GENEVA — As debate continues about an alleged sexual assault at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a New York Times report on the case, focus is now on efforts to improve programs and policies on the Geneva campus and elsewhere to prevent and handle such cases.
Last week, an online petition by Coalition of Concerned Students had 3,000 signatures of HWS students and former students, faculty and hundreds of concerned citizens at ( HWS President Mark Gearan had met July 15 with students who crafted the petition and released a statement outlining concrete measures to address prevention and handling of campus assault.
Ryan Mullaney, a Hobart junior who helped craft the petition, said last Thursday from the HWS campus that media coverage of the assault case put pressure on the colleges’ president and senior staff to take action.
Regardless of where you stand on the allegations and New York Times report, that is a positive development, Mullaney and others agreed.
“I am hopeful right now,” Mullaney said.
“The rallying of individuals like you has reassured us that we are capable of and have the power to make the necessary changes to HWS' policies and procedures,” stated an email update Friday from the coalition, which is made up of members of several campus organizations, certain varsity athletes and other concerned community members.
Hobart and William Smith came under fire in a July 13 New York Times cover article, titled “Reporting rape, and wishing she hadn’t.” The article focused on a HWS student named Anna who, two weeks into her freshman year, reported being sexually assaulted by football players at a fraternity party. The article is critical of the colleges’ adjudication of the case — in which it notes the football players were cleared after a 12-day investigation — and claims that the panel members of the disciplinary hearing misrepresented evidence and interrupted her answers.
Hobart senior Jordan Mueller, who signed the petition, said Thursday from the HWS campus that Anna’s experience is not unusual. What is unusual is her speaking out, he said.
“I think it is one of the bravest things,” said Mueller, an environmental studies major from Syracuse. “I would like to change the sexual assault culture, not just here but everywhere else.”
Mueller said sexual assault and its mishandling are problems at campuses nationwide: “This is an issue everywhere, and I want to be able to stand behind my school 100 percent and know we are doing our best to make sure this does not happen again.”
Others concur. They include Emily Fisher of Geneva, who commented at the online petition site: “Unfortunately, HWS is not unique in this regard. This petition should be directed toward every college president and every chief of police in the country. Thanks to Anna for her bravery in going public with her story.”
Anna, who is home and out of the area, said in the New York Times article she needed time away but plans to return to campus for the fall semester.
Mueller said these plans demonstrate that Anna has confidence and faith in Hobart and William Smith making changes. “People want action,” he said. “We have a lot of people on top of this.”
“She has a lot of support,” Mueller said. “I commend her to the moon and back for everything she has been able to do and say,” he added.

Taking issue
The New York Times article by Walt Bogdanich says the case records “depict a school ill prepared to evaluate an allegation so serious that, if proved in a court of law, would be a felony, with a likely prison sentence.” It indicts school disciplinary panels in general as being “a world unto themselves” operating secretly, with little accountability, and “limited protections for the accuser or the accused.”
Those critical of that assessment include Ontario County District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo, who was interviewed in the New York Times report. Tantillo said Monday he reviewed the entire file, which was several hundred pages, and he arrived at the same conclusion as the Geneva City Police and HWS review panel.
In citing major criticism of the New York Times report, Tantillo said it made little or no mention of the approximately 20 witnesses who either contradicted or discredited the allegations.
“It took statements from the review panel out of context which distorted significantly the meaning of what was being said,” he added.
In supporting the colleges’ handling of the case, Tantillo said the panel “reviewed many, many statements and took testimony from many, many people.” After doing so, the panel reached the same conclusion as the Geneva City Police “and the same conclusion reached by me,” he emphasized.
Maureen Collins Zupan, chairwoman of the colleges’ Board of Trustees, defended the HWS handling of the case, as well. In a letter on the New York Times Opinion page published July 15 — also posted on the colleges’ Facebook page — her letter reads in part: “As an alumna, a proud mother of a daughter who graduated from HWS, and chairwoman of the board of trustees, I write with a heavy heart.
“Like all colleges and universities, HWS is challenged to ensure that we are meeting the demands of a shifting legal landscape — especially in the area of sexual assault — as we also work to meet the needs of students while fostering a safer and more collegial learning environment.”
She went on to write: “During the past year, Hobart and William Smith Colleges have worked with national leaders in the field and have completed a review of our sexual misconduct policy. One of the country’s leading experts on the issue, Brett A. Sokolow, affirmed the conclusions of this case and observed that our process meets or exceeds best practices for higher education.
“Could we have handled some things differently in this case? Of course. However, it remains my opinion as a feminist, mother, daughter, sister and leader that Hobart and William Smith handled this case properly, with compassion, respect and seriousness.”
The district attorney concurs.
“I think they considered it very seriously,” agreed Tantillo. As for whether there is room for improvement in the handling of such cases, Tantillo said: “I am sure there is room for improvement in every school.”

