Path to justice: University strives for equality in disciplinary actions

By Karen Funaro ’16, Assistant News Editor & Kayla Soders ’15, Special to The Hawk

The standard Saint Joseph’s University disciplinary procedure on sexual assault and violence works hard to ensure a fair and equitable process for all parties involved. Regardless of the severity of each case, the university works to provide an equal amount of resources and support, not only for the victim, but for the accused perpetrator as well.

The university’s disciplinary process for sexual assault is kept completely separate from any legal action that may take place. The process does not involve any authorities, but does tell students that they have the option to contact police and will help them if they choose to do so. The university is mandated by the Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights to take action when something happens on campus; hence they are not allowed to wait for the outcome of any legal proceedings to address situations that may have taken place.

Mary-Elaine Perry, Ed.D., assistant vice president of student development and Title IX coordinator at St. Joe’s, described the importance of ensuring that the school’s process runs smoothly.

“We are required by law to make sure the process is fair and equitable and quick, and so we work very hard at that by making sure both parties receive information and support,” said Perry.

When a student accuses another of sexual assault, a Public Safety investigator will first conduct the investigation, where he or she will interview any witnesses as well as the individual who has brought the complaint. Once the initial investigation of the complaint is completed, the report is then brought to the Office of Community Standards, where the disciplinary proceedings are continued.

The staff at the Office of Community Standards will then decide whether or not the case should be brought to a hearing. The Community Standards Board at St. Joe’s determines the fate of the situation and the parties involved.

According to William Bordak, interim director of community standards, the Community Standards Board is made up of various students, faculty, and staff who work together to make decisions regarding what disciplinary action should be taken.

“[The Community Standards Board] will do the same as what a single administrative hearing officer would do and that’s find out what happened, determine if what happened was a violation, and determine the sanction,” said Bordak.

The university does not have any prescribed sanctions for sexual assault and violence cases because each case differs in the disciplinary consequences that can be implemented, ranging from various degrees of suspension, all the way to expulsion.

Because students and faculty are chosen to be on this board, there is often the concern that a board member will know one of the individuals involved in any given case. Bordak said that the Community Standards Board understands this and grants members the ability to recuse themselves from any given case if they feel it will affect their ability to make a fair judgment.

In situations of sexual assault and violence, the fear of bias is prominent. The university works to combat this by providing both the accused as well as the accuser with an equal amount of support, resources, and opportunity to be heard.

“One of the obligations of the university is to have a fair and equitable process,” said Bordak. “You will not see a situation where one student is provided the opportunity to review information, talk with people, or receive support and the other person is not afforded that opportunity.”

Perry agreed with Bordak, saying that her role is to ensure that the university does everything in its power to make sure that both parties are treated fairly.

“Different people take different roles,” said Perry. “It’s easier to support someone who’s bringing a complaint—people rally around you because you’ve been harmed and rightfully so, but my role is to make sure that both of them are cared for.”

 

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