Sexual harassment and misconduct policy being refined

LAURA FAY

ZACH DYER

As the national conversation about sexual violence on college campuses continues, various people at The University are working to refine the campus policy and educate the community.

Largely of The University’s own volition, members of a Title IX work group have been constantly revising The University’s Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy, and the most recent updates were implemented in July 2014.

The sexual harassment and misconduct discussion fits into a larger national policy centering on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which aims to prevent sex-based discrimination.

“Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
One significant change lies in the reporting process for incidence of sexual misconduct.

One concern moving forward focuses on which offices or employees will be mandated to report up these cases. Reporting up requires responsible employees to divulge the information to the Title IX Coordinator or to the appropriate designee (the Dean of Students if a student is involved), according to the policy.

Currently, the Counseling Center is the only confidential resource on campus. Private resources are mandated to report up, but the number of people who will be involved in the process is limited to protect privacy. Confidential resources, like the Counseling Center employees, are not mandated to report up instances of sexual misconduct.

Geri Barber, a professor of counseling and member of the work group, said this change is intended to keep the community safe. The aim is to protect the campus as a whole; if there is someone who is consistently committing these crimes, University officials need to be made aware of it so that they can be stopped, she said.

“Before, people had an option to not report up cases of sexual misconduct. Now, however, responsible employees are obligated to report it up,” Barber said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that the person that experienced it has to go through a formal process, but they may need to talk to someone other than the person they originally talked to.”

Justine Johnson, director of the Jane Kopas Women’s Center and a member of the Title IX work group, noted that “many universities have chosen to have faculty and staff as required (to report) employees to make sure people are supported.”

“The most important part of this is that (the victim) has power of control after the event. Even when something has to be reported up, we want to make sure that they are informed, that they have some sort of say in what happens, and that nothing will be done without their consent. This process began because someone acted against them without their consent, so it should make sense that the follow-up process has an element of consent in it,” Barber said.

The changes “are not being done in a vacuum here; throughout the U.S., colleges and universities have been changing this and are carefully watching for what additional guidance will come forth,” Executive Director of Equity and Diversity and Title IX coordinator Jennifer LaPorta said.

The first round of revisions to the current policy are set to be implemented from the work group in July so they will be in place for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Feedback from students and staff is an essential part of this process.

“Our original feedback gathering was last semester, but Jen LaPorta has an open door policy, where people can give their opinions on what revisions need to be made, or voice their concerns. We also will be holding a Title IX meeting on campus to gather information on where people are at. We sent the policy out to a lot of student constituents asking for feedback,” Johnson said.

Interim Dean of Students Barbara King, who is also a member of the work group, praised LaPorta for her expertise about relevant law and common practice.

“I trust that Jen is trying to do the right thing,” she said.

King also said everyone involved is focused on “doing the right thing.” Most of the discussion since July has been about refining definitions to make the policy more accessible and better organized. She noted that the whole group is committed to meeting and exceeding legal standards with the policy and educating people about it.

“It’s been a really positive experience.”

Jane Kopas Women’s Center also hosted a Title IX discussion on Wednesday

April 17, 2015

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