Dartmouth Proposes Sex-Assault Crackdown Amid Federal Probe

Dartmouth College, under investigation by the U.S. Education Department for its response to sexual misconduct, is preparing stiffer penalties for students found responsible for sexual assault.

President Philip Hanlon has proposed mandatory expulsion for those who incapacitate students with drugs or alcohol in order to have penetrating sex with them, or use force or threats to do so, Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, said late yesterday in a statement on its website.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights began an investigation of Dartmouth’s prevention and response measures for sexual harassment in May. Concerned faculty and alumni have been calling for mandatory expulsions for sexual assault for years, said Susan Struble, a 1993 graduate who co-founded DartmouthChange, a group of students, faculty and alumni fighting sexual violence at the school.

“This is the kind of leadership we’ve been asking for for 40 years,” said Struble, who said she has provided information informally to the OCR for its investigation. “This is great news. We’re jumping up and down.”

Hanlon, who created the proposal along with Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson, also aims to establish one pathway for all sexual-assault probes of undergraduates, graduate students and members of student organizations, which will be overseen by investigators from outside the school, according to the statement.

Stronger Deterrent

Currently, school investigations of sexual assault are conducted internally, said Justin Anderson, a Dartmouth spokesman. Graduate and undergraduate cases are overseen by separate bodies, he said. While the school doesn’t currently have a policy of mandatory expulsion, students have been expelled for sexual misconduct, he said.

“For egregious offenses, separation from the college is not automatic, but it is the expectation,” Anderson said in a telephone interview.

Hanlon and Johnson said the proposed system would “encourage reporting, expedite the process, increase consistency in sanctioning, and represent a stronger deterrent to sexual assault,” according to the statement.

They also proposed mandatory expulsion where the charged student has previously been found responsible for sexual assault, according to the statement. Dartmouth is part of the Ivy League, a group of eight elite colleges in the northeastern U.S.

Federal Complaints

Last year, Dartmouth students who staged a protest of the school’s response to sexual assault and harassment said they received Internet death threats. Not long after, a freshman was arrested and charged with raping a female student in her dormitory room. A group of Dartmouth students filed a complaint with the Education Department, saying that the school failed to report incidents of sexual misconduct.

Bloomberg News published a series of stories in the past year showing growing student anger and activism regarding campus sexual assault. In the fiscal year that ended in September, the Education Department received 30 complaints claiming colleges failed to prevent or fully address campus assaults, compared with 17 a year earlier and 18 two years prior.

Some Dartmouth students and alumni have said that sexual assault is facilitated by attitudes and behaviors, particularly drinking, at Dartmouth’s fraternities. Hanlon, who while a Dartmouth undergraduate in 1970s was a member of the Alpha Delta fraternity that inspired the 1978 movie “Animal House,” has said that the brotherhoods contribute to campus life.

Campus Culture

While the stronger penalties are a positive step, Dartmouth still needs to address cultural conditions on campus that make sexual assault seem permissible, said Andrea Jaresova, who graduated in 2012 and was director of Mentors Against Violence, a student-founded group that provides education in preventing sexual assault.

“It seems like they’re becoming more strict, but that’s not the whole picture,” Jaresova said in a telephone interview. “They need to do more.”

Dartmouth said last month that it will open a campus center that will serve as a hub for educating students in prevention and response to sexual assault. Hanlon has also instituted the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative, a voluntary program in sexual-assault prevention.

Hanlon’s proposal was presented to the board where it received unanimous support, according to the statement. It will be posted on the college website for comments and suggestions until April 14. The school aims to implement the new policy by the beginning of the summer term in June.

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