While many of the changes this year are visibly noticeable, one of the most important improvements to life at Bowdoin is invisible to the naked eye. Per federal order, Bowdoin has revised its sexual assauly and harrassement policy, though Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster said the changes are slight.
The changes come in response to a letter that the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education sent to all educational institutions that receive any federal funding.
The letter reminds said institutions of their responsibility to provide "all students with an educational environment free from discrimination," and unequivocally asserts that sexual harassment and sexual violence fall under that umbrella.
Bowdoin's Student Sexual Misconduct Policy was already largely compliant with the code prescribed by the federal bureau; this, said Foster, is not the case at many other schools and universities, where the letter "precipitated really extensive revisions."
In a late August email to the student body, Foster articulated the shifts. Under the revised policy, sexual harassment falls under the category of sexual misconduct and is therefore under the jurisdiction of the Student Sexual Misconduct Board rather than the Judicial Board. The updated policy is more comprehensible, user-friendly, and articulate.
The Student Sexual Misconduct Board is comprised of members of the Judicial Board and of the faculty, all of whom receive special training from Meadow Davis, the board's advisor.
The Board receives all complaints of sexual misconduct in which a current Bowdoin student is the accused perpetrator. If the complainant opts for formal resolution, a hearing panel is comprised of one student and one faculty member on the Board.
All institutions that receive federal funds are beholden to the terms of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and are now reevaluating their policy.
The letter only catalyzed minor changes at Bowdoin because the College undertook a systemic revision of its stance on sexual misconduct almost five years ago.
Foster explained that prior to the redrafting, very few cases of sexual misconduct were brought to any kind of official attention. However, he said that the administration recognized that "just because there weren't cases being brought didn't mean they weren't going on."
After much research, development and engagement with many organizations within the Bowdoin community, the current policy was agreed upon.
The policy is modeled in large part on the approach taken at the University of Virginia, which has, according to Foster, "received a lot of positive reaction."
In the past five years, many more cases were brought up, which Foster points to as a sign of the policy's effectiveness.
"I think we were in a good place to start, and this was an opportunity for us to make our policy ever clearer and even better than it was before," said Davis.