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The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor: Administration clarifies sexual assault policies

I would like to clarify some misunderstandings, and further support the work of the community in responding to and preventing sexual assault. My earnest hope is that our actions and dialogues foster an environment that enables survivors to seek help.  At Grinnell, victims do, and should, and can use the term that best describes their experience, including the term rape.  There is no policy or practice that prohibits a person from using the word rape or any other words that they may choose.

Part of creating an environment where survivors seek help is to have language in the policies that is expansive and inclusive. The Sexual Misconduct Policy uses expansive and inclusive language so that individuals will not be deterred from getting help because they can’t find their particular experience in the list. So we used the umbrella term “sexual misconduct” to capture the range of prohibited acts. We didn’t want an individual to conclude that what happened to hir/her/him was “not significant,” “not bad enough,” “not important” or “not included.”

When a person comes forward to get help, an important aspect of gaining control back—control that was lost in an incident, relationship or series of incidents—is naming the experience. The language of the policy is not meant to dictate the language of a complainant, survivor or victim. Because there is a misunderstanding about policy vs. personal narrative, we propose to add language to the policy that reads: “These categories are meant to be inclusive and expansive, not exclusive. Survivors are fully supported in using the words that represent their experience—words like rape, abuse, attack or fondling—words that express the experience for them.” The policy will continue to describe the range of prohibited behaviors in the broadest terms to encourage individuals who have experienced harassment to let us help them.

Some of the students who come forward pursue conduct charges; many do not; it’s their choice. The student also has the option of pursuing criminal proceedings. I’d like to make a distinction between a college conduct process and criminal proceedings: as a college, through its conduct process, Grinnell enacts a range of educational sanctions, the most severe of which is dismissal, that is, permanent separation from the College. The conduct process cannot find people guilty of crimes, but the judicial system can. This distinction is not a matter of choice on our part; it’s a matter of law. We support the choice of any student to go or not to go to the policethe avenue through which crimes are prosecuted. A student may pursue conduct charges while at the same time pursuing criminal charges.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. Creating a vigorous response to all forms of sexual misconduct is vital, but in parallel, we need to work on preventing these terrible things from happening. “It’s on Us,” a national campaign started by the President of the United States, is a step in this direction. Its purpose is to shift the responsibility to all of us, and specifically to men, in the prevention of sexual assault. Grinnell’s “It’s on Us” video is completely a student initiative, which I wholeheartedly applaud. If we’re going to change culture, if we are going to create an environment where sexual assault is simply not tolerated, it’s going to take many approaches, from many sources. Thank you Opeyemi Awe [’15], for taking a leadership role in this. Let’s applaud this good work, this self-gov effort. There’s no single answer here. “It’s on Us” is not the sole solution, but it’s part of the solution.


Angela Voos

Title IX Coordinator

Chief of Staff

VP for Strategic Planning

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