The 2017 Annual Campus Safety Report and Crime Statistics document showed Goshen College as reporting four accounts of “forcible sex offenses.” While some may see it as regression for GC, others see it as the campus progressing.
Goshen College President Ken Newbold said: “Through the work with students, we enhanced our website… and added some functionality for reporting sexual misconduct, as well as racial misconduct. With that, we have better information and with better information we can report with greater accuracy and I think that was the biggest change this year. We’ve had more reports, which is good because then we can respond and ensure a safe campus.”
In the past two years, zero cases of forcible sexual offenses (which are defined as sexual acts directed against another person without consent) were recorded by the GC campus, which did not correspond with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center statistic that states that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. This discrepancy caused unrest between students and administration, due to what students believed as lack of transparency.
However, as Chad Coleman, director of campus safety and housing operations said, what is listed on the Annual Safety Report and Crime Statistics document are crimes that take place on campus, a fact that tends to be overlooked. Off-campus sexual offenses and other crimes are not recorded onto the crime statistics document. However, Coleman made sure to note that all sexual offense crimes are dealt with by the administration, if reported, whether it be off-or-on-campus.
“In any year that we reported zero [sexual offenses] did we know that something happened and tried to sweep it under the rug,” Coleman said. “It was just a matter of whether or not the processes were easy enough, with less friction, and made students feel comfortable reporting [sexual offenses] to us, and [the crime] actually [taking place] on campus.”
Many attribute the increase of reports to the online sexual misconduct form. With the form came clearer, more comprehensive information on incidents that helped the Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) support survivors.
Beth Martin Birky, faculty advocate and professor of English and women and gender studies, commented on the four recorded offenses, “I know an increase in reports can be interpreted as a negative thing, but analysis of on campus systems suggests that a bump in reports shows that something is working better it was previously. It is also evident that the work needs to continue.”
President Newbold agreed that the increase of reports shows that Goshen College is becoming a safer campus: “[We’re getting] to a better place with how we collect data, how we adjudicate cases and investigate. This is all producing better results so that we have better information.”
Martin Birky added that she thought it was important to note that PIN’s pilot year of bystander intervention preceded the 2017 report. “I think we have a better equipped student body to know what qualifies as sexual misconduct and how to support people who experience it.”
Gilberto Perez Jr, dean of students, also noted that PIN’s leadership on campus had an effect on Goshen College.
“More students are coming forward to share their experiences of sexual misconduct and this is important,” Perez said. “This means students are feeling more confident in sharing their experiences.”
Perez then went on to mention initiatives that Goshen College will be implementing in hopes of furthering this progress. Within the next academic year, Stephanie Krehbiel from Into Account, an organization focused on offering “support for survivors seeking justice, accountability and recovering in Christian settings,” will be invited to GC by Student Life in hopes of providing training for students and administrators to help create “a more supportive environment… on issues of sexual assault.”
Along with collaboration with Into Account, GC recently partnered with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA). Perez said that the partnership with ICESA “will allow us to connect with other universities across the U.S. to learn how they are addressing sexual assault prevention on their campus. An upcoming visit with ICESA will move the college toward conducting an audit of its sexual misconduct policy and procedures.”
While GC is doing its best to create a safe campus, the new White House administration is rearranging laws, making it difficult for college campuses all across the United States to keep up. Within the past month, the United States Department of Education decided to rescind the Title IX guidance in the 2011 letter, “Dear Colleague” which required institutions to “adopt a minimum standard of proof – the preponderance of evidence standard – in administering student discipline, even though many schools had traditionally employed a high clear-and-convincing-evidence standard.”
President Newbold made it clear that although changes are being made to Title IX, Goshen College will continue to “go further” and adhere to a “higher standard as a Christian – Anabaptist – institution.”
In a response to Into Account’s “An Open Letter to the Presidents and Title IX Officials of Mennonite Higher Education Institutions, President Newbold said, “We remain committed to insuring a safe and secure environment on campus for everyone and to supporting survivors. We have not changed how we are addressing sexual violence, including maintaining the preponderance of evidence standard of proof in Title IX hearings. The processes and structures we’ve had in place remain and are continually being reviewed to respond to community needs.”
For immediate help/safety, students can call the on-call residence life coordinator at 535-6273, or campus security at 535-7599. For students looking for support, Faculty Advocate Beth Martin Birky can be reached at (574) 535-6232 or firstname.lastname@example.org, campus counseling services at 535-7543, and Campus Pastor Bob Yoder at 535-7542. The online reporting form can be found at www.goshen.edu/sexual-assault/reporting/form.