From the Daily: Sexual misconduct education is key

Sunday, September 18, 2016 - 6:35pm

Since the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation into the University of Michigan’s handling of sexual misconduct cases in 2014, the University has made multiple efforts to protect students from sexual assault on campus. Last year, the University surveyed the student body in the Campus Climate Survey, revised and released a new sexual misconduct policy — renaming it “The University of Michigan Policy and Procedures on Student Sexual and Gender-based Misconduct and other forms of Interpersonal Violence.” Changes to the policy included an expansion of the definitions of consent and intoxication, a restructuring of the appeals process within the reporting process and the promotion of a multitude of resources for survivors on campus. The one call behind all these efforts, by both students and administrators alike, has been and should continue to be increased education about sexual assault prevention and the reporting process.

Last Monday, the most recent addition to educational efforts came in the form of an online portal that educates faculty of their role when reporting sexual misconduct. This online tool will streamline the reporting process for designated University-affiliated personnel and offer training for all faculty members on what is and is not inappropriate conduct, how to support students who share information about misconduct and how to notify the University of instances of misconduct.

While the portal is definitely a step in the right direction, it does not guarantee the education of all faculty because it is not mandatory for faculty to complete its training program. It is quite likely some faculty will not put the time aside to review the material. For students to reap the full benefits of this tool, all faculty members need to be on board with using the tool as a means for protecting the safety of their students. Since the tool’s success is contingent upon how many faculty actually use it, at a bare minimum the University should require all faculty and employees of the University to complete the training.

This step forward also illuminates more holes in sexual misconduct education on campus, specifically concerning how mandatory reporting applies to students when they decide to share information with a member of the faculty. Students need not only be aware of to whom and how best they can report a case of sexual misconduct — which the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center outlines on its website well — but when they are subject to being reported by faculty. The current policy requires most faculty and administrators and many employees to report a case of sexual misconduct to the Office for Institutional Equity if a student shares information with them. Yet there are individual positions that offer confidential services and are excluded from the reporting requirement, such as counselors at Counseling and Psychological Services and SAPAC.

These types of exceptions of mandatory reporting need to be made clear to students so they understand the appropriate place and person to turn to. There must be better education for students about the parameters of mandatory reporting. It is only just that students are aware of their rights when it comes to their privacy and options of reporting a case of sexual misconduct.

The University has a responsibility to first, mandate that all faculty and employees must complete the training via this online portal, and second, create similar educational efforts for students about mandatory reporting policies and procedures.