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Dartmouth to Put Forth Sexual Misconduct Policy

  • The east side of campus and College Park is seen from the Baker Tower on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. Phil Hanlon, the college's president, is considering an expansion of the school's undergraduate population. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hanover — For the first time, Dartmouth College will implement a single, comprehensive policy to deal with sexual misconduct, whether the perpetrator is a freshman student or a tenured professor.

As the details of the policy are being mulled over by President Phil Hanlon and other administrators, students on the Dartmouth campus on Wednesday afternoon said they want a policy that is strong enough to protect students from all forms of sexual misconduct.

“I think they should be harsh across the board,” said Isabella Frohlich, a 20-year-old student humanities student from Seattle and member of the Dartmouth student group Movement Against Violence. “If it’s sexual misconduct, it’s sexual misconduct.”

Over the summer, a steering committee submitted a report that included not recommendations, but “considerations,” for what such a policy should include, said Geisel School of Medicine Dean for Faculty Affairs Leslie Henderson, who chaired the committee.

“This is something that is taken very seriously in this community,” Henderson said. “Not just in the president’s office, but across the board for everyone in this community. That’s one of the important things in this document ... staff, students, people visiting or who have some sort of affiliation and are visiting. We want to make sure it’s appropriate for everyone who engages in our education sphere.”

The announcement comes about one year after three professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences — Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and Bill Kelley — were first put on paid leave and barred from campus in response to allegations of sexual misconduct.

After an internal Dartmouth review recommended that all three be terminated, Whalen and Kelley resigned, and Heatherton retired.

New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation into the events that led to the internal review is ongoing.

Henderson said the policy revision is much more far-reaching than any one incident.

“Was the committee agnostic about that? Certainly not,” Henderson said. “But I think the discussion was recognizing that this was a need on campus that was greater than any one individual report. I certainly would not characterize this as something that was a result of that particular situation.”

Though details of the policy under consideration by Hanlon have not been released, one significant change will be the adoption of a single, uniform policy that will apply to students, faculty and staff.

“This is not simply for the undergraduate community,” she said. “This is for the community at large, and the Dartmouth community is pretty big.”

The campus already has a relatively new policy for students that is unified, in the sense that it applies to all forms of sexual misconduct. But Henderson said the campus also has various other, older policies on the books that address pieces of the puzzle. It’s time to align them, and bring them up to date, she said.

“There was unanimity from committee members that there should be a single place in which there is a policy, so everyone can go and have the same information and to make it as straightforward as possible, so everyone knows that the expectations are,” she said.

Evan Muscatel, a 19-year-old engineering student from California, said the Dartmouth culture seems like it is generally supportive of victims, and holds perpetrators to account.

“I feel like it’s handled pretty well,” Muscatel said.

Muscatel said faculty, who have more life experience and are in a position of power over students, need to be held more accountable than students.

“Students should be held to a high standard,” he said. “But the faculty definitely should be held to an even higher standard.”

But Annie Sherrill, a 21-year-old senior from Connecticut, said that doesn’t mean students guilty of sexual misconduct should be assumed to have behaved in ignorance.

“Students also make intentional actions,” Sherrill said.

Some female students, like Frohlich, say they feel safe on campus. She said Dartmouth has generally done a good job of creating a culture of accountability.

“I can go to male-dominated social spaces,” like a fraternity party, “and people check in with me to make sure I’m doing all right,” she said.

But, Frohlich said, she also knows of peers who don’t feel as comfortable on campus, and she wants a policy that continually educates the community about what behavior is acceptable.

“Some campus spaces feel safer than others,” said Amy Irvine, 21, a psychology senior from North Carolina, who also said she wants high standards of conduct for both students and faculty.

Women may report feeling safe, Irvine said, but many have in fact gone to great lengths to secure that safety by carefully regulating how they dress, whom they talk to and where they go.

Henderson said there also was recognition that the number of incidents likely could be reduced by community education and tone-setting, with resources in place to address problems as they arose.

The right of free speech was discussed but was not a focus of the discussion, according to Henderson.

“More fundamentally, how we create a respectful environment, that people involved know what resources are there, and that it’s a fair and appropriate process, that was much more of what the committee talked about,” she said.

Diana Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the college, said the deans have not yet begun to have community discussions and have not set a timeline.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.