On the final day of CARE Week, the Boston College Women’s Center initiated a conversation on sexual misconduct in the BC community. The interactive panel—moderated by UGBC in partnership with the Women’s Center—aimed to demystify BC’s policies and approaches to addressing and preventing sexual misconduct. UGBC Vice President Olivia Hussey served as moderator, and panelists were staff members from the Vice President for Student Affairs Office, Dean of Student’s Office, and the Women’s Center.
Hussey began the event by first asking how BC defines sexual assault. Cory Kelly, Assistant Dean of Students, began by explaining how sexual assault serves as an umbrella term. “Within sexual assault there are a lot of sub-definitions. Under that would be sexual assault, sexual exploitation, stalking, and relationship violence.” Richard DeCapua, Associate Dean of Students, continued that while sexual assault falls within the larger category of sexual misconduct, it is only a small aspect of misconduct in general.
The conversation then turned to what the “typical” sexual misconduct case at BC looks like. Katherine O’Dair, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Title IX coordinator, responded, stressing the fact that there is not any one typical case of sexual misconduct. “Every case that we see is unique. The factors that contribute to it are unique.”
O’Dair continued that there are commonalities among cases at BC, however. She explained that BC administrators tend to see more reports of sexual misconduct from first year women, and that alcohol is often a contributing factor of sexual assaults as well.
Hussey then asked what a student should do if he or she is assaulted, and what networks are available to them for immediate response. Rachel DiBella, Assistant Director of the Women’s Center, explained that she always encourages students to call SANet, BC’s 24/7 on-campus hotline offered to students throughout the academic year. DiBella continued that students are able to remain anonymous when they call SANet and are never pressured or forced to talk to the police or to go the hospital.
O’Diar emphasized that BC is aiming to lower the barrier for whom students feel they can disclose to. O’Dair explained that their aim is to make the whole campus a community where students are able to go to anyone on campus and receive a similar response as to where the resources are.
The conversation then turned to the investigation process. DeCapua reiterated that cases involving sexual misconduct are always different, and that nuances make the process vary. DeCapua explained that a student can always request a stay-away order between the student and another party, which does not hold the same power as a criminal restraining order, but requires that both students must make reasonable effort to avoid direct contact.
DeCapua continued that a stay-away order is lowest-stakes decision students can choose and is often the first option they consider. After that, DeCapua explained, the case gets turned over to Kelly, an external investigator.
Kelly explained that they begin by interviewing the complainant and continues by asking follow-up questions related to other relevant information. Kelly stated that they would then bring in the respondent and put together a summary of relevant evidence, then determine if any BC policy was violated. DeCapua and O’Dair would then respond and decide if there was a violation and what an appropriate response would be.
The panel then concluded with a Q&A, in which students asked about the sanctioning process and possible outcomes after the investigation. Panelists explained that sexual misconduct results in suspension or dismissal, but then emphasized that regardless of whether or not the respondent is found responsible, all support systems are available to students.
Ultimately, the panelists noted that although topics related to sexual misconduct are challenging, taking an interest and inviting conversation about these issues is crucial.