An impulsive hug could land a student in serious trouble at Gettysburg College, or at least that is the interpretation of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which yesterday challenged the school to change its "arbitrary and overbroad" sexual misconduct policy.
Most colleges have such policies, but Gettysburg’s is unusual in identifying "physical contact of a lewd type such as brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging and kissing" as violations.
Gettysburg also requires that verbal consent be given before engaging in sexual conduct, reminiscent of a policy at Antioch College in Ohio that became the butt of late-night television jokes in 1993. Antioch, though, did not bend to public pressure and its policy is intact.
"I understand that what these codes are trying to get at is the very real and very serious problem of sexual assault, but they’re not doing the problem any favor by trivializing it in this way," said Greg Lukianoff, president of Philadelphia-based foundation.
"They need to come up with a sensible policy that doesn’t make everyone on campus the equivalent of a rapist."
The foundation does not litigate, but it has had success convincing institutions to change certain policies by focusing public attention on them. The foundation most often goes after schools with policies that allegedly violate First Amendment rights, but the nonprofit organization also is concerned about due process in campus judicial proceedings.
Gettysburg officials seemed baffled by the foundation’s objections yesterday, noting that few students have been punished under the policy.
"We just don’t have the problems that they’re implying one could have," dean of students Julie Ramsey said. "We’re not criminalizing normal behavior. We don’t have cases coming forward where students are saying she or he brushed by me."
If that did happen, Ramsey said, a disciplinary panel of administrators, professors and students would be able to identify frivolous complaints and dismiss them.
But Lukianoff rejected that argument.
"They’re saying: ‘Yes we know we’ve written a code so broad that people will violate on a daily basis but trust us we won’t abuse it,’ " he said.
Ramsey said the college would review the policy.
Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 610-313-8111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.