and reverberations of the policy will improve life at Colgate and decrease the number of sexual misconduct and harassment cases experienced by its students.