Brown University Community Council meeting on April 23rd

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In the fall, the student code of conduct will be up for revision once again. Understandably, the student population has been very interested in observing and influencing these changes in conduct, with mental health and sexual assault policies being prominent topics in the recent UCS election debates. On April 22nd, Lena Sclove held a press conference outside of the Rockefeller Library, detailing her experience of being sexually assaulted at Brown. For a detailed outline of the events, refer to the Brown Daily Herald coverage here, and Bluestocking Magazine’s take here. The case is now being covered by outside sources such as Jezebel and the Huffington Post.

On the same day, Klawunn sent out an email regarding a Brown University Community Council meeting from 4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., which all interested students were welcome to attend. Many people did not know about this meeting until they received the email. For those of you who were unable to attend, here are some take-aways from the 30 minute conversation between the audience and the BUCC:

All of the seats in the audience were filled, with a majority of students present holding cardboard signs in solidarity with Lena Sclove and pressing for change in Brown’s approach to sexual assault. The protestors remained quiet during the technical presentation on code revisions, and it was not until Paxson invited audience members to the microphone did they vocally engage, one by one. Every time someone from the protest got up to speak, everyone holding a sign stood up behind them.

The Lena Sclove Case and the Petition

Emma Hall ’16 came to the microphone to speak about Lena Sclove and the current petition. Hall prefaced her statement by saying that last year she was raped by another Brown student, went through a hearing similar to Sclove’s, and her perpetrator was suspended for two years. She gave a brief overview of the press conference on April 22nd, and then went on to read the petition that has been circulating around campus. The petition was released at 11 a.m. that day. In her hand, Hall held over 300 physically signed petitions, and stated that the online petition before the meeting (at 4 p.m.) was approaching 2,600 signatures. A copy of the petition is available here.

Particular emphasis was put on this request at the end:

“We ask that Brown requires that anyone found responsible for sexual misconduct be suspended until the person they have assaulted graduates, or until two years have passed (whichever is longer). Schools have the responsibility, under Title IX, to eliminate a hostile environment and provide for the needs of the complainant. This cannot happen while a perpetrator is on campus.”

The Details

At one point, a protestor walked up the mic and firmly asked “I want to know how many students that have committed rape or sexual assault are on this campus right now, how many will be returning in the fall, the spring, and I don’t want to wait for five committees to hold hearings on it. I want this information on Friday – I think that’s reasonable.” After applause from the audience, Paxson tried to glean from the committee where this information could be found. Klawunn referred to the website for Student Life, but it was unclear whether or not the University intends to condense and distribute this information to the student body on their own accord.

A follow up question was: “If not strangulation and rape, what does it take to be expelled from this school?” Paxson asked the committee if there were clear guidelines for expulsion, to which Klawunn did not have a concise answer and instead referred to the future option of having a baseline sanction. A student shouted from the audience “so to answer your question, strangulation and rape do not get you expelled.”

Words from the Residential Community

One WPC in the class of 2016 said “my priority is the safety of my residents, because that is my job.” Two of her residents were sexually assaulted this year, and they cited fears of reporting the incidents after hearing about what other victims had gone through in these processes. Another WPC from the class of 2016 said “most people on this campus are not rapists,” but pointed to a small group of repeat offenders that did not have a place on Brown’s campus. An RPL insisted that for alcohol education and other topics, the RPLs need more resources.

Psych Services

One female student on full financial aid said that for victims of sexual assault, seven free Psych Services sessions is simply not enough, and many do not have the resources to find help elsewhere. Paxson responded that the University is currently addressing the issue of an understaffed Psych services, as well as a shortage of people in the area available to see students. Paxson continued to say that we should see a change already by the fall in terms of the availability of these resources.

A male student approached the mic and spoke about being randomly placed in a fraternity after a semester of studying abroad. “I overheard rape jokes and homophobic comments…and eventually I felt unsafe and had to move. My therapist at Psych Services said to view it as a sociological experiment, which I did. Fraternities here are some of the most wildly unregulated places on campus.”

Graduate Student Cases

A female graduate student rose to speak about the complexity regarding sexual assault cases between graduate students and post doctorates or faculty members. These cases are not handled by Student Affairs, but instead go to the Provost for a final decision. Provost Mark Schlissel said that he was certainly open to discussion about amending the process for these cases. An audience member asked: “Would you be open to a panel for sexual assault between graduate students and post docs and faculty members?”, to which Schlissel replied “Yes.” He added, “I have no professional interest in being the unilateral decider for these issues.”

Appeals

Justice Gaines ’16 took the spotlight to elaborate on the restrictive basis for appeals, which requires something to have gone wrong in the original hearing or the emergence of new evidence in a set period of time. Some injuries can arise after those deadlines, such as Sclove’s spine injury from strangulation that precipitated her medical leave and had her bedridden for two months. UCS President Todd Harris later echoed Gaines’ point by explaining that an appeal “forces the survivor to go through the entire process again for an appeal” and  that this issue ” needs to be looked at critically.”

Paxson’s Suggestions

Paxson did bring up a very popular proposal – asking if the review for the code of conduct could be a fragmented process where the sexual assault portion was streamlined. Russell Carey said that it was possible, and although the corporation has to hear all of the changes, they have heard changes separately in the past. Paxson also mentioned that Title IX focuses the attention on women, “but men get raped too, and Brown’s policies have to be inclusive.”

Moving Forward

Hall ’16 closed the audience contributions by plugging SAPE – Sexual Assault Peer Education, which trains students on how to step up and intervene/prevent risky situations when they see them.

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