Univ. hosts forum on sexual misconduct response and services

April 20, 2018

Students, staff and administrators gathered to ask and answer questions on sexual assault, misconduct and the Title IX reporting processes at a forum on Wednesday, April 18 in the Napoli Room in Gosman.

Panelists, including Title IX staff and Sarah Berg, the director of the Office of Prevention Services, described the processes used to investigate sexual misconduct and possible university sanctions. They also focused on how to make sexual assault and misconduct reporting easier for international students and how to improve the bystander intervention training program.

One of the panelists, Interim Title IX Investigator Anthony Sciaraffa, described the process of filing a complaint against another student. When a student decides to go forward with an investigation there are two options: a formal investigation, called the Special Examiner Process and an informal investigation. The complainant chooses which process to pursue.

The Special Examiner process is handled by Sciaraffa and, in most cases, an external investigator. “We look at the entire case as neutral fact finders and at the end of the investigation we make recommendations,” said Sciaraffa.

Sciaraffa described the process of the investigation, which begins with a fact-finding phase where the complainant is interviewed followed by the respondent. Then other witnesses and documentary evidence, such as text messages are investigated.

“We’ll make a determination based on what we call a preponderance of the evidence which is that it’s more likely than not that what’s complained of has happened,” Sciaraffa said. “If we can’t reach that standard we can’t find the respondent responsible.”

“It’s a responsibility that I take very seriously,” he continued. “While I may believe the complainant coming in, it doesn’t mean that I’m always going to find the … set of facts meet that burden of proof.” Sciaraffa said he approached every case as a neutral observer, with no preconceived notions of the case.

The Special Examiner Process comes with university sanctions if the accused is found responsible, whereas the informal process results in non-punitive sanctions such as no-contact orders or education.

Josh Hoffman ’19 asked about the range of punishments used when a finding of responsibility occurred. Vice President of Student Affairs Sheryl Sousa, who helped to moderate the panel, described the options, saying, “So depending on the violation—which code of the rights and responsibilities is violated—there’s a sanctions panel of three members of the community, faculty or staff, who review the case and make recommendations on sanctions,” Sousa said.

“They can range all the way up to most severe which would be dismissal from the university, to suspension, to restriction from campus to disciplinary probation,” she continued “There’s a wide range of sanctions available depending on which policy violation is alleged.”

Brandeis University has had 12 Special Examiner processes in the last three years, seven of which resulted in findings of responsibility, two in findings of not responsible and three investigations remain pending, according to an email clarification after the forum by Sousa.

If a complaint is filed by a student on a faculty member or by a faculty member on another faculty member, the Vice President of Human Resources and Acting Title IX coordinator Robin Nelson-Bailey retains the complaints and handles the investigation. Nelson-Bailey described the process as also complainant driven.

Berg discussed the ongoing search for a permanent Survivor Advocate at the Rape Crisis Center, following Julia Rickey’s departure from that position in August.

The Survivor Advocate is the primary person working with students affected by interpersonal violence. Berg and the hiring team received 83 applicants in the original posting of the job, but in February decided that none of the applicants were “the right person.” The job was reposted April 6, and Berg hopes to fill the position by July 1. Berg also wants to get student input throughout the summer on the applicants.

The forum took questions and comments from the audience and a Google form sent out before the panel, focusing on ways to make it easier for individuals to report sexual assault or misconduct and to file Title IX complaints.

Saren McAllister ’18, a peer advocate at the Rape Crisis Center (RCC) and Callahan Cox ’18, Student Union Communications Director, emphasized the importance of translating the Office of Prevention Services and RCC posters and information, in order to reach out to international students.

The panel also discussed bystander training for club leaders. In the fall semester of 2016, the Student Union issued a bylaw requiring all club leaders to undergo bystander training annually, but stopped implementing the mandate this year, as the Office of Prevention Services looked into better ways to implement this kind of program.

Student Union Vice President Hannah Brown ’19 and Cox both talked about how the training doesn’t vary from year to year, making it seem chore-like to club-leaders.

Berg agreed, saying, “A lot of research in this field tells us that multiple doses of prevention training is most effective…What that research doesn’t say is [that it has to be] multiple doses of the literally exact same training a bunch of times so I really want to work on that too.”

Berg also expressed a desire to make better advertised and more specific training to Brandeis’ campus, and is considering the option of in-person training when possible. Berg also mentioned that the new General Education requirements include healthy relationships and bystander intervention within one of the course requirements.

This is the last forum of three that have occurred over the spring semester on student issues including mental health and campus events, though Souza expects to host more in the coming academic year.

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