Statement Regarding Sexual Assault

Sexual assault affects the lives of many students—at Williams and nationally. Its effects are both immediate and enduring, and we must do all that we can to prevent its occurrence and to respond fully when it does occur.

We have strengthened our policies and practices in this area through extensive work in the last several years, but assault remains a very serious issue here, and we know that we have much more to do.

Update: Please visit the dean’s website to read a detailed response to the petition regarding sexual assault.

We support survivors and hold accountable anyone found to have violated the college’s Code of Conduct, which prohibits sexual misconduct—a term that encompasses a wide range of behavior, none of which can have a place at Williams. We encourage all students who’ve been subjected to or have information about a sexual assault to report formally to both the college—the first step in a disciplinary process—and to the police—the first step in a criminal investigation.

The need for timely, sensitive, and ongoing support of students who report having been assaulted is at the heart of our work, and it drives all of our policies, practices, and interactions with them.

That support includes issuing an immediate no-contact order and connecting students with medical, counseling, law enforcement, and other resources. We promptly investigate and address all allegations. We also immediately provide safe places for survivors to be, and in the longer run make housing and academic arrangements that aid in their sense of safety and recovery. We remove students from campus immediately, even before any disciplinary action, if we believe their presence presents a danger to others.

The college at the same time will treat fairly and support appropriately students who have been accused of sexual assault. That includes conducting a fair investigation and disciplinary process, and ensuring that such students are aware of counseling and other resources.

And for the students who report having been assaulted, the students who have been accused of sexual assault, and any student witnesses, we maintain the strictest standard of confidentiality.

For a student found to have committed sexual misconduct, the college’s established policy follows federal law and allows for a full range of sanctions, including suspension (separation from the college for a fixed period of time) or expulsion. Our policy gives both parties the right to appeal a sanction within a specified time. The outcome of an appeal may be to confirm the original sanction, to decrease it, or to increase it. As is the case at most colleges, it has not been the policy at Williams to impose mandatory expulsion for every finding of every type of sexual misconduct.

Our first concern is always the safety of our students and community. We, of course, do not allow students to return to campus, or to remain on campus, if they present a clear safety risk. If a student found responsible for any type of sexual misconduct returns to Williams following a suspension, we must do all we can to ensure that this does not negatively affect individuals or the community. Approaches to this can include, but are not limited to, requirements for education or treatment while away from the college, and no-contact orders or other restrictions upon return. We are continually examining our own procedures in this critical area in order to reflect national best practices as they evolve.

We are absolutely committed to adhering to our established written processes for all allegations of sexual assault, such adherence being the fundamental guarantor of fairness to all of the parties involved. These processes include firm commitments of confidentiality, even in the face of public discussion of individual cases and controversy for the college. Complete assurance that we will preserve this confidentiality is essential to the willingness of survivors to come forward, as well as for witnesses to give their testimony and for students who have been accused to be confident that they will be treated fairly.

We have not asked any party in the case being discussed by others publicly to waive their rights under FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), which generally prohibits the college from disclosing any identifying information about a student, or under our own confidentiality policies, and we do not intend to do so.

Our support of survivors of sexual assault includes the provision of appropriate alternative housing arrangements both during the investigation and subsequently. For reasons both legal and moral, we are committed to the thorough investigation of any allegation of retaliation or harassment. We are confident that throughout our handling of the case in question, we adhered to all of our policies and to all applicable laws, including our policies on the provision of housing for the survivor, and we investigated fully and promptly any allegation of retaliation or harassment. Even in an environment in which there is public discussion of this case, our own legal and ethical commitments of confidentiality make it impossible for Williams to address the particulars in any detail.

For more information about the college’s policies and processes regarding sexual assault, please visit the Dean of the College’s website. There you will also find the dean’s most recent letter to the community, which summarizes progress made in our work to reduce sexual assault and provides an annual update on reports made and the outcome of disciplinary processes.

Working to reduce the prevalence and impact of assault, by constantly reviewing and improving our policies and practices on support, education, and response, has been a major initiative at Williams over the past several years. All of our work in this area is informed by national research and is done in close collaboration with students, a practice we are absolutely committed to continuing.

Our work is not done, and our commitment to stopping sexual assault at Williams is stronger than ever. With the arrival April 7th of our first Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, we are beginning anew our review of every area of this work, from our awareness and prevention programming to our support for survivors and adjudication and sanctioning of reported assaults. More plans for how we will structure the various aspects of this comprehensive review will come together this summer. As has long been our model, this work will be deeply collaborative, and open to all on campus.

Adam F. Falk