FIRE’s press release today celebrates victory at Gettysburg College, which has finally put an end to its Sexual Misconduct Policy more than a year after FIRE first took the case public. The policy was so broadly written that nearly every student on campus violated it on a regular basis. Gettysburg applied the term “sexual misconduct” to not only forced sexual acts but to any “brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing” performed without constant and continual verbal consent.
This policy is worse than the one that made Antioch College famous in the early 1990s when it first introduced its Sexual Offense Prevention Policy. As Samantha wrote a few months ago, “Both policies have the exact same definition of consent: ‘Consent is defined as the act of willingly and verbally agreeing to engage in specific sexual conduct.’” Gettysburg went even further than Antioch by requiring students to get “continuing and active” verbal consent at every step of a physical encounter with another student.
We’ve pointed out for more than a year the many problems with a policy like this one. First, an unexpected pat on the back should not be equated to forcible rape. This policy left too many innocent interactions subject to possible punishment, guaranteeing that its enforcement would be arbitrary and completely at administrators’ discretion. Gettysburg’s old policy also infantilized students by treating them as incapable of making even the most basic judgments about sexual interactions.
FIRE first attempted to persuade Gettysburg President Katherine Haley Will to revise this policy in April 2006 and informed the public about the dangers of this policy the following month. Gettysburg later said it would look into the policy, but when that didn’t happen, we added Gettysburg to our Red Alert list in June, highlighting that Gettysburg was one of the “worst of the worst” schools in terms of individual rights on campus.
With the reform of this policy, FIRE will remove Gettysburg from the Red Alert list, making it the first school to work its way off that list by making its policies reflect fundamental fairness.
When students arrive on Gettysburg’s campus for the upcoming school year, they can now rest assured that they cannot be branded campus criminals for merely giving a friend a hug.