“Sweet Briar women do not lie, cheat, steal or violate the rights of others.” First-years at Sweet Briar College know that this pledge, the college’s honor code, must be memorized before classes commence. Recently, Sweet Briar’s Student Government Association (SGA) has been reexamining the student handbook embodying this code, especially a section concerning bullying, in an effort to ensure that victims have a safe space to come forward and report honor code violations. To accomplish this, the SGA has turned to area schools to make sure policy changes reflect changing norms.
Specifically, alterations to the handbook will result in different procedures governing the way a bullying case is carried out. According to an official statement written by Academic Judicial Chair Sarah Brazell ’12 and Non-Academic Judicial Chair Amanda Helms ’12, “The changes that the Judicial Committee and SGA have made involve bullying or hazing, which are two serious Non-Academic issues at Sweet Briar College.” At this point, changes are not official, but may follow after such discussion.
Talk of change came after the SGA looked at the honor codes of various schools comparable to Sweet Briar. Brazell and Helms have been researching other school’s policies on bullying in-depth. According to the statement, “After comparing Sweet Briar’s honor code to others similar to it, we (the Judicial Committee) have begun to implement small changes that will hopefully allow the Non-Academic Judicial process to be viewed as more beneficial to campus life.”
Tentative changes to the policy would allow for flexibility in confrontations between bullying victims and perpetrators. According to the Judicial Committee’s statement, the old policy expressed that, “If one is accused of a hazing or bullying offense, she has the right to face her accuser.” The statement added that “The Committee has not taken away that right, but we have amended it. Before our change, the accused was able to decide if she wanted her accuser to attend her hearing, literally: “facing” her accuser.”
Now, students are trying to amend the policy to a system where “The Non-Academic Chair will inform the accused the identity of the accuser and the allegations she was reporting, and the accuser will not have to be present at the hearing regarding cases of bullying or hazing.” Brazell and Helms described the Judicial Committee’s reasoning behind the change, writing, “It was destructive to have a witness, or accuser, strong enough to come forward for a bullying or hazing case has the possibility of being required to confront their bully face-to-face in a hearing.”
Betty Blevins, Mental Health Counselor at Sweet Briar agrees that the policy could be improved, stating, “If sufficient proof of bullying has been established, I don’t really see why the accuser would need to be present if that requirement is indeed keeping individuals from reporting abuse.”
Debbie Thomas, Residential Coordinator, and fifteen year veteran of Sweet Briar College responded to the proposed changes by offering some advice. “I think that the victim would be better served with an additional component added and that would be to have an ‘advocate’ appointed to assist victims. The advocate is there to assist the victim in the process, lend support for appearances during the hearing phase as well as this advocate could be the point person to go to in case of a repeat action on the part of the offender,” said Thomas.
The Judicial Committee and SGA have not finalized this change to the bullying policy yet, but hope that such a policy would be useful in handling bullying cases. According to the judicial Committee’s statement, “This small change of eliminating the confrontation between a bully and her victims will grant victims and witnesses some extra strength in their reports of bullying. We further hope that this will allow these victims to come forward with bullying or hazing offenses that are not being reported because they are afraid of being required to confront their bully.”