Administrators discuss revised sexual misconduct policy

Virginia Lozano/Daily
Buy this photo

By Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 2, 2014

On Wednesday afternoon, The Michigan Daily and the University’s Office of Student Life partnered to host a panel discussion for students to voice their questions about the University’s sexual misconduct policies. The event was tailored around students’ questions and helped to clarify some of the changes to the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, the University's education process and resources available for the survivors of sexual assault.

Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, joined Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones; Jay Wilgus, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution; and Anthony Walesby, the University’s Title IX coordinator, to engage with around 40 students and community members in the Kuenzel Room of the Michigan Union.

Students also tracked the conversation online through a Twitter live stream under the hashtag #DailyDiscusses.

At the beginning of the discussion, each panelist described the respective roles his or her department plays in investigations and sexual misconduct prevention.

“SAPAC plays a significant role in providing expertise and guidance to the institution as it relates to the creation of policy so that we are representing the needs of survivors and ensuring that the best practices that we know of find their way into the work that we are doing,” Rider-Milkovich said.

Walesby later outlined the mission of the Office of Institutional Equity, which is responsible for enforcing the University’s non-discrimination statement, which ensures that campus remains a safe and welcoming climate built on mutual respect for all students.

“With respect to student sexual misconduct issues, we have two full-time investigators who handle those matters exclusively,” Walesby said.

He briefly described the investigation process, which begins when the survivor or complainant in a case notifies the University through one of many available mediums, such as a residential adviser or online through the University’s sexual misconduct website.

After the complaint is filed, OIE will immediately assess if extra measures need to be taken to separate the person from the situation. OIE will next make sure the complainant is aware of all resources that are available to him or her.

Walesby said OIE is equally interested in making sure that person who is accused — the respondent — is also supported by connecting him or her to resources on campus.

OIE receives the respondent’s statement, ensures that it is correct and starts an investigation by identifying witnesses and searching for any other information.

“We are very interested in a fair, thorough and equitable process,” Walesby said.

Wilgus elaborated on the procedure from a resolution standpoint, as the next part of the process involves sending reports to OSCR to facilitate the sanction.

“Our goals are to eliminate the misconduct, prevent its reoccurrence and remedy its effects,” Wilgus said.

He added that OSCR seeks to create an agreement between the complainant, the respondent and the University.

In the rare number of cases in which an agreement is not met, OSCR will facilitate a “resolution by decision” in which the University makes a binding decision about the matter without the consent of the respondent.

As dean of students, Blake Jones said her office is intricately involved in educating the student body about sexual misconduct, as well as facilitating student complaints and sometimes referring them back to SAPAC.

Several students in attendance asked why the University’s sexual misconduct policy was changed and revised over the course of the last three years. Since 2010, Holly and Wilgus began actively researching how to manage student sexual misconduct. Wilgus added that they kept very close attention to relative legislation in thinking about ways to improve.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance regarding student sexual misconduct on April 4, 2011. Immediately following the release of the letter, OSCR instituted an interim procedure for addressing student sexual misconduct issues in order to learn the new process and get student feedback.

“We actually took the time to create a policy that is uniquely Michigan, that genuinely responds to what our community identified as being important to us and where we wanted to center our values,” Rider-Milkovich said.

According to Rider-Milkovich, other campuses and the White House are looking to the University’s policy as a “novel practice” and a way in which the campus is furthering the knowledge of sexual assault prevention.

“We are trailblazers,” Blake Jones said. “And an institution that most of the country looks to in terms of our prevention and education efforts.”

Students were also curious about how many students use these services annually.

Each year, SAPAC supports 150 to 160 individual students, Rider-Milkovich said. OIE sees about 60 to 80 cases per year, Walesby said, and about half of those cases proceed to an investigation. OSCR reviewed about 83 cases in the last academic year, Wilgus said.

“Not all of those matters result in a full scale investigation that goes all the way to a finding,” Wilgus said. “Oftentimes the University becomes aware of an incident of sexual harassment and a student specifically requests that the University not take any action.”

The Dean of Students Office reaches 95 to 97 percent of the incoming student body through an online course called Community Matters, Blake Jones said.

Three students in the audience asked about what challenges the University faces when reaching out to the Greek Life community.

“The challenge is one of numbers,” Blake Jones said.

The Dean of Students Office partners closely with the national organizations that work individually with each chapter to elevate the standards their foundations were created upon, Blake said.

Rider-Milkovich ended the panel by stressing the importance of collaboration, likening sexual assault awareness and prevention to the act of pushing a rock uphill– a task achievable with community support and understanding.