SAGE advocates to expel students who commit sexual assault
Students Advocating Gender Equality is attempting to change the student code of conduct to make permanent dismissal the minimum punishment for students found responsible for sexual assault.
On Monday SAGE will deliver a letter to Central Michigan University President George Ross detailing their demands for the change and will participate in a demonstration Tuesday at 10 a.m. outside the walkway by the Fabiano Botanical Garden. The demonstration will end with a march on Warriner Hall at 1 p.m. Their online petition reached 5,700 signatures as of Monday morning.
"Our protest is mainly a symbolic action, we want university administrators to realize students at CMU take sexual assault very seriously and we want them to as well," said SAGE President Hannah Mollett. "To subject a survivor or any other student to sit next to a rapist in classes is just absurd."
This action is focused on students violating the student code of conduct and not those who have committed sexual assault in the past.
Sexual misconduct is a violation according to section 220.127.116.11 of the CMU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Disciplinary Procedures. Section 4.4.5 states the minimum mandatory sanction for sexual assault is suspension, although expulsions are an option in some cases.
The suspension varies in length and is determined by a committee made up of designees. Designees include Tony Voisin, the vice president of student enrollment services, Andrew Spencer, chair of the Academic Senate, and Chuck Mahone, SGA president. The survivor is allowed to make a witness statement, which typically holds a lot of weight in the decision.
"It varies because the code deals with the issues ranging from unwanted kissing to the worst case. It depends on the individual case," said Shaun Holtgreive, executive director of Campus Living.
Holtgreive said there is no standard for incidents of rape, although in most cases the suspension lasts for a year and "most have been beyond graduation for the survivor." However, there have been instances where the survivor requests a lesser punishment. The perpetrator typically does not come back to CMU, Holtgreive said.
The spectrum of sexual assault is the main schism in thinking between SAGE and university administrators.
"We don't like to differentiate between different types of sexual assault," Mollett said. "I don't think that saying one type is worse than another is productive in any way. There are so many other variables in those situations."
Katherine Lasher, director of the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity, said it is important not to look at the issue in a vacuum, she believes there are varying ways sexual assaults occur.
"It could be during a dating relationship, an acquaintance or someone they don't know," Lasher said. "All those factors are considered when sanctioning an individual."
She continued that it is most important to empower the survivor and give them a voice in the decision-making process. Lasher said removing that choice could take away from the survivor's power to control the situation.
Mollet countered that the university has a responsibility to remove a rapist from campus; having a survivor in the same environment as their attacker can be indescribably painful.
A resolution calling for the same punishment was introduced to the Student Government Association two weeks ago and was tabled indefinitely. If SGA brings the resolution forward, it would be reviewed by the senior staff and a recommendation would have to be made to support it.
If Ross felt the change was warranted, the policy requires the Board of Trustees to approve the change.
If passed, CMU would be pioneering such a penalty in the United States.
Lasher said there are very few schools that require a mandatory sanction.
"It is a unusual request. There is no legal obligation to expel an individual under Title IX or any of the related regulations," Lasher said. "It is not something universities have been entertaining to this point."
Statistics on sexual assault at public universities are difficult to quantify. One in Four, Inc, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of rape, reports only 11 percent of women go to police after an incident of sexual assault.
According to their statistics, 673,000 women attending U.S. colleges and universities have experienced rape.
Mollett said groups like Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates are examples of what CMU has done well to combat the issue. Because one in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime, these efforts are not enough.
Lasher said she has received positive feedback from peers at other universities, especially because her office has been around much longer than other institutions. Both Lasher and Holtgreive were adamant that the university has been progressive in tackling sexual assault issues and Ross will take recommendations from student leadership seriously.
"I have three sisters who graduated from (CMU) and I have three daughters, one of which is a student here," Holtgreive said. "As a father, I am very comfortable (with the current system). (CMU's system) gives the survivor the opportunity to get what he or she wants and the institution the ability to protect the community."