Town Hall meeting informs student body on DOJ investigation process

President Dennis Hanno, Dean Kate Kenny, and Director of Title IX Rachael Pauze addressed the Wheaton community regarding Wheaton’s new sexual assault and gender-based misconduct policy during the town hall meeting in Hindle Auditorium last Wednesday. The meeting was prompted by the recently published Boston Globe article regarding the college’s response to reported sexual assault cases.

The moderator for the event President Katie Elliott ’17 began with an introductory statement before President Hanno provided an apology and timeline of events during the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation.

“I wish it didn’t have to be here. I’m sorry if there have been, and there have been, any cases that we have failed to provide a safer place for students,” President Hanno said. “I am deeply upset that we had these failures, and that students have had to suffer or struggle from these failures.” President Hanno said that Wheaton takes full responsibility for their failures and inconsistencies.

Questions that students asked warranted explanations and definitions for Wheaton’s conversation with both the DOJ and the Globe, specifics of the new sexual assault and gender-based misconduct policy, repercussions for perpetrators, issues of confidentiality and Wheaton’s transparency of the DOJ investigation via email and campus discussion.

As explained during the Town Hall meeting, the investigation lasted for over a year and comprised of one visit from the department and several emails from President Hanno. In conclusion, the DOJ had supplied the Wheaton administration with a 19 page letter; 10 pages on detailed investigation findings and 9 pages on proposed resolutions. The DOJ investigation’s was one of the few cases that were resolved quickly in relation to other colleges, according to President Hanno.

Wheaton was unaware why a compliance complaint was issued against the college, since they had not been told specifics by DOJ. Administration submitted requests to two departments regarding the reasons for investigation, but were denied both times. “We knew just as much as you did,” President Hanno said.

Wheaton was later informed that the compliance complaint was filed on the account of a delay in responding to a sexual assault case. “We always respond to all cases,” Dean Kenny said. She further stated that Wheaton’s task force will be expected to respond in a respectful, timely manner in the future.

The new sexual assault and gender-based misconduct policy consists of many new regulations. For instance, mandated reporters that are made aware of a sexual assault from a victim is required to report within 24-48 hours.

The policy also clarifies that isolated incidents, such as those that do not involve a repeated offender, cannot be investigated without the consent of the victim. However, offenders with multiple incidents as well as those who have obtained weapons, made future threats, and have a history of assault are immediately investigated regardless of the victim’s consent.

Another addition to the policy is an increased consequence for those who participate in retaliation against the victim, even if they weren’t the original perpetrator in the reported case.

Pauze further clarified that the thresholds for repercussions are instilled by Title IX and the federal government. “[Perpetrators of sexual assault] have rights to due process,” said Dean Kenny.

SMART Coordinator Courtney Ruggles also said that the policy was made on student and survivor-based support. “We are not only checking boxes and being compliant, that’s not what we’re about,” she said.

The Globe contacted Wheaton in July, claiming that they would be publishing an article regarding sexual assault cases on campus. Administration did not hear back from the Globe about the article until it was published earlier September. President Hanno claims that the Globe may have switched reporters for the story, based on “the questions that they had asked.”

The article discusses three cases that were coincidently used as evidence in the DOJ investigation.

In light of students going to the Globe to discuss traumatic events that happen on campus, Hanno said, “I think it’s great, because this is an issue that needs to see the light of day. We have to talk about these things, because if we try to hide them, they won’t go away.”

By further implementing the new policy, administration is working to improve and expand programming, faculty training and advocacy. This includes more mandatory training and program attendance for students. “We’re afraid of the mandatory work [for students],” said Dean Kate. “And we shouldn’t be, because it’s important.”

Wheaton has also made past attempts to improve their sexual assault policy and advocacy on campus. In 2012, the college won a three-year, $300,000 grant from the DOJ in order to further develop sexual assault as a vital aspect of campus programming. Wheaton is currently in the application process for additional programming funding specific to minority student populations such as international, LGBTQ+ and students of color.

“I’m not making any excuses for what is happening, none of us are…” President Hanno said. “We screwed up, and I don’t care if it was me or someone else, but Wheaton College screwed up.”