Student groups to be required to expel members for discrimination, sexual assault

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

Kalpana Vissa, the co-president of Students Against Sexual Assault and a member of the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, helped draft the language.

When student organizations register with the Center for Student Engagement for next academic year, all groups will be required to make rules to expel students for discriminatory behavior and sexual assault.

In an email sent to student organization leaders March 1, Anne Graham, the assistant director of student involvement and Greek life, said all groups must include language in their constitutions, identifying actions like discriminatory behavior and harassment as a cause to remove members. Student leaders said the change will ensure every student organization has a clear process to handle these incidents and will reinforce a University-wide commitment to eliminating inappropriate or discriminatory behavior.

Graham said in an email that inappropriate behavior could include illegal activities or violence. Graham added that in the event an organization encountered this conduct from a member, student leaders should contact their advisers to come up with an action plan to possibly remove the member.

“This language is intended to promote a positive, inclusive, safe and productive culture among our diverse community of student organizations and to underscore that behavior contrary to the values of our institution is unacceptable,” she wrote in the email.

Kalpana Vissa, the co-president of Students Against Sexual Assault and a member of the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, helped draft the new language. She said the initial idea for the requirement came up after the committee hosted a town hall last year asking student organization leaders about how they handle sexual assault cases in their organizations and how the University can promote prevention education.

She said through discussions at the town hall, an online form sent to student leaders after the event and inquiries sent to SASA, there was a resounding need for protocol about how to handle cases of sexual misconduct within student organizations.

“Student life, especially, is really important and for students who want to take extra measures to figure out ways that their student organizations can still be welcoming spaces for their members,” she said. “This is just one step that does that.”

The language includes other kinds of inappropriate behavior, like discriminatory actions or harassment, as grounds for removal because all student groups should have a process in place to handle those situations, she added.

“We didn’t want to separate them out – they all kind of fit under this umbrella of unwanted behavior in a student organization that really no student org should have to tolerate,” Vissa said.

Earlier this month, GW’s Alpha Phi chapter announced it would expel three of its members for participating in a racist Snapchat post that gained national attention and sparked outrage on campus.

Officials said the new requirements were in the works before that incident and are not a reaction to the post.

Vissa said she worked with Tim Miller, the associate dean of students, to draft the language because he is also a member of the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

Miller said the language is important to implement because many student organizations have a procedure for removing officers of their executive board but not ordinary members. He said the language was drafted to ensure every organization had a process to remove members but that administrators are being careful not to make student organization leaders the “judge, jury and everything else” when they encounter cases of inappropriate behavior.

“It’s more about we want you to be able to have a process to go through but you’re not going to be investigating and going through your own investigative process and holding hearings because that’s outside the scope of a student organization,” he said.

Graham said she didn’t want the language to dictate a specific member removal procedure for each organization because each group operates differently. Over the next few months, she said administrators will work to compare removal processes at other universities and conduct research to find to help organizations create procedures on a case-by-case basis.

Student organization leaders said the language adds onto procedures that already exist in their governing documents, and that standardizing the processes will make groups a more welcoming place for students.

Caroline Hakes, the incoming director of public relations for the College Republicans, said the organization condemns discriminatory and other inappropriate behavior. She added that if a member was accused of any conduct of that nature, there would be a review of the accusations to make sure the organization makes a correct decision and takes appropriate action.

“My hope, personally, and the hope of CR as a whole is that these new measures will make not only our members but all members of student orgs safer and more comfortable at GW,” she said.

Robert Dickson, the vice president of communications for the College Democrats, said the organization has a “zero-tolerance policy” for discriminatory acts and already outlines in their code of conduct that members may be suspended for engaging in such behavior. He said that if a member was discriminatory, the group’s executive board would vote to remove them from the organization.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said, about the CSE’s new requirement. “The next step is holding student organizations – whether it’s a political association, whether it’s a social organization – to actually follow the constitution bylaws.”

Annie Dobler and Meredith Roaten contributed reporting.

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