NU to create SAHAS review committee

Emily Bittner

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Northwestern plans to establish a committee of eight to 10 students, faculty and staff members to review the University Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System, Vice President for Student Affairs Peggy Barr said Thursday.

“The entire community needs to look at SAHAS,” said Barr, who hopes the members will be appointed in the next few weeks. “Some things about it need to be reconsidered.”

The review committee — the third in SAHAS’ 10-year history — is being formed in the wake of a hearing that unanimously found a 19-year-old man had sexually assaulted a 19-year-old woman. The board suspended the student for one year and allowed him to remain on campus during his appeal.

SAHAS has come under fire from some students, who have denounced the punishment as too lax and say the organization needs to be overhauled.

But student leaders said they’re happy the committee is being formed.

“From the way it sounds, if SAHAS is going to be changed at all, it’s got to go through this committee,” said Weinberg sophomore Katie Quissell, president of Women’s Coalition.

In a separate interview with The Daily Wednesday, University President Henry Bienen said he questions the role university hearing boards play in sexual assault cases, although he “understand(s) very well why we have evolved” institutions such as SAHAS.

“I have lots of ambivalences about those kinds of organizations, frankly,” he said. “Not about (SAHAS) in particular, but students, faculty and staff are not judges. They’re not lawyers. The standards of evidence are very different. The standards of fact-finding are very different.”

Some students said the board is needed as an alternative for sexual assault survivors who might not pursue their cases in any other venue.

Barr will nominate the committee members, drawing from pools of candidates recommended by organizations such as the Associated Student Government, Panhellenic Association, Interfraternity Council, Women’s Coalition and faculty groups. She said she also would like Deputy General Counsel Thomas Cline to be a part of the committee to address legal concerns.

Although the committee’s specific agenda will be determined after members are selected, it probably will tackle questions such as mandatory sentencing for specific offenses, removing offenders from campus during their appeals, requiring more training for SAHAS board members and clarifying language in its bylaws, students and administrators said.

Proposals from members of NU’s community who are not part of the committee also are welcome, said Mary Desler, assistant vice president for student affairs.

As a result SAHAS’ two previous committee reviews, the board added a mediation procedure and expanded the number of its members.

The committee will determine whether to make its deliberations public when it first convenes and might have a final report by Fall Quarter, Desler said.