Office of the President
March 18, 2015
Tags Community Messages

Letter to the Task Force on Sexual Assault

From the President

Dear Sexual Assault Task Force members;

As you know, the recent sexual assault and date-rape-drug case has prompted a great deal of thought about how Brown’s policies on sexual assault can be improved. On Monday, I met with a group of students (several of whom are on the Task Force) to discuss recommendations, endorsed by the Undergraduate Council of Students, that speak to specific issues raised by this case. I thought it would be valuable to briefly summarize my views for the Task Force in the hope that it will help guide your deliberations, recognizing that it is quite likely that you have already discussed these issues.

A number of recommendations seem to me to be especially straightforward:

  1. That the surreptitious provision of a “date rape” drug that results in or places an individual at risk of sexual assault should be considered sexual misconduct.
  2. That a process should be developed for DPS and/or the external investigator to record interviews in investigations of sexual misconduct, provided this can be done in a way that does not deter people from coming forward or giving complete information.
  3. That decision-makers in cases of sexual misconduct receive substantial training in the concept of consent, with specific attention to situations of incapacitation by date-rape drugs.
  4. That the policy codifies the threshold of evidence needed to move a case forward to a Student Conduct Board hearing.
  5. That every attempt is made to provide students with access to date-rape drug testing that meets forensic standards, recognizing that this will require the active cooperation of area hospitals.

During my meeting with the students, I expressed my mixed feelings regarding Brown’s potential role in providing legal guidance to respondents and/or complainants. I believe all students should be on a level playing field, and that respondents especially should have legal advice when their alleged behaviors could also be the subject of criminal investigations. Some families have the means to hire attorneys and others do not, and Brown should help students procure legal help when it is needed. That said, I am troubled by the increasing “legalization” of the entire student conduct process, which can result in delays and increase the adversarial nature of the experience for complainants and respondents. I encourage the Task Force to discuss how we can make the process fair while keeping it what it is meant to be—not a court of law, but a University-based method of assigning responsibility for sexual misconduct violations, remedying harms to survivors, and preventing the reoccurrence of future incidents to increase the safety of the campus.

We also discussed the possibility of a requirement that the University allow survivors of sexual assault to provide input into “timely warnings” issued to the campus. Although I understand and am sympathetic to the idea behind this recommendation—and I agree that whenever possible survivors should be given advance notice that a warning will be released—I am concerned that a policy of this type could interfere with the University’s legal responsibilities under the Clery Act.

The incident this year raised the issue of possible conflict of interest regarding the family relationship of a respondent to a Brown trustee. Brown’s conflict of interest policy already clearly specifies that members of the Brown community (which includes members of the Brown Corporation) may not make or try to influence University decisions that affect a family member. If your report gets to this level of detail, it may be appropriate to specify that (a) all decision- makers in sexual misconduct cases will be reminded of Brown’s Conflict of Interest policy during training; and (b) procedures may be altered, as necessary, to address potential conflicts of interest.

I would like to raise a final issue that I think is important, and which the Task Force may not have considered. Under the current (new) policy, an investigator is charged with compiling a detailed written report that includes the entirety of the evidence in a case. Each report would necessarily be given to the complainant, respondent and members of the hearing panel. Releases of all or portions of these reports by any of the parties involved would be a gross violation of the confidentiality of the process and could cause great harm to all individuals involved. I understand that, currently, students involved in misconduct hearings sign confidentiality statements, although these have not been routinely enforced. With the movement to comprehensive written reports, I think it is essential that we emphasize the need for confidentiality and begin to consistently enforce confidentiality provisions, however difficult that may be.

I look forward to receiving your final recommendations, and I thank you for your work.


Christina H. Paxson