Nationwide university jurisdictions react against sexual misconduct

College campus policies on sexual misconduct discussion and reform


Linda Fairstein speaks at the Sexual Misconduct conference held on grounds last week.

The University hosted a national conference on sexual misconduct last week focusing on sexual misconduct procedures and the possibility of system-wide reforms at universities and colleges across the country.

Most academic institutions deal with sexual assault under Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on the gender of students and faculty of the institutions that receive federal financial assistance. This means students who have been subjected to sexual harassment can file a formal complaint with the school’s Title IX coordinator.

The goal of Title IX is to eliminate, prevent and address instances of sexual misconduct, said Gina Smith, an attorney specializing in advising universities on the process of adjudication. Colleges must have a notice of non-discrimination and procedures that respond to allegations of discrimination.

“We don’t get to punt to law enforcement,” Smith said. “We still have to respond through [a] Title IX lens. We can … place ‘no contact’ orders, resources, support options, [and] academic accommodations for complainant survivors in [the] college and university context.”

In order to be convicted of sexual misconduct at an educational institution, a student must be found guilty based on a preponderance of the evidence — a standard significantly lower than the proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt used in the criminal justice system.

The University Sexual Misconduct Board is comprised of faculty, staff and students trained on policy and procedures for student sexual misconduct cases. The board hears cases of sexual misconduct, decides whether the accused is responsible and then sets appropriate sanctions.

“Not all institutions have an SMB specially trained to hear these cases,” said Nicole Eramo, associate dean of students and chair of the SMB. “Given our commitment to student self-governance and the fact that our other disciplinary processes are run completely by students, we felt it important that students be included in the process. I believe we also differ from many other institutions in our investigation process, which is handled by University professional staff who are specially trained to manage these often very complicated cases.”

The system currently in place at the University will undergo some changes in light of Congress’ recent passage of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, a subset of last year’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

“The act requires that we provide separate definitions in our policy of intimate partner violence and stalking, which currently fall under our Sexual Harassment definition,” Eramo said. “Since we are making changes, we will also take this opportunity to look at the policy more broadly.”

Students at the University are also expanding the role they play in speaking up against sexual assault. The University chapter of the national One in Four organization promotes activism against sexual assault from the male student body.

“It is important that men become part of this conversation because the majority of men will never be involved and are at a loss on how to help [those] who have been raped or how to become models,” said Matthew Menezes, Batten graduate student and president of One in Four. “We are an all-male organization, and we speak to men’s groups: fraternities, sports teams, first-year halls, and talk about these things like bystander interaction [and] how to be an active bystander.”

One of the concerns addressed frequently in the conference held on Grounds last week was the confusion stemming from diverse ways in which academic institutions deal with cases of sexual misconduct. Much discussion focused on reforms toward a more streamlined, centralized procedure in the future.

A comparative take

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is home to similar student groups dedicated to reducing interpersonal violence on the campus, including a Student Grievance Committee. “A student may file a formal complaint with the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Title IX Coordinator or the Dean of Students’ office and may choose to proceed with formal resolution of the complaint before a panel of the Student Grievance Committee,” UNC Public Communications Specialist Hilary Delbridge said in an email.

Furthermore, North Carolina recently passed a law stating the accused may have an attorney present during the college adjudication process.

“With my optimistic lens, when you bring lawyers in its another chance for transparency,” North Carolina Chancellor Carol Folt said. She also added it is a chance to create a trusting, more efficient process, but the real effort will lie in making sure conversation is not suppressed.

The University of Michigan is home to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. The center provides educational and supportive services to the university community for instances of sexual assault, harassment and other forms of violence. The University of Michigan operates under Title IX, however the center coordinator plays a larger role in the process and holds the final decision as to whether, how and to what extent the university will conduct an investigation. If a student is found guilty, sanctions range from removal from university housing to expulsion.

Similarly, the University of California at Los Angeles has a Sexual Harassment Prevention Office which provides consultations about campus policies and procedures surrounding sexual assault. Ultimately, the Sexual Harassment Officer and Sexual Harassment Complaint Resolution Officers conduct investigations and provide a report to both the complainant and the accused.

Dartmouth College offers a Sexual Assault Awareness Program to provide direct service to those affected by sexual assault and other forms of harassment as well as educating the community.

At Dartmouth, a formal complaint can be filed through a written report to the Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Office or a verbal account to Dartmouth Safety and Security, as well as through reporting to the Title IX coordinator. Cases between two students are handled by Dartmouth’s Committee on Standards.

In a speech last week, Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon stressed the importance of prevention and an emphasis on guiding principles.

“Number one is the need to bring in real expertise on research- and practice-based methods, leadership committed to the issue [that is] readily visible, and mobilization of community in individual and group must become normal,” Hanlon said. “Prevention is a really complicated problem; there are multiple interrelated factors that contribute. Sexual assault is an issue in every college and university in this nation.”

Hanlon credited Green Dot staff member Jennifer Messina with raising awareness and teaching valuable lessons in the response to sexual misconduct on campus. Green Dot is an organization that seeks to measurably and systematically reduce violence and create a model of violence prevention.

The University hosted Green Dot Executive Director Dorothy Edwards earlier this year, in a speech directed toward first-year students on taking social responsibility in cases of sexual misconduct.

Correction: “A student may file a formal complaint with the Title IX coordinator or may alternatively report to the Student Grievance Committee” has been changed to “A student may file a formal complaint with the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Title IX Coordinator, or the Dean of Students’ office and may choose to proceed with formal resolution of the complaint before a panel of the Student Grievance Committee.”

Published February 18, 2014 in FP test, News

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