Penn's new amendments to its sexual violence policy released on Tuesday put more emphasis on outlining the rights and procedures for students. The new procedures will take effect starting Feb. 1.
The key amendment to the Disciplinary Charter is the creation of the Office of the Sexual Violence Investigative Officer, who will manage all complaints against a University student alleged to have violated the Sexual Violence Policy. Penn announced yesterday that Christopher Mallios will serve as the University’s first Sexual Violence Investigative Officer.
“Overall, the new policy focuses on balancing the rights of the complainant [the accuser] with the rights of the respondent to ensure that both parties are protected,” Mallios said. “Instead of just a campus hearing, the new system is really a thoughtful, deliberative process that uses interviews and evidence to come to a fair resolution.”
The new policy also emphasizes an increased coordination between Penn and the legal system, as University students have the option to file a report with the district attorney or with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. The policy’s option to engage forensic or other legal experts will function as another opportunity for “making sure to avoid misconceptions and always follow[ing] the evidence where it leads,” Mallios said.
While sexual misconduct cases used to be heard before disciplinary panels of undergraduate students, the new policy specifies that the panel members will be selected from a pool of faculty members, who have agreed to serve for at least one year and to be trained as adjudicators in compliance with Title IX and other state or federal guidelines.
“We decided on a faculty panel based on the Department of Education’s recommendation and also because we concluded that it was something best managed not by other students,” said Joann Mitchell, Penn’s Vice President for Institutional Affairs.
The process to develop the amended procedures was one of collaboration both throughout campus and across the nation. In addition to getting insight from students, faculty and campus organizations involved with sexual violence, Penn hosted a “technical assistance workshop” — run by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights — with colleges and universities throughout the region.
“We’ve had the benefit of reading policies and procedures of peer institutions and seeing the upsides and downsides of what other campuses are doing,” Mitchell said.
The office of Penn President Amy Gutmann deferred comment to Mitchell.
Beyond ensuring a fair management of sexual misconduct allegations, Mallios wants to encourage people to report by educating all members of campus about the new process.
“We want people to have confidence in the fairness and safety of the system so that they feel comfortable coming to this office to file a report, to respond to a report or to serve as a witness,” Mallios said.
The release of the new policy follows the University’s other sexual violence prevention efforts, such as New Student Orientation sexual violence training and the hiring of Jessica Mertz to fill the newly created position of managing sexual violence prevention and education.
Regarding Mallios, head of the new Office of Sexual Violence, people who worked with him have praised his experience. “In my work with Chris, I’ve been very impressed by his nuanced understanding of the complex dynamics of sexual violence and campus culture,” said Litty Paxton, the Penn Women’s Center director. “He’s a great presenter and also a great listener.”
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