- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

HANOVER, N.H. (AP) - Dartmouth College students are beginning their summer term with a new system for handling sexual assaults.

Dartmouth is among 55 colleges and universities being investigated by the federal education department for how it handles sexual harassment and assault complaints. Administrators proposed overhauling the school’s policy in March and - after months of public comment - the changes took effect last week.

Under the new system, a trained external expert will investigate allegations and determine responsibility for sexual assault. A single disciplinary system will apply to undergraduate and graduate students and organizations.

Sanctions also will be strengthened. Students would be automatically expelled if found responsible for assaults involving penetration accomplished by force, threat or restraint and in cases of assault involving penetration and motivated by bias.

The punishment also would be mandatory expulsion the second time a student is found responsible for any sexual assault.

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson and Provost Carolyn Dever said the new police will provide for the “prompt, effective, fair and impartial” investigation and resolution of sexual assault complaints.

In April, Dartmouth president Philip Hanlon called sexual assault one of three critical issues - along with high-risk drinking and lack of inclusion - that are compromising the school’s core mission. Dartmouth received nationwide attention several years ago for allegations of fraternity hazing, and students recently protested at Hanlon’s office with a long list of demands aimed at creating a more inclusive, diverse campus.

The college which reported 24 sexual assaults in 2012, compared with 15 in 2011, 22 in 2010 and 10 in 2009 - has been working on multiple fronts to prevent sexual assault, encourage reporting and hold perpetrators accountable.

The new policy reflects several changes suggested by faculty, students and others after it was initially proposed. Among other revisions, The proposal was revised to add definitions for “incapacitation” and “intentional incapacitation,” and to include a tenured or tenure-track faculty member on the sanctioning panel.

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