After a week of deliberation and gathering evidence, Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong decided to suspend a student for sexual harassment of disabled students on campus in January.
“The college president is the only official who is allowed to issue suspensions, but myself and [Vice President of Student Services] Ricardo Navarrette advise him on each one,” said dean of disabled services Patie Wegman.
According to victims who wished to remain anonymous, there was a concern that the suspect inappropriately touched disabled women and retrieved private information from laptops and phones. The suspect was removed from campus for the week following the president’s deliberations, and officially suspended.
Navarrette said due process lasted a week, ending Feb. 1. The student did not return to campus or SRJC events during the deliberation. Navarrette, Chong and Wegman interviewed both the accused and the victims extensively, ensuring accurate testimony and evidence severe enough to act on.
The deans and president treat student suspensions very seriously, relying on victim testimony whenever evidence isn’t available. “We want to avoid a ‘he said-she said’ situation,” Navarrette said.
Because student disciplinary hearings are internal affairs, the identities of the victims and the accused remain anonymous.
The due process for student disciplinary affairs differs from legal ones because the burden of proof can be satisfied without a trial process. “The evidence threshold is not what it might be in a criminal court. I can recommend a suspension of a student based on the testimony of two other students, while the accused vehemently denies it. It’s our decision and we take it very seriously,” Wegman said.
“We want to protect the due process rights of all students.”
Incident reports of sexual harassment have increased since last semester. Wegman said she wasn’t certain if actual cases of harassment were increasing. It is more likely students became more aware of resources at their disposal and harassment that typically went unreported now show up. The rate of response to the reports also increased. “Of the four cases I’ve handled personally that were serious enough to recommend a suspension, all of them have been granted a one-to-three year suspension,” Wegman said.
On her responsibility to advise the president about student discipline, Wegman said, “I view campus safety as my number one priority over all the things I do at this school.”