The University of Michigan’s Office for Institutional Equity released its annual report concerning prohibited student conduct on Wednesday. The report details outcomes of all investigations carried out by the OIE under the direction of Pamela Heatlie, the University’s Title IX coordinator and senior director of OIE.
“U-M encourages individuals to report misconduct to the University and, if the behavior is criminal in nature, to law enforcement,” Heatlie said in a University press release. “We are deeply invested in providing resources and support as well as addressing these issues through a fair and effective process.”
The 2017 investigation found a 40 percent increase from 2016 in the number of misconduct reports filed. The OIE received 218 reports of prohibited conduct between July 2016 and June 2017, and 157 reports the previous year. The OIE conducted 28 investigations in this period, up from 18 in the 2015-2016 report.
The OIE concluded after the 28 investigations that eight policy violations had occurred over the past year: Five sexual assaults, two incidents of stalking and a violation of interim measures. The report stated the OIE carried out disciplinary action for these violations, including educational measures, employment restriction, suspension and expulsion.
The increase in reports could be partially due to the broadening of the University policy’s definition of misconduct. As of last year, prohibited conduct now includes intimate partner violence, gender-based harassment and violation of interim measures. These collectively counted for 15 percent of the reported incidents last year, or about 30 reports. This indicates that reports still surpassed the previous year’s number, despite the newly added categories.
Heatlie, however, believes this change is due to increased awareness of gender-based discrimination and misconduct rather than a rise in the actual conduct on campus.
“We believe that this increase is the result of enhanced awareness on campus of these issues and how to report concerns, as well as the addition of new types of allegations now covered under the policy that were previously addressed under different university policies,” Heatlie said in the release.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said though there is no way to determine a definitive cause for the increase in reports, an increase isn’t inherently negative — an increase can signify heightened support for survivors and more awareness of the University’s system for investigating assault.
“Reports go up each year, but that is possibly a good sign,” Fitzgerald said in an interview with The Daily.
After the policy revision in July 2016, the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Center began a campus-wide campaign called “Start by Believing.” It aimed to increase awareness of sexual misconduct as well as support and reporting resources. It is likely that both factors influenced the increase in reporting over the following year.
Former SAPAC Volunteer Coordinator Laura Meyer was a part of the campaign. She expressed her confidence in the program and its work in an April 2016 interview about their efforts.
“There is a generally greater awareness of SAPAC and its services on campus when we are out in the community, and the volunteer coordinators have received even more outreach from community members and organizations who are eager to partner with SAPAC,” Meyer said.
Meyer also encouraged students to take advantage of the resources available through SAPAC and other campus organizations, specifically commending the Peer Education and Bystander Intervention and Community Engagement programs, which work to engage and educate students on sexual assault awareness and prevention. She also named Know Your IX, an education and advocacy group focused on Title IX, as an excellent source for information.
“Students should be ready to engage their communities in conversations about sexual assault and sexual violence by believing and supporting survivors, centering the voices of survivors, and respecting the agency and choices of survivors,” Meyer said.