The newly formed Student Assembly Committee on Women’s Issues held a forum with Judicial Administrator (J.A.) Mary Beth Grant yesterday to discuss the University’s policy on sexual assault.
“This was something that was being talked about in lunch halls and around campus,” said Funa Maduka ’04, the committee’s founder. “We felt it was necessary to have this forum to dispel any myths or confusion about the J.A.”
One student commented on the reasons why the committee was formed.
“We wanted to make the campus aware that violations do occur, but that there is something being done about it, and there’s a place you can go,” said Jackie Koppell ’05.
Approximately twenty-two students, faculty and staff members were at the meeting, raising questions on how students can work with the J.A. to ease the judicial process and to hear what exactly the University can and cannot do in certain situations.
According to the J.A., the judicial proceedings begin when a complaint is made to the Office of the Judicial Administrator. The J.A. then informs the accused students of the charges, goes over the student’s rights, and may refer the student for a hearing or for temporary suspension.
The accused person can request a hearing or contest a temporary suspension. The University Hearing Board then reviews the case and makes a decision. Either the accused or the accuser can appeal that decision.
“Sometimes people will go to the police first, but they may be intimidated by the police, and then they can start the process in our office. We have jurisdiction over things that happen on campus and in the Greek houses,” said Grant.
Either way, she said that it is “important that if you find yourself in a situation, you preserve the evidence. It’s not always the first thing you think of. Contact the police and they’ll take you to a hospital, or get to the hospital directly.”
Grant commented on what sort of evidence is permissible for investigation.
“There’s all kinds of evidence. Oral statements are evidence. Sometimes there’s physical evidence,” she said.
Lt. Michael Brenman, Cornell University Police Department (CUPD), also attended the forum and made comments.
“Witnesses are the best evidence,” he said. “By that evidence we are allowed to try and figure out who, what, where, how and why. Obviously, the why is often the hardest to figure out. What you don’t think of as evidence can be evidence.”
Unlike in courtroom trials, the J.A. allows hearsay evidence, such as conversations that happen around the incident to be admitted at the hearing.
Students asked how the J.A. differentiates between biased and unbiased hearsay.
“It would be up to the hearing board to make those credibility decisions. I wouldn’t be able to limit the number of witnesses the accused brought forward,” Grant responded.
She pointed out that the number of sexual harassment cases that actually go to a hearing “is very small.”
“Most cases reported to us happen in Collegetown, which is outside of our jurisdiction,” Grant said. “There are some people who have been victims who don’t want to file a complaint, and without that testimony it would be very hard for us to go forward. Many more incidents are reported to Gannett than to us.”
Ultimately, it is the hearing board that decides what will happen to an accused student if the case goes that far. If the student is not excused, punishment can be as minor as a written reprimand and as major as expulsion.
“Sometimes I agree with the hearing board’s decision — sometimes I don’t. But, I always know at the end of the day that the hearing board has been listening and working hard,” Grant said.
According to Grant, whatever the hearing board decides has no effect on any outside judicial processes, since the University usually waits until any concurrent criminal trials are over before beginning an on-campus hearing.
“The two processes are completely different,” she said.
Some were not quite satisfied after listening to Grant.
“There are still many unanswered questions,” Maduka said, at the end of the forum.
Archived article by Freda Ready