Changes in the wind
In his statement last Wednesday, July 16, Gearan pledged to see through a number of changes. They include: establishing a dedicated Title IX office staffed with experts in educational development, psychologists and legal advisers for the fall 2014 semester to ensure the college’s “hearing process is equitable and fair;” reviewing enhanced safety measures; making greater use of technology and a student-initiated 24-hour hotline; and expanding education and training that includes additional training for those involved with response, investigation and/or adjudication of sexual misconduct complaints.
“We have a moment of opportunity before us to make a difference in our community and I look forward to updating you on our efforts,” Gearan wrote.
Mullaney said efforts to bring change in response to sexual assault began at HWS before the New York Times article.
“It is an ongoing effort, and this was the newest manifestation,” said Mullany, a sociology and public policy major.
The dozens of comments prompted by the online petition suggest that outrage at the alleged mishandling of Anna’s case has potentially dire consequences for HWS.
“I'm an alum and won't make financial donations to a school that doesn't take care of its students,” wrote Mary Jane Kircher of Ovid, Seneca County.

Coalition working 24/7
in updating its progress within the first five days, the Coalition for Concerned Students also noted that the coalition formed in early May of this year after the formal announcement of a U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigation. It was announced that Hobart and William Smith were among several dozen colleges and universities being investigated for their handling of sexual-assault cases.
“We rallied together in hopes of changing administrative policies regarding sexual assault, to change the overall campus culture through education initiatives, and to fight for more administrative transparency,” stated the coalition. “We are entirely student led and do not receive funding from the institution. Our long term mission is to eradicate sexual violence at HWS by providing adequate education materials, eliminating stigma surrounding reporting an assault, supporting survivors, and ensuring that all students truly know their options.”
Progress so far, in addition to creating the petition ( and contacting the administration and Gearan (who met with coalition members and discussed with them in person and over the phone a plan of action), the coalition:
• Collaborated with an alumni group known as HWS Community for Change on a letter being delivered to the administration that expands on the requests of the petition while also incorporating the demands of alumni;
• Supported the Sexual Violence Task Force's official announcement of the HWS sexual assault hotline that is to be up and running for students by students 24/7 in the fall;
• Published a Sexual Assault Glossary of Terms to help define the sometimes confusing vocabulary used when discussing sexual violence;
• Began working with the Office of Alumni Relations and alums on the creation of a Women's Resource Center/Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

What about other colleges?
Finger Lakes Community College and Monroe Community College weighed in via email about their respective efforts to promote campus safety and handle sexual assault.
Lenore Friend, FLCC’s director of Public Relations and Community Affairs, stated that at F:CC, the focus is on “educating students on what constitutes unwanted behavior and what to do about it.”
Friend noted that FLCC has a handout placed throughout the main campus and at campus centers with “definitions and examples of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and stalking so they will recognize it,” plus specific examples of actions students can take and both college and community resources where students can seek help. Friend added the issue is also addressed at orientation sessions for new students, information is on the college’s website at, and FLCC is currently planning a public information campaign for this fall to direct students to the website.
Also, the FLCC Campus Safety Office provides escorts to students returning to cars late at night or who have orders of protection, Friend noted. There are “blue phones” outside connecting directly to Campus Safety if a student doesn’t feel safe, she added. Also, FLCC has a “silent witness” program in which people may report suspected criminal activity on the main campus or at the campus centers in Victor, Geneva and Wayne County, she noted.
Though FLCC does not operate residence halls, the college has a close working relationship with the operator of the nonprofit-run Suites at Laker Landing student housing adjacent to the FLCC main campus in Hopewell, Friend noted. She added that student involvement in the development of policies is always important: “That is why FLCC has a student trustee and student representatives to various governance committees,” she stated.
Friend stated that “FLCC posts ‘360 Stay Safe’ videos that are available to all students via a web portal students use to communicate with professors or take online classes. Topics range from crime prevention to domestic violence recognition and prevention.” In addition, FLCC’s Winning with Character program is a class all athletes are required to take that has chapters on sex and character and strives for a positive culture among FLCC athletes.
MCC as well has a number of programs and policies promoting safety, according to spokeswoman Cynthia Cooper.
“In Fall 2006, the college adopted a Civility Statement which speaks to our community’s core values, including respect, dignity, integrity for and by all,” Cooper stated. “Our Code of Conduct and Policy on Sexual Harassment make clear our expectation that all are entitled to ‘a comfortable and productive education and work environment.’ Our Sexual Offense Policy Statement outlines the College’s full support of all local, state and federal laws governing harassment, rape and sexual assault and our commitment to prosecuting to the fullest extent possible.”
Cooper said MCC holds regular programs to raise awareness of rape — including acquaintance rape — and sex offenses. The programs are for the entire college community, though particular attention is paid to the residence halls, Cooper noted. She also noted that a Title IX team made of of trained student services and public safety professionals regularly reviews college policies, trains staff in awareness of and response to sex offenses, and educates students in prevention and response.
“We also train all student leaders working in offices at the college and in the residence halls,” Cooper stated. “Our orientation program for new students includes information on sexual harassment.”
Cooper added that MCC prioritizes “protection of the victim and prevention of continued trauma,” making victims aware of available counseling resources on campus and in the community. She also noted that college policies and procedures are outlined in the college catalog and on the MCC website.