By EDITORIAL BOARD
On Aug. 14, the University issued a revised version of its sexual misconduct policy that will now govern all nine Johns Hopkins schools. The document was the product of a year-long process to reevaluate our policies and procedures on sexual misconduct in response to Department of Education requirements and calls for change.
The end product is not a complete overhaul, but rather, an update that fills in some missing information, increases clarity and includes a larger list of resources for victims of sexual assault and more definitions of both terms like “consent” and “sexual harassment” and legal terms like “complainant” and “respondent.”
The Editorial Board recognizes two key changes to the sexual misconduct policy: amnesty and a focus on victims. The revised policy grants amnesty to students reporting or acting as witness to sexual misconduct who were in violation of the University’s alcohol and drug policies at the time. This provision is long-overdue, but it is important that it is being added to the policy now.
Secondly, the revised policy puts a stronger focus on victims, outlining resources on campus for support and explicitly highlighting the “supporter” role to the victim or respondent in the form of a friend, professor or other member of campus. Additionally, the Editorial Board appreciates that the revised policy continues to encourage students to report possible instances of sexual misconduct and state that a perceived lack of evidence need not be a deterrent to reporting.
However, despite the improvements, the Editorial Board feels that the revised policy does little to repair the terse relationship between the University and the student body on this issue. The University has a history of mishandling sexual assault cases, especially in instances involving members of Greek life. Between inconsistencies in punishing fraternities to discouraging students from reporting sexual misconduct, the administration has a long way to go to earn back the trust of the students.
We needed a new sexual misconduct policy, and throughout the past year, the University has led us to believe that they were creating a new policy with substantive changes. After all the months of anticipation, we were unimpressed by the scope of the revision.
Although the revised policy is both more organized and user-friendly, the Editorial Board feels that the policy should include more significant reforms to its handling of sexual misconduct cases, especially during the investigative and judicial processes. Simply making the policy more readable and more detailed allows for the illusion of change without the University truly having to reevaluate its policies of conduct.
For instance, the Editorial Board feels that the University should restrict its use of internal investigators during the initial fact-gathering stage of a sexual assault report. The current policy allows for either internal or external investigators to be used, at the discretion of the Title IX coordinator.
The Editorial Board sees no advantages to using an internal investigator and recognizes the disadvantage of the possibility of bias. Internal investigations can lead to possible extremes: the University could take initiative to try as many cases as possible or limit the number of cases in order to maintain a certain reputation, especially given the scandals related to sexual assault that have recently occurred on campus. The vague language of the policy leaves room for suspicion; under this policy, the University’s Title IX Coordinator could serve as the sole internal investigator of a report of sexual misconduct.
The Editorial Board does not see prominent downsides or barriers to using external investigators; these external investigators can be easily trained in the University’s policy and their presence is worth the price to ensure accurate evidence collection and the absence of possible biases. Moreover, the fact that an internal investigator who is paid by the University may perform an investigation of the happenings of the University creates a conflict of interest and invites too many questions, suspicions and concerns of possible bias.
The University’s handling of sexual misconduct in recent years, especially related to the inconsistencies in the University’s punishment of Greek life, has created substantial feelings of distrust and suspicion toward the administration in students. This revised policy may add to the frustrations students feel as it appears to be much ado about nothing, allowing the University to advertise and boast its comprehensive reform and progression while neglecting to truly make substantive changes.