Fort Lewis College is assuring victims and witnesses to sexual assaults or harassment they will not be penalized for substance-abuse violations when reporting.
The FLC Board of Trustees on Friday approved several policy changes, including extending the grievance procedure to include adjudicating student conduct policy and expanding confidential reporting options.
“Our primary concern is safety,” said Glenna Witt Sexton, vice president for student affairs. “We want to make it clear to students and witnesses that they can make a complaint without fear of reprisal.”
The confidential reporting aspect matters on a campus the size of FLC with its 3,566 students, she said.
“People can figure out who is being talked about,” she said, “We’re training residence hall assistants, counselors and the health center how to confidentially handle reports. (Student Senate President) Conner (Cafferty) did a good job telling the senators people may come to you, we encourage you to know how to talk about it and get them where they need to go.”
How colleges handle sexual assault and harassment has been in the news across the country as institutions struggle with issues of sensitivity, fairness and making reporting safe for students and faculty. As part of its update, FLC combined sexual harassment and hostile environment sexual harassment into one category and put into writing the interim remedies for victims – including moving the victim or respondent to a different residence hall, ensuring they do not attend the same classes and providing counseling services – and the requirement that responsible employees must report sexual misconduct.
“We’re very proud of how we observe due process,” Sexton said. “We work to represent all students fairly.”
By handling all policy complaints – discriminatory harassment, equal opportunity and affirmative action and disability anti-discrimination in addition to the additional student conduct – under the same grievance procedure, violations under more than one policy can be handled at the same time.
In the past, with an incidents such as sexual misconduct or domestic or dating violence, an alcohol violation on the part of the accused would go unpunished, because substance abuse falls under the student-conduct policy, said Molly Wieser, Title IX coordinator.
“Now, we can look at everything,” she said.
The revised grievance procedure also restricts calling a Hearing Panel to instances when notice of suspension or expulsion has been issued. But the accused student or staff member may appeal a decision by a single arbiter if he or she feels there was bias in the decision-making. The appeal will be heard by a higher ranking member of the administration, or, if the accusation is against President Dene Thomas, the Board of Trustees.
“We’ve been doing a lot of this in practice for a long time,” Sexton said, “and we’re just putting it in writing.”