Bowdoin is taking measures to adopt a new sexual assault and misconduct policy for students. The policy creates a refined definition of consent, designates procedures for a non-college third-party to investigate allegations, and differentiates between sexual assault and misconduct allegations.
Associate Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon said the proposed policy is more comprehensive than current rules and "anticipates the questions people might have."
The 14-page policy, which was adapted from the policy used by the University of Virginia, is currently open to the public for review.
"We're in the phase where we're asking for feedback from people," McMahon said.
Under the policy, allegations may be considered a case of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. With the misconduct standard, the alleged assailant would fail to gain "effective consent" but would have not intended to harm the victim.
The policy holds that consent consists of "words or actions that show a voluntary agreement to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity."
"The definition of consent, to my mind, is vital," McMahon said. McMahon led the creation of the policy for the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs.
The policy does not detail specific words or actions that would indicate consent. If a student opts for a formal hearing with the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Board, the board will determine whether consent was given.
McMahon said the same standards apply to students under the influence of drugs or alcohol. "If there's a point where you are doing something you would not do sober, you're not giving effective consent," she said.
In cases where a person is intoxicated, McMahon said a student wondering if consent has been given should ask, "Is that person too drunk?"
"It's not an opportunity," she said. "It's cause to slow down."
The policy offers three methods of handling complaints. Under current rules, a complaint is dealt with through a formal hearing with the board or mediation. The new policy would also allow for the option of a structured meeting between the two parties. That meeting cannot be the basis for formal sanctions against the alleged assailant, but can result in protective action by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs.
If the accuser instead opts for a formal hearing, the case is heard by the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Board. Under the new policy, the board will hire an impartial third party to investigate basic information related to the case. McMahon said the investigator will interview the involved parties and make a written report to the board. Under current rules, the board acts as both the investigator and judge.
In an email sent to all Bowdoin employees and students this week, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster encouraged the Bowdoin community to read the policy, which has been posted on the College's web site, and send feedback to the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs.
McMahon said she hopes to have the policy in place by the start of next semester. The current policy will stay in place for allegations of sexual harassment or cases where a non-student is accused.
To usher in the new policy, the College has created a Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team (SARRT). The organization is co-chaired by Director of the Counseling Service Bernie Hershberger and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Joann Canning.
Hershberger described SARRT as a "group that is trying to coordinate the different efforts on campus and directly develop education for [the proposed sexual assault and misconduct policy.]"
Hershberger said that SARRT plans to work with campus groups to educate students about the new policy.
While SARRT is the only organization that has been formed as a direct result of the new policy, there are three more organizations on campus that deal with issues of sexual assault support and awareness. These organizations are Safe Space, Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence (BMASV), and an unnamed support group for women who have survived sexual assault. Both BMASV and the women's group have just been formed this semester.
BMASV is an organization that was founded this semester by seven Bowdoin men. The group meets once every three weeks, and had between 60 and 70 members present at its first meeting.
The group has written a pledge against sexual violence that they encourage Bowdoin men to sign. Additionally, BMASV plans to provide an escort service for students who need a safe way home from a party or other place.
"I think it's important for us to recognize that sexual assault is a men's issue," said President Kevin Mullins '07.
In addition, Staff Clinician of the Counseling Service Alison McGrath is facilitating a group for women that meets once a week. According to McGrath, many survivors of sexual assault experience a disconnect between mind and body, and she hopes that these meetings will help the women recover.
Members of Safe Space, an organization that provides support for survivors of sexual violence, will be trained next week about the new policy. The organization plans to help SARRT with publicity for the new policy once it is finalized.
Co-chair of Safe Space Kat Armstrong '08 likes the proposed policy because it makes a clear differentiation between sexual misconduct and sexual assault.
"Especially at college it's not always black and white," she said.