Letter to the Community from President Ken Ruscio August 3, 2016

To: The Washington and Lee Community
From: President Kenneth P. Ruscio
Date: Aug. 3, 2016

The University has adopted a revised Sexual Discrimination and Misconduct Policy that is now in effect and supersedes all previous such policies. (See go.wlu.edu/OGC/SexualMisconductPolicy)

I am writing today to provide an overview of the policy and procedures, which apply to all forms of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, stalking and retaliation. The policy covers students, faculty, staff, vendors, visitors and volunteers.

Given the attention being paid to sexual assault on college campuses and, indeed, in our society, the segments of this policy related specifically to sexual assault demand special attention.

First, I want to emphasize the values and principles behind the specific details. With all the appropriate attention to finding procedural and policy responses to sexual assault, there has been a tendency to focus on legalities, on compliance and mandates, on the mechanics of the adjudicatory hearings, on the steps in the investigations, and on so many other guidelines and directives.

Even as we must heed these important matters, I hope we will continue to keep foremost in our thoughts what I have said before: The mistreatment of others is wrong by any standards of our society, but it is especially wrong here at Washington and Lee.

The special nature of this community is based on our avowed commitment to develop within our students the moral obligation to treat others with respect at all times and under all conditions. We also expect that members of our community will never stand idly by when we see others violate those values. Simply put, sexual misconduct ought to be inconceivable in our community.

Once again, I am asking all of us, as members of the Washington and Lee community, to rededicate ourselves to our fundamental values by always acting with honor, respect, integrity and civility in our dealings with one other. That aspiration guided the extensive work that has been done over the past few years on these issues and is the cornerstone of this revised policy.

At the same time, we have also been, and continue to be, guided further by these specific considerations: protection and support for anyone who believes he or she has been the victim of sexual assault or misconduct; a fair hearing for anyone accused of violating our standards and our policy; compliance with the law; our assessment of best practices elsewhere; and our overarching objective to build a community of trust and respect. Our concern has always been, and will continue to be, protecting the safety, security and rights of every member of our community.

Because of the policy's importance, we have been deliberate in its development and have consulted widely with community members. During its meeting in May, the Board of Trustees held extensive discussions on the policy, and board members have offered valuable feedback over the past several weeks as we prepared to introduce the policy. In the months prior to the board discussions, numerous meetings were held with students, faculty and staff to gather information and obtain their perspectives on the policy. The revised policy incorporates the responses we received throughout these discussions.

Our approach begins with a comprehensive educational program intended to promote a safe and healthy campus sexual culture:

  • We instruct all incoming students on bystander intervention — a set of tools and skills to increase each person's comfort with stepping in under certain circumstances to keep an entire group safe.
  • We provide ongoing forums to ensure that students are aware of both our policies and our expectations for behavior.
  • We have numerous student organizations and campus efforts that actively promote a healthy sexual culture. These include SPEAK (student sexual assault awareness), LIFE peer health educators, Advocates for an Alternative Atmosphere (AAAs), SHAG (Sexual Health Awareness Group), and the Healthy Sexual Culture Committee, as well as resident advisers, community assistants and peer counselors.
  • We encourage all members of the community to be aware of their individual and collective responsibilities to make our campus as safe and inclusive as possible.

The following are several key revisions to our policy and procedures:

Hearing Panel
A panel of three administrators will now adjudicate these cases. This replaces the Student Faculty Hearing Board (SFHB), which was created in 1992 and comprised four students and four faculty members, from which two students and two faculty members were chosen to hear an individual case. We have adopted a new model after careful consideration and extensive conversations with both students and faculty, including many who served on the SFHB and heard cases and who expressed a strong preference for what will be known as the Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Board (HSMB).

Student Advisory Group
A new six-member, non-voting Student Advisory Group will aid and advise the Title IX Coordinator, HSMB, and the Appeal Panel on student social dynamics and campus climate. The Student Advisory Group will also participate in a working group that will annually review the Sexual Discrimination and Misconduct Policy.

Guidelines for Sanctions
If a student is found responsible for nonconsensual sexual penetration, a mandatory sanction of dismissal will be applied in only those cases where the panel determines the student is responsible "beyond a reasonable doubt." Should the panel find a student responsible under the standard of "preponderance of evidence," it can choose from a range of sanctions, including dismissal. This change aligns the standard of mandatory dismissal in sexual misconduct cases with the standard of mandatory dismissal the Executive Committee uses for a violation of the Honor System.

I encourage you to become familiar with this policy and to consult the Sexual Misconduct website (go.wlu.edu/sexual-misconduct), where valuable resources are available. In the next several weeks, you will also receive a communication from Lauren Kozak, Title IX coordinator, providing answers to frequently asked questions about the policy.

Let me reiterate that we all recognize how complex these issues have become and how challenging it is to respond to them effectively, especially in light of the constantly shifting legal and regulatory environment in which we find ourselves. I believe that we have developed a policy that not only aligns with this community's culture, values and principles, but also meets all legal requirements and treats all our community members with respect and fairness.