April 23, 2013

LETTER: In support of changes to Cornell’s sexual assault policy

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To the Editor:

Re: “Administrators, Profs Clash on Sexual Assault Policy Changes,” News, April 23

After yesterday’s news article about the Daily Sun Dialogues on Cornell’s new sexual assault policy, we are compelled to express how and why changes to the policy are needed, and express our support for the changes.

The need for changes to this policy result from the “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which gave the University Assembly (UA) and the University an opportunity to revise the policy to meet compliance standards, as well as improve it as a whole. To this end, the UA, Title IX team and a collection of students have been working with all concerned parties to reform Cornell’s existing policy to balance the rights of the accused with those of the accuser, maintain the integrity of the review process and bring this arrangement into compliance with Title IX to eliminate discrimination based on gender. After a year of review by the UA Codes and Judicial Committee and the UA, with continuous input by concerned parties, Policy 6.4 — a pre-existing standard applied only to faculty and staff — was reapplied, pending many revisions, to the entire Cornell community to reform the judicial process in an alleged case of sexual assault.

The proposed changes exclude students not directly involved in the case from the decision process. This would create a safer environment, as it would allow the victim to feel secure in sharing details and would prevent the student’s peers from making premature judgements. Second, the inclusion of written reports in review procedures creates a less intrusive method of determining facts so that the accuser and accused do not feel violated. In this system, there would be no adversarial hearings; challenging questions directed at both parties would be posed, ensuring the integrity and fairness of the entire fact-finding process. Additionally, each step in the investigation must be completed within a precise timeframe to ensure a thorough and expeditious resolution, as necessitated by Title IX.

The lowering of the burden of proof has been a contentious topic and has continued to spark questions about the rights of the accused at yesterday’s debate. We acknowledge that many equate lowering the burden wih increasing the possibility of false convictions, however, three things must be kept in mind: 1) The burden of proof is in conjunction with a thorough investigative process; 2) Statistics show that most cases at Cornell are resolved through mediation before a decision is made made using a standard of evidence; 3) Both parties’ right to be heard would be enhanced by the opportunity to review information gathered during the investigation and could be used to address any inconsistencies, thereby, also making the process more transparent. These elements empower both parties to share their experience in a safe environment, while ensuring safeguards are in place to prevent false convictions. Ultimately, these recommended changes — which we believe level the playing field between the accuser and accused — mitigate barriers preventing victims from seeking judicial help.

In summary, we firmly believe these reforms to be in the best interest of the entire community, as the proposed reform allows for a more transparent, expeditious and fair process when dealing with such sensitive but complicated matters.

Melissa Lukasiewicz ‘14

Student Assembly, VP Internal of Operations

Anisha Chopra ‘13

Student Assembly, At-Large Representative

Eric Silverberg ‘14

President of Cayuga’s Watchers

Colin Foley ‘14

Interfraternity Council President