Sexual assault penalty denounced

Emily Bittner

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Women’s Coalition is demanding stricter punishments from Northwestern’s in-house judicial system after a male student was suspended for one year in connection with a sexual assault. After the decision on Feb. 29, the student filed an appeal and remained on campus until Sunday.

The Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System unanimously found that a 19-year-old Bobb-McCulloch Hall resident sexually assaulted a 19-year-old woman early Jan. 29 in an Elder study lounge. The survivor took her case to SAHAS because she said she thought pursuing her case through the criminal justice system would “drag (her) through emotional hell.”

The SAHAS board, which is composed of three faculty members, two staff members and two students, sentenced the student to a yearlong suspension. But the survivor — who first discussed the hearing at an open mic night Thursday after Take Back the Night — told The Daily Monday she was disappointed that the board didn’t expel the student and that university policy allows the student to remain on campus during his appeal.

“(Administrators) don’t treat sexual assault as a serious offense, even though they like to tell us they do,” she said. “It really seems like a glass ceiling to me, like they’re just not willing to make that step toward expulsion. That’s really disappointing, that they’re still not willing — in the year 2000 — to make a precedent by expelling someone for sexual assault. I would think it was a good time to take that step.”

And Women’s Co. says it’s time to petition the administration to change SAHAS guidelines so that the punishment handed down by the board can better fit the severity of its findings. The student group is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. at the Women’s Center, 2000 Sheridan Road.

Administrators said they welcome revisions to SAHAS proceedings, which are not a matter of public record. Three review committees have made several changes, including the addition of a mediation procedure and the expansion of the decision-making board.

Peggy Barr, NU’s vice president for student affairs, said that although administrators cannot discuss individual cases, the university generally believes in rehabilitation for troubled students. In this case, the survivor said, the student’s return is contingent upon receiving psychological counseling for sexual assault.

“We have to be very sure they’re pretty stable human beings before we let them back,” Barr said.

The rules of discipline

Exclusion from the university —