The University released a response to an inquiry made Dec. 1 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges asking the University to outline its policies for handling reports of sexual assaults.
In a letter to University President Teresa Sullivan, SACSCOC Vice President Dr. Michael Hoefer said the organization expects the University to take reasonable steps to provide a healthy, safe and secure environment for all students and requests evidence of such progress.
He also said the inquiry was made due to recent, negative accounts of University culture in multiple news sources, listing Inside Higher Ed, Academe Today and Rolling Stone.
As part of its 18-page response, the University described its policy for responding to reports of sexual assaults. Those who report instances of sexual misconduct are strongly encouraged by the University to report to law enforcement, but are not mandated such a report without the consent of the victim.
Addressing the fact it has constructed a policy consistent with the Violence Against Women Act, the University said it is the “complainant’s option to notify, or decline to notify, law enforcement.”
The University also countered SACSCOC’s reference to the article published by Rolling Stone as a reason for prompting a policy review, as multiple factual inaccuracies in the article have been exposed since its initial publication.
“While the Rolling Stone article contained significant factual inaccuracies, the University works with SACSCOC to make certain we engage in best practices as it relates to student safety,” University deputy spokesperson Matthew Charles said in an email. “This inquiry has provided the ability for the University to work with SACSCOC to ensure the safety and well-being of our students, a goal for both our institution and their organization.”
Many University students — who were unaware of the SACSCOC inquiry — expressed disappointment with the the University’s response to the issue of sexual assault.
The University’s sexual assault policy has come under intense scrutiny in recent months by various organizations and government bodies. Earlier this year, a panel of Virginia senators advanced a bill that would require the faculty and staff of public universities to report instances of alleged sexual assaults to law enforcement, regardless of whether or not the victim consents. If the faculty and staff failed to do so, they would be in danger of facing misdemeanor charges.
Hoefner declined to comment on the subject, saying SACSCOC is still reviewing the University’s letter.