Before the academic year began, the University administration made important progress in strengthening the University’s stance against sexual assault on campus. Chief among these is the recent recommendation by the internal Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy that the University lower its standard for the burden of proof in cases of sexual assault from the policy of “clear and persuasive” to that of a “preponderance” of guilt. Additionally, the University announced that students would no longer serve on committees handling sexual assault cases.
Having repeatedly advocated for reforming the University’s sexual assault disciplinary policies, the Editorial Board strongly supports the Committee’s recommendation.
However, it is important to restate that there is more to be done to protect Princeton students from sexual assault. While these new policies represent an important step in the right direction in terms of appropriately and adequately punishing perpetrators of sexual assault, we believe that the University must not stop at punishment, but further turn its focus to increasing prevention and reporting of sexual assault.
Over the past two years, the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education program has done much to promote bystander intervention following a general trend in sexual assault activism that champions primary prevention as a central way to address sexual violence. New programming has included the introduction of online sexual assault training for freshmen. SHARE also offers eating club officers sexual assault training; optional training was offered to upperclassmen this past year.
While these efforts are commendable, they are small. We suggest that Princeton emulate large-scale sexual assault bystander intervention programs that have proven successful at peer institutions. A bystander intervention program piloted in Haverford College and since adopted by Dartmouth trains students to identify situations of potential sexual assault and teaches proper techniques to prevent such occurrences. Participating students are paid hourly to attend campus parties sober in order to observe and intervene in cases of potential sexual assault.
The Editorial Board recommends that Princeton adapt such a program to the eating club system. While all eating clubs currently have at least one officer on call at each eating club function, we believe that the eating clubs, in coordination with the University, should institute a specific and separate bystander intervention program similar to the programs at Haverford and Dartmouth.
Under such a program, each eating club would be responsible for having several members serving as an extra level of safety and security each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. The participants in this program would undergo mandatory training in sexual assault prevention, and would be compensated for their work. This program would fill an important void. Club officers are often overburdened and cannot solely focus on sexual assault prevention.While SHARE peers and others who have attended SHARE trainings are equipped to intervene, they may not be present in every situation or solely focused on finding instances of potential sexual assault. Those being paid by the University would be both trained and remain sober and solely focused on intervention.
Even if Nassau Hall acts on the recommended reforms, the University will be the last Ivy League school to move to lowering the burden of proof standard from “clear and persuasive” to “preponderance.” The University has once again been found playing catch-up to its peers.
Instituting a large-scale University sponsored sexual assault bystander intervention program would represent the University taking the lead in the national battle to eliminate sexual assault from college campuses. More importantly, such a program would make clear that the University is taking a strong stance against sexual assault. This would hopefully serve to encourage students to report sexual assaults at higher rates and make Princeton a safer and stronger community.
Dissent by Zach Horton ’15
Bystander intervention policies are commendable, and I endorse such preventative efforts. Lowering the burden of proof in disciplinary procedures, however, is rash and potentially unjust.
The abundant frustration on this matter is understandable, but the “preponderance” evidentiary standard does not ensure a just outcome when the primary evidence is accuser testimony. In our detrimentally libertine culture, everything depends on that singular — and elusive — criterion of consent. It’s no secret that consent is notoriously difficult to discern from conflicting accuser/accused testimony. The preponderance standard does not make that any easier; it only advantages an accuser over the accused. In a case like the infamous 2006 Duke lacrosse case, the preponderance standard could likely result in false incrimination.
Beside that potential for gross injustice, it is perplexing that under this novel standard, the accused could be guilty of a crime for purposes of University discipline but innocent in the eyes of legal authority. If the accused is in fact a sexual offender, he — or she — should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
I strongly urge the faculty to vote to maintain the current “clear and persuasive” standard and to press for more preventative and remedial action in confronting the severe problem of sexual assault.