Dickinson College students demand more changes to school's sexual misconduct policies
By Elizabeth Gibson
Ten days ago, a group of Dickinson College students was summoned to the college president’s office for an out-of-class lecture.
They were warned to use caution in discussing unconfirmed details of an allegation of campus sexual misconduct incidents.
“[Officials] said ‘We can’t do anything without proof,’ ” Dickinson senior Tiffany Hwang remembers officials saying.
“We said we don’t feel safe on campus. We left that meeting so upset,” Hwang said.
And filled with resolve.
Their efforts have begun to bear fruit.
The college will immediately begin to use its college’s Red Alert system to report cases of sexual assault, both sides announced Thursday. Students also said the college agreed to post outcomes of college disciplinary hearings on sexual assaults.
After nearly four years at a school that has pushed their minds, nurtured passions and urged them to “Think Globally, Act Locally,” students consider this effort to be the most important project of their college career.
After the meeting 10 days ago, students researched policy and laws on sexual harassment. They read endless reports and consulted experts. They deconstructed Dickinson’s guidelines. Then they devised a strategy for changing the rules.
Invitations they sent to sororities and other student groups for last week’s open meeting on campus sexual misconduct and violence policies drew 200.
By Wednesday, they were ready.
First, 300 students marched on historic Old West where the president’s office is. At least half trooped inside and took over Memorial Hall. They stayed the night and are still there with no plans to leave until every demand was met.
Provost and Dean Neil Weissman has called an emergency faculty meeting to discuss policy changes.
President Bill Durden agreed to study student requests then gave them one of his own: Tackle campus “alcohol abuse and incivility” that contribute to safety problems.
Midday Thursday, Hwang and senior Anisah Hashmi met outside Old West and gave an update. They’ll take up Durden’s challenge to engage all students in changing the campus environment. And they’re encouraged that concessions will be met.
They said student spirits inside Old West were good. Professors had brought meals. Officials treated them with respect. And, although they’ve missed classes, they’re braced to stay as long as it takes.
Hwang said it’s critical once agreements are met that new rules are put in place immediately.
“The weekend will come, and somebody will be victimized, according to national statistics,” she said.
Hwang, whose parents are from Taiwan, graduated from the Milton Hershey School. She’ll return there with her Dickinson degree to work with its new youngsters.
Dickinson and Carlisle won’t be a distant memory, she said, but a nearby constant. It’s where she learned about revolution through such events as last month’s activism-themed public affairs symposium, that drew black student movement leader Komozi Woodard and former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers.
“How could [Dickinson] not expect [protest]. They’ve been literally training us. Everything we’re doing here, we learned in class,” she said.
“We need to be the first campus in the world to eradicate sexual violence,” Hwang said.
She said the college will install a system in the student union building that would report outcomes of disciplinary actions in the case of sexual assault. Such news wouldn’t include identifying details.
And campus alerts will be issued when sexual assault reports are received.
Officials at other area colleges said Wednesday that sexual misconduct and assault incidents don’t necessarily trigger the campus emergency alert system.
Informed Thursday of the change at Dickinson, Messiah spokeswoman Beth Lorow said she’d need to read the new Dickinson protocol before commenting. However, she said a decision to issue alerts on such incidents would be made by the school’s crisis management team or offices responding to sexual assault incidents.
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