Students air SAHAS concerns

Women’s Coalition plans to ask administrators to institute mandatory sentences for serious sexual assault offenses, require counseling as part of the punishment and remove accused students from campus during the appeals process.

At a Women’s Co. meeting Tuesday night, about 50 men and women decided to demand the revisions in the wake of a recent ruling by the University Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System to suspend a male student for one year in connection with a sexual assault.

After the SAHAS hearing on Feb. 29, the student filed an appeal and remained on campus until Sunday.

“I felt like this university betrayed us,” said Sarah London, a Weinberg sophomore. “Even with all of its (sexual assault) propaganda, it’s not up to par with the rest of the country.”

Organizers said a letter to administrators should be drafted by next week. Meanwhile, they plan to paint The Rock and hand out fliers to keep the issue of sexual assault on students’ minds.

“People need to know about this and know it’s something they can change,” said Katy Quissell, Women’s Co. president.

Administrators said they welcome possible revisions to SAHAS proceedings. Since it began, three review committees have made several changes, including the addition of a mediation procedure and the expansion of the decision-making board.

Most of the women agreed without much discussion that in any case when a survivor suffers penetration, exclusion from the university should be mandatory because of the severity of the crime.

Some students were concerned that mandatory minimum punishments could discourage SAHAS board members from punishing students at all.

“My fear is that people might be less likely to pass a guilty sentence,” London said. “We want to be careful with mandatory sentencing, because we want to get the best justice possible.”

Administrators said SAHAS currently is structured so each case is treated individually because the circumstances vary from case to case.

“Each and every case is decided on the specifics of the case,” said Brian Moran, chairman of the SAHAS board. “The board as a whole will make decisions based on the details of the case.”

Some students said that because students can be expelled from NU for academic dishonesty, it is “ridiculous” that a student is not automatically expelled for sexual assault.

But Weinberg Associate Dean Robert Coen said the college suspends and expels a “handful” of students each year for acts of academic dishonesty such as cheating and plagiarism. He added that students are not expelled for their first offense of academic dishonesty unless it is severe.

Students at the Women’s Co. meeting also said those who have been suspended in connection with sexual assault should be removed from campus during the appeals process.

Vice President for Student Affairs Peggy Barr told The Daily Monday that she would remove any student during the appeals process who was dangerous to others.

Students said they should be notified if they live near a student suspended in connection with a sexual assault because they could help determine if he was dangerous.

“(His presence) isn’t directly affecting (Barr),” said one survivor. “It’s affecting all the women on campus and they have no say in if he’s dangerous.”

Administrators said they want to protect the accused’s due process rights during the appeals.

And law Prof. Mark Heyrman, a University of Chicago expert on laws restricting sexual offenders, said people wrongly assume sex offenders are more likely to offend again.

“The fact that this is a horrible crime doesn’t mean he’s going to do it again,” Heyrman said. “It’s a widely held belief without a lot of verification.”

Students questioned NU’s commitment to punishing sexual assault and said they were “angry,” “sad” and “disappointed” when they learned of the yearlong suspension.

“My impression from Responsibilities 102 was that the sexual assault policy was very strict — that it was a zero-tolerance policy,” said Raman Khanna, a Weinberg freshman. “I’m sad that the best intentions of the university aren’t always translated into actions.”