New sexual harassment policies under revision

Task force reviewing policy, accepting community feedback

Laura Fay
Editor-in-Chief

The University is in the process of creating a new campus-wide Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy that takes into consideration new federal guidelines, feedback from community members and analysis from a campus task force.

The biggest change to The University’s policy involves the procedure for investigating incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Previously, incidents allegedly perpetrated by students were considered violations of the Student Code of Conduct and were handled through Student Affairs (now Student Formation & Campus Life). Revisions made to the code, however, shift the responsibility of handling these issues to the Office of Equity and Diversity.

According to the new policy, the complaint process has three steps: report, review or investigation, and resolution. Before, allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct were treated the same way as other Student Code of Conduct violations, such as underage drinking.

The new policy calls for a thorough investigation of complaints by “highly trained investigators” from The University, according to Jennifer LaPorta, the director of Equity and Diversity. LaPorta also serves as The University’s Title IX coordinator.

This process will consider all parties equal members of The University community — witnesses, complainants and respondents (suspects) — and will use on one-on-one interviews to gather information. Once the investigators conduct their research, they will make a recommendation to a second group of trained professionals, the three-person determination panel, who will make the final decision about the case. This panel will consist of faculty and staff senate members, who will consider all the evidence and information available. If the respondent is a student, the panel will report to the vice provost for Student Formation & Campus Life, who will determine appropriate sanctions. The policy also provides guidelines for the appeal process.

“I think it’s definitely a positive change,” said Barbara King, interim Dean of Students. She said she is comfortable with the new procedure because it is an “area of expertise” for the Office of Equity and Diversity. King is also part of the Title IX Workgroup.

PROCEDURE CHANGE

The policy, including this change, was provisionally approved in August but is under “continuous review” through the end of the academic year. LaPorta said she expects the policy will continue to change throughout the year as a workgroup of students, faculty and staff make revisions.

The policy takes several factors into account, including Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 and later guidance from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, and the Office for Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Education.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report called “Not Alone” in April providing guidelines to help institutions of higher education deal with sexual assault. According to this report, “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college.” The report outlines ways universities can identify and prevent problems, engage bystanders, respond to incidents appropriately, increase transparency and improve policy enforcement.

LaPorta, who was hired in July, said she is already thinking about ways to make the policy clearer and better for the community.

“It is too important to not get it right,” LaPorta said. She worked as an attorney specializing in discrimination and harassment cases before coming to The University, adding that she welcomes feedback from community during the process.

“We’re tearing it apart and building it back together,” she said.

LaPorta emphasized that the policy and procedures are “a balancing act” of safety concerns, legal obligations to report and investigate crimes, and moral responsibilities to respect students’ wishes.

PRIVACY CONCERNS

One part of the policy that concerns community members is the confidentiality and privacy guidelines.

According to the new policy, “Every member of the University community (except those noted as ‘confidential resources’) is required to report when they believe there has been a possible violation of the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy.”
The only confidential resources right now are counselors and off-campus organizations. Most members of the community are obligated to report incidents but are not obligated to provide identifying information about anyone involved.

On the other hand, certain people are deemed “Responsible Employees” and are required to report names and details to the Title IX coordinator or the dean of students when students are involved. These employees include deans, vice presidents or other administrators, campus police, department chairs, head coaches, student officers, resident assistants and some designated employees in Human Resources, Student Formation & Campus Life, the Office of Equity and Diversity and Human Resources.
Although these employees are required to report incidents, reporting to a responsible employee “means that only people who need to know will be told” any information that is reported, according to the revised policy.

‘A DIFFICULT SITUATION’

LaPorta said she takes these concerns seriously, adding that she and the other members of the workgroup plan to make sure the policy respects privacy but encourages people to report incidents.

“This is a difficult situation for individual students and for institutions,” Mary-Elaine Perry, Title IX coordinator at Saint Joseph’s University said in an email. “We want you all to be safe and to be able to pursue your college career in peace. We have to address this safety on the individual and institutional levels.”

LaPorta said she welcomes feedback from the community and hopes people reach out to her with concerns and criticism.

The current Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy is available online.
LaPorta can be reached at Jennifer.LaPorta@scranton.edu.

 

Oct. 2, 2014

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