Sexual assault happens far too often on college campuses, not just at Williams but nationwide. Each incident is heartbreaking. Each is unique and needs careful attention.
Williams has been working for several years to raise awareness of the problem and to put in place the best policies and people to support victims of sexual assault and respect the rights of those accused of assaulting. At the center of these efforts is our commitment to confidentiality. Not only is it required by law, it’s also a critical element in encouraging survivors of sexual assault to report, so that we can support them and hold assailants accountable.
That commitment to confidentiality means we can’t speak about specific disciplinary cases, but it’s important that we clarify some of the misrepresentations in your editorial, "Agent of change," May 31.
First, we encourage every survivor to pursue both a criminal investigation and a disciplinary process with the college. A criminal investigation can occur before, during or even years after Williams undertakes and concludes an investigation. We not only encourage reporting to the police; we also offer every reporting student the services of a trained staff member to provide direct support throughout the legal process.
Accommodations for housing and academics are also critical to the sense of safety and recovery of reporting students. We work in close consultation with all reporting students to provide appropriate rooming and academic arrangements, which can be updated long after the conclusion of the disciplinary process, as students’ needs change.
And any retaliation against a reporting student (physical, verbal, or cyber) would represent a serious breach of our Code of Conduct. We investigate any such claim immediately and fully, and the sanctions for retaliation include suspension, expulsion, and criminal referral.
Our response to sexual assault at Williams is dynamic, as we continually strive to improve it. But these four principles -- confidentiality, support for criminal investigations, accommodations to enable students to continue their education free from fear and intimidation, and zero tolerance for retaliation -- are the foundation of our work.
Over recent years, we’ve engaged in extensive work with our Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness group and student advocates from our Rape and Sexual Assault Network, Women’s Center, Queer Student Union, and Men for Consent, among other things bringing concerns and perspectives of survivors into this vital conversation. It’s through this collaboration with students that we arrived at the changes in the investigation and adjudication process that were implemented this year.
It is a terrible truth that sexual assault happens at Williams, as on all college campuses. We will never stop working urgently to prevent and respond to assaults, until we reach the day when assault is a thing of the past.
Adam Falk is president and Sarah Bolton is dean of Williams College.