Students push for reform of SAHAS policy

Students attending a Women’s Coalition meeting Tuesday discussed several changes to the University Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System, including harsher punishments and a revamping of the selection process for board members.

Many of the 35 students favored creating a panel to review applications of SAHAS members, but they debated how to make the process and composition of the board as fair as possible.

“When you’re selecting candidates they do have to have some education on this issue,” said Weinberg sophomore Beki Park, who is also Take Back the Night chairwoman.

Women’s Co. is organizing its campaign in the wake of SAHAS’ controversial decision to allow a male student — who was unanimously found to have sexually assaulted another student — to remain on campus for six weeks during his appeal. In addition, the student received a one-year suspension as punishment.

Some students said there should be increased education and training for prospective SAHAS members.

The Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault mandates 40 hours of training for anyone in the field, said Weinberg junior Sima Patel.

Members of SAHAS are required to receive fewer than 15 hours of sexual assault sensitivity training.

Students also were concerned that Northwestern has few precedents in sexual assault cases and advocated researching and integrating policies at other colleges.

One student suggested NU create a crime log linked to the university’s Web site, where every report of sexual assault could be documented, regardless of whether legal action had been taken.

Students also said NU should inform other universities if potential transfer students had been punished for sexual assault.

Medill junior Kristy Buchthal said there should be a note of censure attached to students’ transcripts identifying their violation if they are expelled.

Buchthal also suggested that different bodies examine each case — SAHAS to rule on students’ actions and the University Hearing and Appeals System to determine punishments.

“The best way to make it fair is to frame it under the umbrella of all the other violations people get expelled for,” she said.

Students debated whether NU should have mandatory expulsion for extreme cases of sexual assault.

“We’d be asking for a mandatory sentence for one infraction in a university that doesn’t have mandatory sentencing for anything,” said Music sophomore Lily Troia. “The university is consistent in its sentencing structure. We’d be asking them to revamp their entire system.”

Students said sexual assault is a much more serious crime than academic dishonesty and should be punished more severely.

But most agreed the standard for punishing sexual assault should be based on the severity of NU’s penalties for other violent crimes.

“People don’t take rape as a serious crime,” one student said. “That’s the problem. They see it as a lesser crime.”

No one has ever been excluded from NU for sexual assault.

When Women’s Co. finalizes its recommended changes to SAHAS, Buchthal said she wants to strengthen the proposal by asking for support from senators, political leaders and parents who interact with NU.