Dye Explains Sex Offense Policy

To the Oberlin Community:

Recently, I have received many communications concerning Oberlin’s policy for dealing with sexual offense. I write in the hope of dispelling some of the confusion that surrounds issues of sexual assault and rape on this campus.
Oberlin takes rape and sexual assault extremely seriously. We also take very seriously our responsibility for individual safety. We have a stringent sexual offense policy with a full-time administrator who thoroughly investigates each incident and allegation. The College does not tolerate sexual offense of any kind, and we have full and fair adjudication procedures.
When a member of the campus community reports a rape or sexual assault to our Office of Safety and Security, the College immediately begins an investigation. We also make a full report to the Oberlin City Police and ordinarily issue an all-campus alert. When one member of the College community charges another with a sexual offense, the administrator of our sexual offense policy initiates our adjudication process. If a victim does not make a charge, the administrator herself, if she believes that there is sufficient credible evidence to do so, will bring a charge on behalf of the College. Individuals who are charged with rape or sexual assault may be suspended from the College pending adjudication. If found guilty, they face very serious sanctions.
The events of this fall have caused everyone to be worried. Students reported two acquaintance rapes early this semester. These incidents occurred within the space of a single week. Many people on campus have confused these cases. They are significantly different, and therefore the College’s responses to these two alleged rapes have differed in significant ways.
In the first case, a student accused two other students of rape. The two students were arrested, and charged by the police. The College, based on its investigation, suspended the two students. This case made its way through the criminal court and was dismissed by a judge at a preliminary hearing. The two students remained suspended from the College until we completed our own adjudication process, which is independent of the criminal justice system. In the College’s process, the two were found “not guilty” by unanimous recommendation of a hearing panel composed of two faculty members and three students. The students have been reinstated.
In the second case, a student reported a rape to our security department. No formal charges have been made. The student and the College reported the incident to the police, and the matter remains under active police investigation. The College has conducted its own investigation, which remains open: if additional evidence is forthcoming or if the police investigation leads to a charge, the College can act immediately. We do not have sufficient evidence to do so at the present time.
Students at Oberlin enjoy civil rights. Under Oberlin’s own standards, the rights of accuser and accused must be balanced, and every case needs to be examined individually. Although we have a lower evidentiary standard than the criminal justice system, we must have sufficient credible evidence to charge and/or suspend a student. The College will not charge someone when we do not have any direct evidence that this individual may well have committed an offense. Individuals are presumed innocent in an adjudication process until proven guilty by a preponderance of the evidence presented in a formal hearing.
Some students have told me that they do not feel safe on campus in the wake of these incidents. I assure you that we have taken each report seriously, and will continue to take all appropriate action. Although the College works diligently to keep the campus safe, no amount of effort by the College alone can do the job. Personal safety also involves taking care of ourselves and others. Every student can take steps to reduce the possibility of being raped or of raping someone else. One of the most important preventive measures involves not drinking too much: when alcohol is not in the picture, both parties to a sexual encounter are much less likely to lose inhibitions or misconstrue their partner’s wishes and intentions. Nearly every reported rape and sexual assault on this campus has been accompanied by prodigious amounts of alcohol and severe intoxication. Staying sober is one good way to stay safe.
I also want to stress that the College offers many sources of support to victims of sexual assault, including the offices of the Dean of Students, the class deans, the counseling center, the chaplains, student health and the Assistant to the President for Equity Concerns, who is also the sexual offense policy administrator.
We must redouble our efforts to improve Oberlin’s programs for sex and alcohol education. I am putting together a task force to come up with recommendations for new programs and more effective ways of educating all students to the realities of sexual assault and rape and to ways to prevent them. More education is needed, too, on understanding consent. At the beginning of the spring semester, I will call for a campus-wide conversation on sexual ethics as well as all the vexed issues surrounding rape and sexual assault at Oberlin.

–Nancy S. Dye
College President

December 6
February 2002

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