Revised committee reviews party case

By Emma Gallegos

The Macalester College Harassment Committee (MCHC), which reviewed the actions of students who dressed up in costumes of an offensive nature at the “politically incorrect” party, has a new procedure that was put into effect at the beginning of this academic year.

While the case concerning the party has been particularly high-profile, committee members say it has not been the first complaint subject to this new procedure.

“So far it’s worked really well,” said Terry Bailey, Associate Director of Human Resources and a staff representative on the MCHC.

The committee continues to receive complaints of harassment from students, faculty and staff, and decide whether to investigate each of the claims, mediate between parties or drop the claim, if it does not constitute a violation of college policy.

But the way that the committee receives and investigates claims has changed.

Members of the harassment committee said that the old procedure had lots of problems.

“The old policy was very adversarial,” Bailey said.

Jim Hoppe, Associate Dean of Students and the other staff representative of MCHC, agreed. He said that it was much more formal, like a judicial forum, and people who were part of the procedure tended to get more defensive.

Former president Michael McPherson created an ad hoc committee in Spring 2003 to review this procedure, which had not been updated for over a decade. Bailey said that students, staff and faculty met monthly for a year to rewrite the procedure. The ad hoc committee then opened up the new procedure for community review before it was officially put into practice this fall.

In this new procedure, the committee, consisting of two faculty and two staff, review each complaint and together decide what action to take.

The committee currently includes Joelle Vitiello, professor of French and Francophone Studies and Brooke Lee, associate professor of Psychology, in addition to Hoppe and Bailey.

If investigation is necessary, three of these members look into the claim, while the fourth member stays off the case and provides an outside opinion, if someone appeals the investigation.

In the old procedure, there was a grievance officer assigned for each segment of the Macalester community – student, faculty and staff. Hoppe said that grievance officers worked autonomously and that the new system is more collaborative.

Because it might take longer to reach a consensus on a given case, Hoppe said this slows down the process.
But he said the benefits are worth it. It is helpful to have more than one person dealing with each case, Hoppe said, so that there are multiple opinions when discussing the delicate issues that inevitably come up in harassment cases.
Some key aspects of the procedure remain the same, for instance, cases reviewed by the committee are completely confidential, which is why no one, including Hoppe has been able to comment on the specifics of the case or where the committee is in its investigation.

He said that while confidentiality is a crucial part of the process, it makes it difficult for concerned community members, who are observing the case from the outside, to understand what is happening.

“We might take action and people would never know,” Hoppe said. “It can lead to the perception that nothing’s happening.

When committee members decide what action to take, Hoppe said they consider what’s best for reconciliation, for the individuals and for the community.

And the harassment procedure does take into account how an incident affects the community.
President Brian Rosenberg’s letter to the college concerning the party and even the community forum held on Feb. 13 are suggestions that come straight from the procedure guidelines.

In an open letter published in the Feb. 9 edition of The Mac Weekly, several student organizations suggested that the administration take no disciplinary action against individuals who went to the party but rather that they take “campus-wide action.”
But Hoppe said that action must be taken against those who have violated the harassment policy.

“We have responsibility to protect the safety and security of the community,” Hoppe said. “The college has to have absolutes.”

Hoppe said that he wants the Macalester community to know that this committee is available and that if they bring something forward, they still have the ability to make decisions in the process about the way the procedure is handle.
“We’re a responsive group,” Hoppe said.
Copies of the harassment policy are available in the offices of the Dean of Students, MCSG, the Provost and Human Resources.