Open forum held to discuss student conduct

By Alex Kooistra                                                                                               Correspondent

Sexual harassment is an issue that affects people around the world, including students at the College. Communication studies Professor Susan Ryan, who serves as the chair of the Committee on Student and Campus Community, organized two open fora to discuss changes to Title IX — a policy that examines sexual assault on campuses and how colleges can address it — and the Student Conduct Code.

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Angela Chong led the discussion during the first forum held in room 117 of the Physics Building on Wednesday, April 20, at 11 a.m. Five students, eager to learn about the changes, attended this forum.

Vocabulary was a main topic of discussion, as the definitions of words in the policy were clarified. Specifically, the definition of a “responsible employee” was clarified throughout the forum.

“A ‘responsible employee’ has the responsibility of reporting instances of Title IX gender-based discrimination to the Title IX coordinator, whether that be sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic or dating violence, or stalking,” Chong said.

Certain employees on campus are required to report sexual assault to the authorities if a student mentions it to them, while others have the ability to keep it confidential if the student wishes, Chong said.

Attendees sought clarification on who is a “responsible employee” and who is not. After some debate, it was determined that anyone who is a staff member of Student Affairs, a club leader or adviser is classified as a “responsible employee.”

Despite all the discussion regarding the definition, students at the forum were still confused.

“I would have liked if the definition for ‘responsible employee’ was clearer. Perhaps a list of employees that fit the definition,” junior physics major Brianna Santangelo said.

Chong also explained that privacy and confidentiality are still rights that students have. That way, students will feel more comfortable reporting sexual harassment and assault.

Chong addresses student concerns regarding sexual assault.
Chong addresses student concerns regarding sexual assault.

“No one outside (of those) who need to know in order to resolve the issue will receive the information,” Chong said.

Among the terms cleared up at the forum were the definitions of a “reporter” and “respondent.” A “reporter” is a student who reports a sexual assault, harassment or other Title IX offense, whereas a “respondent” is one who is accused by the “reporter.”

After going over definitions, Chong discussed the process of filling out a Title IX report. Instead of a formal hearing, it follows an investigatory model in which information is collected from all parties and a trained investigator makes a decision. The dean of students will review this decision, and if they approve it, both the respondent and reporter have the ability to appeal, Chong said.

Title IX strives to make safety key, and measures will be taken to ensure all parties involved in the incident feel safe, according to Chong.

Students will be separated from the same room or class as their respondents and receive academic and housing accommodations to ensure the people involved do not have to interact. If an employee is involved in the incident, measures will still be taken to ensure everyone feels safe.

Chong emphasized that the majority of this process has already been in place at the

College, but it just had to be cleaned up and put into words.

For Santangelo, the Title IX portion of the forum was a success.

“I do believe that TCNJ does more than the average college to prevent sexual assault, but I don’t think there is ever enough prevention,” Santangelo said. “Sexual assault is a serious issue that should be discussed at every appropriate opportunity.”

After discussing Title IX and opening the forum up to questions, Chong moved on to discussing changes to the Student Code of Conduct because many changes to the code were already discussed regarding the Title IX.

Definitions of words in the code, such as “student,” were clarified. With certificate programs available on campus, it was previously undefined whether participants in these programs were students or not. If one is not a student but is paying money to complete a certificate program, the same conduct expectations are still in place.

Another piece of terminology that was changed was “complainant” to “reporter.”

Chong and the attendees agreed that “complainant” has a negative connotation, implying that a student reporting sexual assault is complaining. As a result, it was agreed upon that “reporter” is a more appropriate term.

Additionaly, “breaking and entering” has always been part of the Student Conduct Code, but it mainly applied to on-campus buildings and not off-campus houses or businesses. The wording has now been changed in order to include off-campus buildings.

Chong ended the meeting by informing the attendees that students can petition for administrative deletion of misconduct from their record. This ability is not available at most colleges.

If a student commits a lower level violation early in their college career, such as underage drinking, a student can campaign to have it removed from their record when applying to a graduate school or job.

Chong emphasized that this is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, though. Personal abuse issues and property damages are permanent, along with suspensions and expulsions.

The attendees, including Santangelo, thought this forum was informative.

“Title IX and the Student Conduct Code affect everyday life on campus, and it’s important to know what the College’s policies are,” Santangelo said.

A second forum on these topics will be held on Tuesday, April 26, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in room 230 of Kendall Hall.