Navigating the System: An Analysis of the Sexual Misconduct Policy and Due Process

by Ray Still

Around 65 percent of sexual assaults and rapes go unreported nationally, according to a 2012 Department of Justice report. There are many reasons why sexual assault and rape go unreported, but it begs the question – how many cases of sexual assault go unreported at The Evergreen State College? Language in Evergreen’s student conduct code – the college’s student social contract – and due process makes the college system different than, and separate from, the state court system. While the administration can only guess as to why sexual misconducts go unreported, a thorough and plain outline of Evergreen’s policy and due process may encourage more students to come forward, armed with a better understanding of their rights and resources.

Sexual Misconduct and Assault Between 2007 and 2012

In August of 2012, Senior Conduct Officer Andrea Seabert-Olsen put together the report for the college, which outlined all of the reported sexual misconduct at the school between 2007 and 2012.

When there is an act of sexual misconduct, there is the complainant, who brings forward a complaint to the college, and the respondent, the student who has allegedly violated the code.

Between 2007 and 2012, there were 17 sexual misconduct cases reported to the college. These cases included stalking, harassment, assault, domestic violence and rape. Thirteen of those cases, or 76 percent, were determined to have most likely breached Evergreen’s student conduct code. Only two cases were determined to have a lack of information, or conflicting information, to show a breach of the code. The final two cases were unresolved “due to the alleged violators not being identified,” according to the report.

Seabert-Olsen wrote in the report that sexual misconduct cases continue to be underreported. “Whether it is the criminal system, or our system, people are reluctant to report,” she said. “It is challenging under the best of circumstances.”

Sexual-Assault-Chart-Cropped-WEB

Data from Seabert-Olsen’s report, detailing the number of sexual misconducts reported to the college from 2007 to 2012.

Kelly Schrader, coordinator for the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention, agreed that reporting sexual misconducts can be difficult.

“There are so many cultural complexities,” Schrader said. “Everything from the privilege and oppression that exists in our society, down to ‘I have to go to school with the person who hurt me, and I am scared of the repercussions of reporting what happened.’”

The College Conduct Officers

The college’s due process toward sexual misconduct is outlined in the Student Conduct Code. Any person can bring forward information about a violation of the code, even third parties who report to the college on behalf of the someone who was harmed. If the information is third-hand, the Office of Student Affairs sends a letter to the potential complainant, explaining that person’s rights at the college, and resources they can use or go to for support and advice.

[pullquote_left]Yes is not the absence of no. 

Andrea Seabert-Olsen[/pullquote_left]

If a complaint is made, Seabert-Olsen or designated officer investigates the potential violation of the code. “I interview anyone necessary, and then determine what the outcome is,” Seabert-Olsen said. “I then meet with both the complainant and respondent, separately, but in the same time period, to report my determination.”

The severity of misconduct determines the officer’s resolution – minor misconducts can result in educational classes and workshops on consent and behavior assessment or other recommended evaluations.

For more severe misconducts, like assault, it is typical for the respondent to be suspended from the college. They can only return to the college when the suspension is complete and the required conditions are met, like psychosexual evaluations or substance-use evaluations, if substances were involved.

If the respondent does come back to campus, Seabert-Olsen said it is typical for them to face restrictions, such as a no-contact order with the complainant and a residence hall suspension.

The complainant is kept in communication with the conduct officer and is informed when the respondent returns to campus with a completed suspension sentence. When the respondent comes back on to campus, the no-contact order is still in effect.

Seabert-Olsen said her focus is in education, not in punishment. “I would do expulsions if it was egregious enough,” she said. “But with acquaintance misconduct, which are the typical cases I get, having them do work and getting more educated so they are not in the position to hurt anyone again is my focus.”

The Conduct Hearing Board

Appeals in sexual misconduct and assault cases are handled by a hearing board composed of three students, one faculty and one staff member. Both parties have 20 days to appeal the first determination and can appeal for any reason, Seabert-Olsen said.

The hearing board begins a new investigation by reviewing the facts of the case, allowing the respondent and the conduct administrator who completed the investigation to present these facts.

The hearing board’s decision is binding and can only be reconsidered if the respondent can “state the specific grounds upon which relief is requested,” according to the code. Both the respondent and the complainant are informed of the final determination in sexual misconduct cases.

Seabert-Olsen said every college has slightly different methods for dealing with sexual misconduct and assault cases. At Evergreen, “We feel it is important for students to be heard by a board of their peers,” she said.

To be eligible to participate in sexual misconduct hearings, students must complete several trainings and assignments, and must be in good standing, or have no current conduct issues, with the college. These sessions cover topics such as confidentiality, appropriate questioning, consciousness around harmed parties and consent. The sessions are about three hours each. The college offers training every quarter, and often sends out emails to the student body asking for volunteers.

The Student Conduct Code allows for student conduct hearings to be carried out at the same time as external legal processes, including the Washington state court system. However, decisions and sanctions made by the college’s conduct officer or the school hearing board are not subject to change, regardless of the outcome of those external legal processes.

A difference between the college’s conduct code and external legal proceedings is that the college has more language that revolves around consent and the use of substances.

“Yes is not an absence of no,” said Seabert-Olsen. This means that if a person doesn’t explicitly say “yes” to sexual advances, they did not give consent.

When substances are involved in sexual misconduct cases, and a complainant’s judgement is impaired, this language in this code allows conduct officers and the hearing board to better determine lack of consent, “We spent a lot of time putting that into the code,” Seabert-Olsen said, so that the college can better address more subjective terms like consent and impaired judgement in sexual misconduct cases.

In contrast, external legal proceedings are more rigid than Evergreen, because there is less language on consent, even when substances are involved, which can complicate a legal ruling.

The Office of Sexual Violence Prevention

The Office of Sexual Violence Prevention (OSVP), coordinated by Kelly Schrader, tried to cover both helping students in need immediate support, and educating students to help prevent sexual violence. Schrader hopes to create a sexual violence prevention program by the end of the year.

Schrader explained how “the person who is sitting across from me, who was affected by violence, is telling me the truth as they experienced it. That is different than, but not less important than, the outcome of a conduct hearing.”

Schrader talks about this difference to students often – how the official investigation is about whether “it’s more likely than not that a violation of the student conduct code occurred,” not whether the the complainant is telling the truth or not.

“So I try to break that out for folks,” Schrader said, “and support them through the process because, if you’re telling me what happened to you, that is the truth as you experienced it.”

One of the things Schrader does to help students, whether or not the students is interested in reporting the misconduct to the college, is putting together a “safety plan.” These safety plans help students plan out their days, so they can stay safe on and off campus and have contingency plans for if things go awry.

Schrader commented on how the time a sexual misconduct is reported to when there is a resolution can take a while. “In some ways, that is good, because it shows that there is not a lack in judgment,” she said. “However, if it is going to be two weeks before there is going to be a conduct resolution, the person who was affected by violence can’t wait that long. They need a safety plan. They need to know they can come and go to their car, their head can hit the pillow at night, and they can go to class and do their homework. Two weeks is a long time in a 10-week quarter.”

If you have any questions about the student conduct code, Evergreen’s due process, or wish to file a complaint, you can contact Police Services, Senior Conduct Officer Andrea Seabert-Olsen, Civil Rights Officer Nicole Ack, Title IX Coordinator Paul Gallegos, and Office of Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator Kelly Schrader. You can also contact the student group Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) for information about consent and additional resources.