President Teresa Amott spoke to Student Senate at its meeting Tuesday night seeking feedback on a change to the Grievance Panel, which the college is currently in the process of considering. The change would remove students from sitting on the panel, which hears cases of sexual assault and misconduct, and would occur in order to protect student privacy.
Amott said that the change would be based on a recommendation in an update that the Office of Civil Rights released in April called “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence.” A passage in the update states, “Although Title IX does not dictate the membership of a hearing board, OCR discourages schools from allowing students to serve on hearing boards in cases involving allegations of sexual violence.”
Currently the Grievance Panel at Knox is made up of three individuals: ideally a student, a faculty member and a staff member. Amott noted that she sees both the pros and cons of having a student sit on the panel, but expressed concern for the privacy of students involved in the hearing if they must recount events involving sexual assault or misconduct to their peers.
“It is a very small campus,” Amott said. “It means that the victim could be in a class with someone who knows the most intimate details of that person’s life.”
Amott wanted to get feedback from members of Senate on the proposed change and plans to speak with other student groups in the future in order to understand the thoughts of the student body on the issue. After gathering this information, Amott said she plans to meet with an attorney to discuss what is best for Knox.
Junior Senator Charlie Harned told Amott that his concern with removing students from the panel is that the panel would suffer from the loss of a student perspective; faculty and staff members may not understand campus life in the same way that a student would.
“I do agree with the OCR’s recommendation. … But a student gives a student perspective and faculty and staff may be out of touch with certain aspects of student life — that’s my biggest concern. That said, I do believe it may be inappropriate to have a student on the Grievance Panel,” Harned said.
Amott agreed that students may bring valuable knowledge of campus culture to the panel, but said that issues as severe as sexual assault and misconduct transcend any age or cultural boundary that might exist between students and faculty members.
“We are talking about offenses that are a violation of a person’s self,” Amott said. “This is a violation of such severity that it transcends individual campuses and cultures.”
Several senators told Amott that they agree with the OCR’s recommendation to remove students from the hearing panel, as they would not want peers on campus to know the details of a traumatic event that had happened to them.
Despite these concerns, some students mentioned that having students sit on the panel could be valuable for issues of transparency and would allow students to have a voice in an important issue to the campus.
Dining Services Chair and sophomore Max Wallace said that removing students from the panel might go against Knox’s culture of allowing students to take part in discussions of a more serious nature.
“It bothers me, the notion that students would lose their voice in this type of matter,” he told Amott.
Amott stressed that the college wants to continue to update its sexual assault procedures and the hearing process in order to make the campus a safe place for students, saying that the feedback she received from Student Senate aligned with her mixed feelings on the issue of removing students from the Grievance Panel.
“I’m hearing a deep concern about a loss of a student perspective, but I’m also hearing some recognition that it could be a problem to have students in there. So you’re exactly where I am,” she said.