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ND panel looks “Beyond the Hunting Ground”

| Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ryan Willerton, director of the Office of Community Standards, speaks at a Monday panel on "The Hunting Ground." Jodi Lo | The Observer
Ryan Willerton, director of the Office of Community Standards, speaks at a Monday panel on “The Hunting Ground.”

As part of the response on campus to the CNN documentary “The Hunting Ground,” the Office of Student Affairs, the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP), the Gender Relations Center (GRC) and Campus Ministry co-sponsored a panel Monday night to address students’ questions in light of the film.

The panel, moderated by student body president emeritus Lauren Vidal and current student body president Bryan Ricketts, consisted of seven participants, including three students.

University Counseling Center counselor of 14 years Valerie Staples, deputy Title IX coordinator Melissa Lindley, director of the Office of Community Standards Ryan Willerton and GRC director and CSAP co-chair Christine Caron Gebhardt sat on the panel with Men Against Sexual Violence (MASV) officer junior Derek Kuns, GRC Fire Starter and SOS advocate at St. Joseph County Justice Center Deirdre Harrington and Fire Starter and former student body vice president senior Matthew Devine.

About 45 people attended the discussion, including University Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding and University Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Paul Browne.

Notably absent from the panel was a member of Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), one student pointed out.

Gebhardt, who compiled the panel, said she had not reached out to NDSP about speaking Monday night, but that the purpose of the panel was more to hear about the “University community perspective,” rather than the law enforcement perspective.


In “The Hunting Ground,” several schools are listed with their number of reported sexual assaults compared to their number of students expelled for sexual assault. Notre Dame, however, was not. After the panel discussion Friday evening following a screening of the film at Debartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC), many students had expressed curiosity about the number of expulsions that had occurred at Notre Dame as a result of sexual assault.

“I don’t have any statistics handy and I don’t know off the top of my head, but over the last few years … [there have been] multiple for sexual assault,” Willerton said Monday night in response to a question about the number of expulsions.

“For non-consensual sexual intercourse, commonly known as rape or sexual assault, what I assure you is students found responsible for non-consensual sexual intercourse, permanent dismissal [from the University] is the most common outcome we’ve had,” he said.

Willerton said in the three years he has run the Office of Community standards, every single student found responsible for non-consensual sexual intercourse had been permanently dismissed.

Responding to a question about why so many students have historically chosen to go through the University conduct process and not the legal process for addressing the respondents in the complaint, Willerton surprised many audience members with his answer.

“ … One of the common things I hear in my office is, ‘I don’t want to ruin somebody’s life, I just want somebody to tell them what they did was wrong,’” he said.

Lindley emphasized, however, that each student who reported a sexual assault was given the opportunity to pursue criminal charges if they wished to do so.

Crime alert emails

Another student asked why the wording in Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) crime alert emails had changed; the Clery Act requires Universities to send out timely warnings about threats on campus. As a result, when a sexual assault is reported, if NDSP considers it a timely threat, it must send an email alert to the campus community.

Previously, crime alert emails included the name of the specific residence hall in which the incident had occurred. NDSP now only reports the quad or general area of campus in which an incident occurred.

Browne said the one reason for the change was to aid law enforcement in the event that the survivor chose to press criminal charges.

“Police want the opportunity  …  [if] the victim wants to proceed with a criminal investigation,” he said. “The police don’t want to tip off the person, or give them time to essentially get rid of evidence.”

Lindley added that part of the reasoning was to protect victims.

“It protects the confidentiality of the victim,” she said. “It’s a small community, and oftentimes when something happens, people will hear about it, and then when you have an email in the morning the next day that says in happened in ‘this hall’ everybody says it’s ‘this girl’ or ‘this guy,’ so that’s a factor as well.”

The disciplinary process

In response to students’ questions about the emotional wellbeing of complainants and encouraging victims to report sexual assault, Willerton and Lindley spoke extensively on the disciplinary process for respondents when the victim of a sexual assault chooses to go through a conduct hearing with the Office of Community Standards.

Wilkerton said that complainants who do choose to go through a conduct hearing have three options with regards to their participation in the hearing, based on how comfortable they are facing the respondent in person.

The first option is that complainants may choose to refrain from participating at all, he said. They may also choose to participate in person, and they may choose to participate via a webcam from a separate suite in the building than the one in which the conduct hearing takes place.

Moving forward

Ricketts asked how each of the panelists had seen the University climate change in regards to sexual assault since they had arrived on campus.

In her response, Lindley said the introduction of Climate Surveys had provided some fodder for change on campus. Moving forward, she said that this year’s campus climate survey has already produced helpful results.

“Our response has changed and improved dramatically in the last three to five years,” she said. “They administered two climate surveys, which are just now becoming the norm for all universities to assess their climate, now that it is the White House’s recommendation.

“The first one was in 2012, and the second one was just this year in 2015. And we looked at the results of these — I have just gotten through 700 pages of comments from students — that have given us great ideas about ways to improve things.”

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About Margaret Hynds

Margaret is a senior Political Science major and the former Editor-in-Chief of The Observer. She hails from Washington, D.C., and is a former Phox of Pangborn Hall. Follow Margaret on Twitter @MargaretHynds

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