CREDIT: National Organization for Women (NOW)
Dartmouth College, which is currently under federal investigation for the way its administration handles cases of sexual assault, implemented a new policy this week to crack down on rape. The policy makes expulsion the mandatory punishment for some types of assaults, as the Huffington Post reports.
For years, student activists have been pressuring the elite school to impose tougher sanctions on students found guilty of rape. Tensions reached a boiling point this year, after activists received rape threats and one student published a “rape guide” detailing how to take advantage of drunk women. Applications to Dartmouth plummeted by 14 percent, and the bad press nudged the college toward some progress. This spring, the administration began engaging in an effort to reform its sexual assault policies.
“We have taken important steps forward over the last several years, but progress does not equal success,” the school’s president, Philip J. Hanlon, said in a speech in April, not long after the new policy was first proposed. “We need to move faster. Risky and harmful behaviors stand between us and realizing Dartmouth’s amazing promise and potential. We cannot let that happen.”
The policy stipulates that students who are found guilty of sexual assault — defined as “unwanted or unwelcome touching of a sexual nature” that occurs without clear and unambiguous consent — should be expelled. Dartmouth will also appoint an outside investigator to respond to allegations of sexual assault.
The new disciplinary procedures went into effect on Thursday, which means they don’t apply to any assaults that may have taken place before then.
This issue isn’t specific to Dartmouth; across the country, colleges are notorious for their lenient sexual assault policies that allow rapists to escape serious punishments. Just this week, James Madison University came under fire for punishing three students who committed a sexual assault with “expulsion after graduation,” which didn’t ban them from campus until after they were allowed to receive their diplomas.
As Dartmouth’s recent reform demonstrates, however, it’s not impossible for colleges to stiffen their penalties for rape. Last summer, Duke University also updated its policy to institute expulsion for students who are found guilty of sexual assault.
Even though the academic year has ended, the pressure to address these issues remains. Students at elite universities like Columbia, Harvard, Brown, and Stanford staged silent protests at their graduation ceremonies this spring, wearing red tape to symbolize the bureaucracy that often stands in the way of implementing reforms to create a safe campus environment. And colleges have work to do over the summer — by the fall, they’ll be required to bring their policies in line with the Campus SaVE Act, a provision in the latest version of the Violence Against Women Act that lays out specific obligations for schools.