Colby College, a small liberal arts school in Maine, has found that the actions of 15 students violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy, leading to suspensions and campuswide soul-searching.
While administrators are silent on the specifics of the November incident that sparked the investigation, they said students committed a range of infractions, from sexual misconduct and sexual harassment to lying to college officials and conspiring to obstruct an investigation.
A dozen students were suspended for a semester or more, two students voluntarily withdrew from Colby, and one case is pending.
“The severity of the sanctions should make it clear that we have taken these cases very seriously and that we will not tolerate behaviors and actions antithetical to our community values,’’ college president William D. Adams said in a Jan. 12 e-mail to students and staff. “I want to assure you all that our process was exhaustive, complex, and fair - conducted without prejudgment of the outcome.’’
Citing federal privacy regulations, Colby administrators declined to identify the students involved or disclose details of what took place, beyond saying that a student contacted college authorities on Nov. 6 alleging that “some members of our community have violated Colby’s sexual misconduct policy.’’
Still, administrations at the private college tried to keep the tight-knit student body of 1,800 in Waterville, Maine, informed about the situation, which many students were talking about almost instantly. Adams sent an “Official Notice’’ to students and staff within days of the incident. It was followed soon after by a two-hour campus-wide forum, with more to come.
While school administrators won’t divulge information that could identify students, the student newspaper, The Colby Echo, reported that members of the football team were among those implicated.
During the first campus forum, Laura Maloney, co-president of the Student Government Association, referenced an e-mail the association sent in response to the allegations. A subsequent article in the student newspaper quoted from that e-mail: “In light of recent pending allegations, we can no longer justify the buses to the football game. . . . We cannot support students who may have acted in a blatant breach of our values of a community.’’
Michael Kiser, Colby’s vice president of communications, said the school’s priority was to let students know that the college has a clearly outlined sexual misconduct policy and “reassuring students that, one, we were aware of the allegations; and two, we were in the beginning stages of a really exhaustive and aggressive investigation.’’
Kiser said the college contacted the Waterville Police Department to determine if the allegations constituted a crime. The police consulted the district attorney’s office. Law enforcement authorities determined that a crime had not been committed.
“We checked it out and [concluded] if this is the sum total of the incident, then it’s not a crime - maybe a violation of all sorts of school rules and a violation of all sorts of culture rules,’’ said Waterville Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey. “You can look in the college’s handbook of what sexual misconduct is, and it’s not going to mirror Maine statute.’’
Under Maine law, unlawful sexual contact has occurred if someone is under the legal age of consent or is mentally and physically unable to consent; if someone is drugged or threatened; and if there is an authority-figure relationship, including teacher/student and psychiatrist/patient. “There are all sorts of sexual misconduct that are not criminal,’’ Rumsey said.
Colby’s policy declares that acts of sexual misconduct include unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including assault, harassment, voyeurism, intimidation, and “surpassing boundaries of consent (i.e. permitting others to secretly watch you engage in sexual activity).’’
“This has been a very difficult time for Colby, and while it might not be easy, we must continue to confront these and other difficult but important issues as they arise,’’ Adams said in his e-mail.
On Feb. 6, about 200 students gathered for another forum about the effect the scandal has had on the school. The conversation, Kiser said, has moved beyond the specifics of the November incident and issues of sexual behavior.Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.