Monday night first talk on Wheaton’s sexual assault policy

As a part of the Violence Against Women Symposium, students in the class  Alexandra Natale ‘16 and Kate Gannon ‘16 hosted the first in a series of two talks about Wheaton’s sexual assault and misconduct policy on Monday night in Meneely 102.

14 women attended the discussion. Much of the discussion consisted of the participants asking questions about the policy and the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Resource Team (SMART), which handles cases of sexual assault and misconduct at Wheaton.

The main issue that came up was that students receive no education about the sexual misconduct policy after their freshman year. Dean of Students Lee Burdette Williams has hosted the “Personal Space” talk for incoming freshman for several years and continues to update it. However, students said they received no reminders about the policy post-freshman year.

Possible solutions include instructing Resident Advisors and House Presidents in the policy, and having them go over it with their residents and houses every year.

Another issue that came up was that the policy and the resulting process for complaints is strictly for cases between students.

One woman said that she had heard of a sexual misconduct case last year that involved a student and a faculty member, and that the faculty member was fired. She said that students had not received the customary text and email notifications about the case, despite those being standard for cases between students.

In addition, students brought up that Melissa Rideout, who doubles as the SMART coordinator and college psychologist, is at frequent risk of overlap between the two positions. As the SMART coordinator, Rideout is required to disclose information given to her about sexual assaults and misconduct cases.

As a psychologist, however, she is bound to confidentiality with the students she sees. When seeing students, Rideout must always ask whether they wish to see her in her SMART capacity or her psychological one.

SMART is composed of Wheaton faculty and staff volunteers who receive training in the policy. When a sexual assault or misconduct is committed, the hearing board is composed of people who have had little previous contact with the survivor.

A survivor is assigned a case advisor, and the case advisor conducts a background investigation of the assault or misconduct case. Once the hearing board decides a case, only the college president can overturn it.