April 8, 2014

To the Williams Community,

I write to update you on our work to reduce sexual assault, which affects the lives of so many students both at Williams and nationally, and on our efforts to ensure that we respond to assaults in a way that both supports the recovery of survivors and holds accountable those who have caused harm.  In this letter I’ll summarize progress made this year through student and staff efforts, and also provide the annual update on reports that have been made and the outcome of disciplinary processes. (For immediate information on how to report an assault or on how to get help or support for yourself or a friend, click here, or call Sexual Assault Survivor Services at (413) 441-6783.)

Yesterday, Meg Bossong ‘05  joined us as Williams’ new, full-time director of sexual assault prevention and response.   She is an expert and a leader in this work both locally and nationally, and was selected following a national search.  Meg will support and oversee the next phase of our work to reduce the prevalence and impact of assault and to strengthen support for survivors.  She will also help us ensure that our processes for investigation and adjudication are of high quality.  We are very fortunate that she is joining the college’s staff, and my thanks go out to the search committee who worked hard to bring her here.

Following the recommendation of the thirty students on the original Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness group (2011-2012), we make known to the community the number of sexual assault and sexual misconduct reports from the previous year each winter or spring, and also summarize the disciplinary outcomes of those cases.  (Students felt strongly that these summaries should not happen immediately following the report of an assault to the deans, for the protection of the survivor.  The exception would be in the case where there is a clear danger to the larger campus, in which case the law and our safety obligations require that we make an announcement immediately.)

Sexual assault is both a crime and a violation of the college’s code of conduct.  As a result, students who experience assault can report it to the Dean’s Office for disciplinary action at the college, and can also report it to the Williamstown Police Department for legal action.   These two processes can happen in any order, and we encourage students to do both.

In the 2012-2013 school year, six sexual assaults were reported to the Dean’s office.  In three of these cases, the affected students have not yet chosen to pursue disciplinary or legal process.  In the other three, the complaints were investigated by the Dean’s Office in collaboration with Campus Safety and Security, and the evidence assessed to determine whether there was a violation of the college’s code of conduct.   In each of those cases a preponderance of evidence indicated that a student had violated the college’s sexual misconduct policy, which requires explicit consent for all sexual activity.  (You can view that policy here.)  All three students found to have violated this policy were separated from the college, either temporarily or permanently.  In the first case, the student was sanctioned with a three-semester suspension.  The student appealed, and the Discipline Committee assigned a new sanction of expulsion.  In the second case, the student was sanctioned with a three-semester suspension.  The student appealed, and the Discipline Committee kept the same sanction.  In the third case, the student was assigned a sanction of a two-semester suspension, and there was no appeal.  (Both parties have the right to appeal a disciplinary decision in cases of sexual assault.)    To our knowledge, no reports of sexual assault from 2012-2013 have been brought forward to the legal system at this time.  However, the statute of limitations permits such reports to be brought forward for several years after the incident.

Consistent with the national picture, the six reports we received in 2012-2013 likely represent only a small fraction of the sexual assaults that took place at Williams that year.  Our anonymous survey data collected in spring 2011 indicate a total of 45-50 acts of penetration without consent (rape) and many more sexual assaults of other kinds occur here each year.

These numbers are, of course, very profoundly troubling. We must continue do all we can to prevent assaults, to support students who experience assault, and to hold accountable those who commit these crimes.

We know that reporting of assault is difficult, and at Williams and nationally only about ten percent of assaults are reported.  It is our obligation to provide excellent support to survivors and also to have a process of reporting and adjudication that is fair, thorough, private, and sensitive to the needs of the students involved.  Following discussions with students, staff, and peer schools and at the strong recommendation of students, we have made some changes to our process this year.  First, when students report an assault and pursue the disciplinary process, the investigation and fact-finding will be done by professionals in the field who are external to the college rather than by Deans and Campus Safety and Security staff as has been our practice in the past.   The goal here is to have an investigation process that is maximally supportive to students, and which also brings forward all of the necessary information and evidence.  This approach also gives students who are discussing an assault the opportunity to give the account of this very personal and difficult time to someone who is not also part of their regular day-to-day lives, an increase in privacy for which students had strongly advocated.    We have also developed an appeal process that is much more private, and in which no student has to share their experience with other students or with faculty members.  You can read more about the adjudication process here.  We continue to work to lessen the difficulties of reporting.   As has long been the case at Williams, students have the right to have a support person with them throughout the process of making a report and through any disciplinary and/or legal process they undertake.

If you have any questions, or would like to talk, please do not hesitate to reach out to any of the resources listed below.   It’s important to know that many forms of support (including changes of housing, no contact orders, counseling, medical care, and more) are available to students who have experienced assault, regardless of whether they decide to take part in the disciplinary or legal processes.  Much more information on those options can be found here.

Thank you for the work so many of you are doing to make Williams a stronger, and safer, community for everyone.

Sincerely,

Dean Sarah Bolton

 


 

Resources:

Counselors with special training in helping survivors of sexual assault are available at these sources.  All provide services for survivors of any sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

  • Sexual Assault Survivor Services (SASS) 441-6783
  • Williams College Health Center 597-2206
  • Williams College Psychological Counseling 597- 2353 (or on call 24/7 through Campus Safety at 597-4444)
  • Rape and Sexual Assault Network of Williams 597- 4100
  • Elizabeth Freeman Center 499-2425
  • Donna Denelli-Hess (Health Educator) 597-3013
  • Meg Bossong (Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) 597-4799
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline  1-800-656-HOPE
  • National Sexual Assault Online Hotline – https://ohl.rainn.org/online/
  • For a list of resources with particular focus on the needs of LGBTQ survivors, see http://barcc.org/information/resources-online/glbt

Other resources that may be helpful include:

  • Peer Health 597-3140
  • Chaplain’s Office 597-2483
  • Dean’s office 597-4171 (or on call 24/7, through Campus Safety at 597-4444)
  • Davis Center 597-3340

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Sarah Bolton,  Dean of the College and Professor of Physics

Williams College

Williamstown, MA 01267

Phone: (413) 597-4261

Fax: (413) 597-3507