Campus / News / April 8, 2009

Grievance Panel holds forum to hear student input, improve system

Three members of the Knox College Grievance Panel held open forums this past week, inviting students and faculty to voice their concerns and suggestions about the procedures of the Grievance Panel and to clarify what exactly the Grievance Panel does. Ideally, the purpose of the panel is to hear cases of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct. There are seven members of this panel in total. It is federally mandated that every university have a Grievance Panel.

The two main members of the Grievance Panel present at the discussion were Stephen Schroth, Assistant Professor of Education Studies, and Jennifer Smith, Assistant Professor of Dance. A student member of the panel, sophomore Kienan Crawford-Mackin, also sat in on the discussion. Roughly 18 students attended the first forum, held in Ferris Lounge on April 2.

“We felt that what [has been] missing was a chance to really talk with all of you,” said Smith. “We are giving you the opportunity to really evaluate it and make suggestions to the administration.”

Freshman Charles Ely exemplified the common misunderstanding of the Grievance Panel by asking, “I still don’t understand exactly what it is that the Grievance Panel does when they receive a complaint.” To this, Smith responded, “If a student feels they have been sexually assaulted, or has a harassment case, and the student feels that they want to bring a grievance against another student, they can bring it to a formal hearing.”

During this formal hearing, both individuals have the chance to share their side of the story. The major difference between going to the Grievance Panel and going to the Galesburg Police Department is that, because the panel is not a court of law, they cannot press charges of rape or sexual assault. Rather, the student would be deemed in violation of Knox College’s Conduct Code. “They can be expelled, [and] they can have charges against them in terms of conduct orders, but it’s got limitations to it since we’re not the police,” said Smith. She did stress, however, that the student is informed of their right to go to the Galesburg Police Department whether they also go through the Grievance Panel or not.

Should a student choose to have an informal hearing, someone from the Dean of Students office would mediate between and talk to the two individuals to come to a resolution.

Currently, there is a task force under way to “evaluate the system we have right now that students go through when they have a grievance they want brought forward,” said Smith. Possible revisions to the Grievance Panel to be taken into consideration in the revision process were making some sort of training mandatory for those who serve on the panel, making freshmen more aware of the panel and reminding all students that it exists, and also involving the counseling center in the outcome of decisions the panel reaches. Senior Colleen Harden also mentioned on the second night of the panel that if a student is convicted but not expelled, they should still be regulated by the school in terms of extracurricular clubs and sports they can attend.

“[As of yet], we haven’t made any changes [to the panel],” said Smith. “The biggest thing we find distressing is the communication of what is written about the process and really trying to clarify to anybody that is in distress about a sexual assault that they can access information that is clear, understandable, and accessible.”

Senior Rachael Goodman-Williams brought up the issue of panel members having formal training.

“[One] concern is the lack of training that members of the Grievance Panel have…that it’s just faculty members that agree to be on this committee and nothing further than that,” she said. The panel said they would take into consideration the suggestions of formally training panel members. Goodman-Williams also mentioned implementing a written feedback system for people who go through the process of the Grievance Panel which could be used to improve the panel, and Smith and Schroth agreed with this idea as well.

Counseling services being mandatory for the accused person involved in Grievance Panel hearings was also a new idea brought up by students. Junior Ashley Atkinson said, “Because there’s no official outcome for the people involved, we thought perhaps [you] could have counseling offered to the victim but have it required for the person accused.”

Sophomore Arianna Timko agreed. “The other thing that makes it important for the accused to go to counseling is that if they did do it, there’s a lot of emphasis on support for the people who have been assaulted, and there needs to be some for those who are accused [even if they didn’t do it]. If they did do it, they should also get help.”

Other ideas put forth included making freshmen more aware of the presence of the Grievance Panel and options in the case of being sexually assaulted, and perhaps dedicating a class of FP to the subject. Also, it was mentioned that RA’s should be knowledgeable about the panel and its procedures.

Faculty dedication to the panel was also an issue, since the Grievance Panel is the least popular committee or panel to be a part of. The Grievance Panel has only heard eleven cases in the past ten years, but when cases are heard, they can last from early evening until the early hours of the next morning, and be an emotionally draining process for everyone involved, including faculty.

“The really challenging and incredibly unfortunate thing about sexual assault is that it’s very hard to officially verify,” Smith said. “Even in the legal system, [those accused of rape] are rarely found guilty. I’ve talked a lot with [Dean of Students] Xavier [Romano] about it and no matter what the outcome, [coming to the panel] is a lose-lose situation because, as a woman, when I’ve seen the women who go through the process go through it, even when it has a positive outcome, it’s still a negative experience.”

Annie Zak

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