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CSL to request removal from sexual misconduct appeals process

Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 07:01

At its upcoming meeting on Feb. 5, the Committee on Student Life (CSL) will propose a change in the Tufts University bylaws that would allow for sexual misconduct appeals to be handled by the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) rather than the CSL.

CSL Faculty Co-chair Alva Couch said that the change in the appeals process would result in students no longer hearing the appeals of other Tufts students, among other adjustments to address Title IX complaints.

“In this case, Title IX is specifically the handling of sexual harassment cases that are sent in question,” Couch said. “This requires a special sensitivity and it also requires expertise and training.”

According to Couch, a trained, three-person faculty panel would make decisions regarding appeals. These faculty members would not be drawn from the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus.

“It is not considered kind to the student [requesting an appeal] to have students hearing a case that could be potentially embarrassing,” Couch said. “Furthermore, these faculty can be chosen from schools other than the school in which the student actually lives, which means that the chances of future contact are small.”

CSL Student Co-chair Haydn Forrest, a senior, said that the CSL is making changes to the appeals process in order to keep Tufts’ judicial practices up-to-date and to respect the privacy of all involved parties.

“[The CSL wants to implement these changes] mostly to ensure that we’re aligned with best practices nationwide, to protect the privacy of the students and to make sure they’re getting the best judicial environment possible for them,” Forrest said.

“Obviously these sort of cases are really intense affairs in a lot of cases, and there’s no reason to make that process any more difficult than it has to be for anyone.”

Former CSL Student Co-chair Kumar Ramanathan said that, due to the degree of training needed for case adjudicators, a setup had to be arranged that would allow qualified individuals to listen to appeals.

“It was just a matter of figuring out how to get [sexual misconduct appeals] out of the CSL’s hands and into a structure where these trained staff and faculty would be in charge of the adjudication,” Ramanathan, a junior, said.

Couch said that the decision to delegate sexual misconduct appeals to the OEO would be a welcomed change for both campus offices.

“The OEO are overjoyed that we are releasing the process to them.” Couch said. “They feel that they know what they’re doing, and they feel very gratified that we are releasing the process to them and allowing them to utilize the tools they’ve built.”

According to Couch, if the proposed motion passes, the new bylaw would go into effect immediately. The CSL would, however, maintain its current status as the board of appeal in all other judicial aspects, as designated by university bylaws.

“Basically the bylaws gave us complete board appeal authority, and we are delegating one small piece of that authority,” Couch said. “We remain the board of appeal for all other cases in which there could be a disciplinary decision by Tufts judiciary.”

Forrest said that, while peer involvement is important in other aspects of campus life, cases regarding sexual misconduct appeals require special sensitivity and understanding.

“As with anything with the appeals process, I think it’s good that there’s a peer voice involved, but in these cases of sexual misconduct, the cases are really complicated; they require a lot of special training,” Forrest said. “I think the first and foremost need is the security of the students involved in them, so if removing the CSL from that process improves the quality of their experience and improves the protection of their identity, then it’s absolutely worthwhile.”

Couch said that the policy change in the handling of sexual misconduct appeals will make the idea of seeking an appeal less intimidating.

“What we hope is that it will be a lot less embarrassing to make an appeal,” Couch said. “It will be something that we can encourage people to do rather than scare them away by the daunting process of appeal ... we will therefore have an improvement in the environment here due to enforcement of the existing Tufts policies on sexual misconduct.”

As a member of the recently developed Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force, Ramanathan said that the appeals process is something that needs to continue to evolve.

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