The Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) is the center for Goshen College’s policy for handling sexual misconduct cases.This team, composed of faculty and staff, collectively responds to complaints that are filed with members of the team.
“We have a pretty good team with a core of us who have worked on this for a number of years, so there’s familiarity, commitment, and history,” said Jeanne Liechty, professor of social work and a member of the team since its implementation in 2008.
The team currently includes Liechty; Debra Brubaker, professor of music; Glenn Gilbert, utilities manager; Launa Rohrer, dean of students; Jody Saylor, associate professor of biology; Julie Reese, professor of psychology; Jason Samuel, WGCS general manager; and Joe Springer, curator of the Mennonite Historical Library.
The creation of SMRT occurred in response to a review of the old policy, where misconduct complaints were dealt with through student life. This system was changed to a policy that tries to provide a process that is accessible and comfortable for students.
“The benefits of the system now are that there’s continuity of process and an opportunity for students to report to a variety of people they might know on the team,” Rohrer said. “This is a policy for how we treat each other, and there’s a benefit to having a team that has multiple people who each provide a necessary perspective that contributes to the overall process and outcome.”
The reporting process begins with a complainant bringing the issue to a team member, two of whom then conduct an in-depth, detailed interview with the complainant regarding the incident. The team then contacts the respondent, the term for the accused person, to another interview, where the stories are compared for factuality and congruency.
“The beauty of our policy is that it really tries to throw a broad net,” Liechty said. “When the offenses are mild, like language use or inappropriate public touching, we can work with educating the respondent. We try to think about how to get this person to move one step—just one step—in increasing their awareness, sensitivity, and ability to treat another human being with respect.”
This process makes Goshen College unique in that the team can enhance the community by not solely issuing harsh punishments to cases that are found substantiated or inconclusive, but being able to educate people. Unsubstantiated accusations, the third finding the team could have, carry no punishment—meaning that if the complainant brings a false accusation, there will be no punitive response towards them.
This is meant to lower the threshold of reporting, making students more likely to take advantage of the policy.
“No system is perfect, just as human beings aren’t perfect in the way we relate to each other. We have to remember that we’re in a community that gets a whole new quarter of our population every year,” Rohrer said. “That calls on each of us to be patient and understanding, but also to relate to each other in ways that respect others and agree with the standards.”
This policy was very progressive when put in place six years ago and continues to set the standard—larger universities are catching up by enacting similar policies. These changes will enhance the reporting process by allowing students to feel comfortable with reporting and improve the community as a whole.
“I see the Sexual Misconduct Response Team as one way of having accountability and holding each other to our community standards,” Rohrer said. “But it’s not the only thing—we need to continue to foster good relationships, even when frustrated or misunderstood. I think it says more about each of us…that we’re willing to engage the conversation. That’s what gives me hope.”