Dartmouth Wants to Make It Clear They're Taking Sexual Assault Seriously

On Thursday, former Dartmouth College student Parker Gilbert was found not guilty of raping a fellow classmate in May of 2013, just a few days after the school sent out press releases touting their newfound "work on preventing sexual assault" during their "busy winter term."

Gilbert, class of 2016, was acquitted of "vaginal penetration through force, vaginal penetration through concealment or by the element of surprise before the alleged victim had an adequate chance to flee or resist, vaginal penetration when the alleged victim was physically helpless to resist because she was sleeping, vaginal penetration without free consent, anal penetration without free consent and criminal trespass," The Dartmouth reported. Gilbert, who was represented by a number of Dartmouth alums and whose grandfather was a professor at the school, has claimed that he had consensual sex with his accuser. "It was clumsy, awkward, drunk college sex," his lawyer said during the trial, the details of which have been meticulously reported by The Dartmouth.

His accuser told a different story. She described waking up in the middle of the night to find Gilbert raping her, even after she told him to stop. A female friend had spent the night and was sleeping in the same bed as her, but did not wake up during the alleged rape, apparently fast asleep due to a combination of anxiety medication and alcohol. Later, Gilbert sent an email to his accuser apologizing for what had happened, calling it "inappropriate," which assistant county prosecutor Paul Fitzgerald said was an attempt on his part to "reach out and try to shut her up."

This case is closed now. But for Dartmouth, it came to trial as an exceedingly bright spotlight was already shining on the school following the announcement last spring that they were being investigated by the Department of Education for Title IX violations. They're also dealing with the fall-out from a post on the campus website Bored at Baker that encouraged the rape of one of their students a few months ago. (An op-ed on The Dartmouth suggests that there was plenty of vitriol towards the Gilbert's accuser posted on Bored at Baker as well.) A member of the Dartmouth community told Jezebel that it doesn't appear as if anything definitive has happened to the author of that post, explaining that as of the end of winter quarter two weeks ago, he was still on campus.

Alums, students and outsiders are concerned that the school isn't taking this issue as seriously as they are worried about bad press. "In their announcement on January 20th that they would be coming to campus to interview Dartmouth community members, the [Office of Civil Rights] specifically said that they were interested in alumni input," one alum wrote to Jezebel in an email, explaining that after three weeks, the college still hadn't "made any announcement to alumni about the fact that the investigators are interested in our feedback and how to get in touch."

Another alum revealed that when the Bored at Baker post was first gaining traction, a screenshot of it was posted on the private Facebook group Women of Dartmouth. It was later removed by the group's administrator because of the "offensive language" it contained and because "after additional consultation with the administration," the post was considered dangerous to the victim's privacy and security. While a screenshot of that post was made available to Jezebel, a screenshot of a post the victim apparently made to her own class Facebook page along the same lines that was also removed was not. Her post's existence however, was confirmed by The Dartmouth in an article about a on-campus protest held in February by students over the Bored at Baker post.

At the end of February, Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon attended a meeting at the White House to discuss sexual violence on college campuses, part of an extensive schedule of events the school has set up about the issue over the next few months. A few weeks prior to that, Hanlon joined a panel on sexual misconduct with other college professors at the University of Virginia.

In mid-March, the women's rights group UltraViolet circulated a petition signed by tens of thousands "demanding the elite college take action to address its campus rape problem," a stance taken by the group Dartmouth Change as well. The groups asked that the college make expulsion for rapists mandatory, which the Board of Trustees voted to approve. The school is currently in the midst of soliciting comments on their new proposal to revise how students charged with sexual assault are disciplined. Under the potential new policy, Dartmouth would appoint a "trained external investigator" to investigate rape allegations. Additionally, students found guilty of rape would be expelled and those that were merely accused of it would be prevented from being around the person that reported them as much as possible "to assure a non-threatening educational environment for the reporting person."

A press release sent to Jezebel on Wednesday reads:

You may have seen Dartmouth in the news recently, and not always for its excellence in teaching, research and other endeavors. High-risk behavior, such as drinking, sexual assault and hazing, are problems on campuses across the country and have at times been linked to Dartmouth. It's important that you know we take these problems seriously and are taking action to combat them. From time to time, we'll keep you updated on the progress.

As they tout a focus on their policy changes and prepare to host "a national working conference of colleges and universities addressing sexual assault with nationally known clinical psychologist David Lisak" this summer, Dartmouth has had little to say about Gilbert's trial or verdict. The period of open comment on their new sexual assault policy ends April 14 and they say they'll have a new policy in place by June. "We know that many members of the community have been following the case of the State v. Gilbert with a range of emotions," senior media relations officer Amy Olson told The Dartmouth. "At this time, we are focused on the well-being of the community and moving forward." Forward, forward, never back.

Image via Karen/Flickr