Students largely see changes to revised sexual misconduct policy as progress

By Abby Biesman
News & Features Editor

The revised Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures, released on Aug. 14, has generated a combination of positive and wary responses from the student body.

Work on a revision of the policy began last fall, and a draft was sent to the University community in June for feedback.

Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Vice President Jack Bartholet shared his opinion.

“I’m really proud of the University for tackling these issues head on now. I just want to make sure that we’re all doing it in a measured fashion,” Bartholet said.

Some changes in the revised policy include a single document for the policy and procedures, centralization of the process among the nine Hopkins campuses and the Applied Physics Laboratory, and an amnesty policy for reporting incidents to the administration.

The addition of an amnesty policy garnered positive responses. The amnesty allows students to report incidents without receiving repercussions for violating University drug or alcohol policies at the time. Only under particular circumstances would the University make a required intervention for substance abuse.

Sophomore Class Senator Sarah Zappone shared her opinion on the addition of amnesty to the policy.

“We’ve needed that – fear of administrative retribution keeps many students silent if they were under influences at the time of the assault,” Zappone wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Senior Class Senator Nadine Abdullat also applauded the addition of amnesty to the policy.

“I think the fact that they added the avenue to protect people reporting assaults is a big one because that is often why people don’t report,” Abdullat said.

The revised policy also includes additional information and resources to assist victims through the process.

“Section IV on Reporting and Section VI on Confidentiality and Confidential Resources are really winners. VI outlines where to reach out while retaining anonymity,” Zappone wrote.

Bartholet voiced some potential concerns regarding the revised policy. One of his concerns is the burden of proof.

“It puts the burden of proof to a preponderance of the evidence standard, which is much more lax than in a criminal trial, and that’s important because in these kinds of cases, they have life-changing repercussions,” Bartholet said.

Bartholet followed up by saying that though he is not necessarily sure the standards need to be the same as a criminal trial because it is at the University level, but he does not quite feel settled.

“I’m not entirely sure if I believe that something this important should be left to balance the scales,” Bartholet said. “Here you can have two people whose stories don’t match up, and you just have to pick the right one. If you pick the accuser, the accuser gets expelled. If you pick the accused, the accuser has their life ruined. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

Another element of concern Bartholet voiced was about proving affirmative consent. He is preemptively wary of the policy being too extreme.

“These are often incidents where it’s really ambiguous and there’s a lot of clouding memory, so while I strongly believe we need a really strong sexual violence policy… I think that swinging the pendulum way too far in the other direction also has repercussions,” Bartholet said. “I’m not saying that’s what we did. It’s something that I’m concerned about.”

He also commented on his desire to make sure the process is fair for both the complainant and the accused.

“I think we need to be really careful that we don’t overreact in such a way that we imperil students who have done nothing wrong, and in that way, I want to make sure the rights of the accused are in place and that the accused doesn’t mean automatically the assailant. It’s got to be after due process,” Bartholet said.

The Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) is a student advocacy group that supports students who have experienced sexual assault and promotes its end. Christine Fei, events co-chair, shared her response to helping disseminate this information throughout the University community.

“I think at this point, I feel that many students aren’t aware of what the new policy entails or even that it exists!” Fei said. “I think it’s all of our responsibilities to be educated on the school’s policy. SARU will also definitely be working on ways to help students understand the policy as well as Title IX and the Clery Act.”

Students seem to feel that the policy revisions are important steps in creating a comfortable environment to handle sexual assault on campus.

“Personally, I think that the policy is a step in the right direction. It’s Hopkins recognizing that there is a problem, and they haven’t been doing their part in addressing it,” Abdullat said. “It’s not without faults. It’s a step in the right direction.”

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