Victory for Fundamental Fairness at Gettysburg College

By August 22, 2007

GETTYSBURG, Pa., August 20, 2007—After more than a year of public pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Gettysburg College has amended its controversial Sexual Misconduct Policy. Gettysburg students are finally free from the draconian policy, which failed to distinguish between an innocent, spontaneous hug and forcible rape.
“According to the old, ludicrous policy, practically every person at Gettysburg College was guilty of sexual misconduct, leaving it up to administrators to enforce the policy as they chose,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “We are pleased that Gettysburg has at last revised this policy.”
FIRE first called for a repeal of Gettysburg’s original policy in May 2006, stating that although Gettysburg promises its students that “they enjoy the same rights…that other citizens enjoy,” the school’s old Sexual Misconduct Policy infringed on students’ rights to due process and fundamental fairness. Despite months of agreeing to undertake an administrative review and revision of the Sexual Misconduct Policy, Gettysburg continued to maintain it. In response, FIRE added Gettysburg to its Red Alert list, where FIRE highlights the “worst of the worst” offenders against liberty on campus. In light of the policy change, Gettysburg will be removed from FIRE’s Red Alert list.
The original policy’s broad definition of sexual interaction included not only sex acts but also “brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing,” drawing no distinction between innocent hugging and sex crimes. FIRE wrote to Gettysburg President Katherine Haley Will on April 11, 2006, urging her to revise the policy, because it “trivialize[d] sexual assault by equating it with normal and legal behavior,” and because it criminalized so much everyday student conduct that it could not possibly be enforced across the board, therefore vesting the university administration with the power to arbitrarily punish innocent student conduct. The revised policy has eliminated the language equating rape with mere hugging and instead prohibits “[s]exual misconduct, including sexual assault, [which] is defined as deliberate physical contact of a sexual nature without the other person’s consent.”
A second pressing problem with Gettysburg’s original policy was its definition of “consent,” which the school called “the act of willingly and verbally agreeing (for example, by stating ‘yes’) to engage in specific sexual conduct. If either person at any point in a sexual encounter does not give continuing and active consent, all sexual contact must cease, even if consent was given earlier.” (Emphasis added.) Such a convoluted definition required individuals to not only obtain verbal consent before engaging in virtually any physical contact, but to continue to ask for and receive verbal consent for the duration of the act. The new policy more aptly defines “effective consent” as consent that is “informed, freely and actively given, using mutually understandable words or actions which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity.”
“Gettysburg’s revised policy is a great improvement,” Lukianoff said. “Gettysburg students can breathe a sigh of relief today, as they are no longer all criminals under university policy.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Gettysburg College can be viewed at www.thefire.org.
CONTACT:
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org

Schools: Gettysburg College