Top Hat

The Importance of The Student Handbook

Possible future revisions to good samaritan policy and sexual harassment policy reviewed

This Monday, Dean of Students Mark Smith came to the Student Senate general body meeting to discuss upcoming changes to the Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities, regarding the good samaritan policy as well as sexual assault and sexual harassment policy. With this week’s Top Hat article, I would like to explain the importance of this Student Handbook and the role we, as students, have been asked to play in the discussion process.

The Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities details the Student Bill of Rights, as well as numerous policies related to academics, student life, safety, privacy, and other items. The chief purpose of the Handbook is to establish guidelines that protect the rights of students as members of the Rensselaer community, and to outline responsibilities, obligations, and expectations for students necessary to ensure the success and stability of these policies. In short, the Student Handbook is the principal document that details and safeguards our rights as RPI students.

The Handbook is compiled and published bi-annually, pending the approval of the Board of Trustees. All policies contained in the Handbook, are set and revised as necessary by the RPI Administration — specifically the Dean of Students Office. In the process of writing updates to the Handbook, the Student Senate is often consulted to gain student perspective and input into proposed changes, usually culminating in a student vote of endorsement.

The revisions currently being considered for the good samaritan policy are fairly clear cut. The good samaritan policy is of critical importance, incentivizing students to seek aid in situations involving assault, medical emergencies, or drug/alcohol related incidents that may become serious or life threatening by protecting them from judicial action provided certain procedures are followed. The good samaritan policy, outlined on page 21–22 of the 2012–2014 Student Handbook, reads: “The good samaritan policy is the Institute’s commitment to increase the likelihood that community members will call for assistance after having been sexually assaulted (independent of the involvement of alcohol or other drugs) and/or when faced with an alcohol or drug-related emergency.”

This has been expanded to include students who have been “a victim or witness to hazing”. Hazing is further defined on page 25 of the Handbook as: “any conduct that subjects another person, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or psychologically, to anything that may endanger, abuse, degrades or intimidates the person as a condition of association with a group or organization.” Simply put, this change extends the protections offered by Good Samaritan to hazing incidents.

Changes to the sexual assault and sexual misconduct are more robust, and to be established in accordance with state or national legislation. There are many changes being pursued to update the response process—including granting professional investigators (one of each gender, speculated to be current or former Public Safety officer) responsibility for all investigative procedures, and further empowerment of the Sexual Assault Response Team.

The most distinct change under consideration is a revised judicial process. As outlined on page 30, students are encouraged to pursue charges under the Rensselaer judicial process as well as the criminal justice system. Currently, within the Institute, if the accused is a Rensselaer student, they will be subject to the student judicial process as defined elsewhere. A potential new process under heavy consideration and discussion would require sexual assault cases to be dealt with by a special board assembled purely of professional staff rather than the student Judicial Board.

As mentioned above, changes are ultimately decided by the dean of students, so the opportunity to lend input is a privilege and should not be taken lightly. With proposed revisions on topics of this magnitude, I would like to invite and encourage anyone passionate about these issues to become a part of this conversation. The Senate’s Student Life Committee will work closely with Dean Smith as it lends a student perspective to these changes—if you’d like to be a part of this discussion, please contact Student Life Committee Chairman Lexi Rindone ’15 at rindoa@rpi.edu, or myself at gm@rpi.edu.