NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
Both Gettysburg College and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education agree there is a world of difference between a hug and sexual assault.
But how to enforce the issue of consent is a point of contention.
The organization, which uses the acronym FIRE, is challenging Gettysburg College’s sexual misconduct policy.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation in Philadelphia that monitors issues such as individual rights, due process and freedom of expression at the nation’s colleges.
The crux of the policy, according to college administration, is consent. FIRE says the issue of consent is over the top in the policy and it does not distinguish a hug and sexual contact.
"With a policy so broad, it makes each student potentially liable and leaves punishment at the whim of the administration," said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president. "That’s not fair. That’s not just."
He said such a broad policy trivializes sexual assault, and referred to consent for hugs and kisses between two people in a relationship as "absurd."
Julie Ramsey, dean of college life at Gettysburg, said the policy in place is a fair and just one.
"The key issue is consent," she said. "Obviously, that’s true with any physical contact. The focus is on consent and how to ensure it’s provided and given."
She said FIRE wrote a letter to college President Katherine Haley Will and that she wrote back, saying the policy will be re-examined.
Ramsey said the policy was created about five years ago through a committee of faculty, students and administration. She said a new committee might be formed in the fall to re-examine the policy and determine if a new one is needed.
Under the code of conduct in Gettysburg College’s student handbook, sexual misconduct is a threat of a sexual nature or deliberate contact without consent of the other person. Examples of physical contact requiring consent outlined in the policy include brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging and kissing. The code includes sexual misconduct in the forms of sexual assault, physical harm, and coerced physical activities, which include rape.
Lukianoff said his organization focuses primarily on issues of freedom of speech at educational institutions. He said the group was notified about the policy through more than one source. The group keeps a database of codes, and researched this particular one.
Ramsey believes the policy has been an effective one.
"I think it’s effective, particularly in educating students in how to avoid problems of sexual assault," she said.
Ramsey said these issues are no different than those on any other college campus, and Gettysburg’s policy is similar to that of other schools.
"No policy is perfect and can’t prevent people from exercising poor judgment," she said. "Our policy is on consent and how to ensure it is provided and given."
The 2004 security report, the latest annual report issued by Gettysburg College Safety and Security, reports five forcible sex offenses in 2004. It was three in 2003 and four in 2002.
These policies, Ramsey said, are reviewed with new students during orientation, with a special section on sexual assault and adherent charges and on clear communication for consent.