From the Daily: Policy in the round

Monday, October 12, 2015 - 9:18pm

Since 2014, the University has been a subject of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Education for its handling of sexual misconduct cases. In April, a Michigan Daily report on the sexual misconduct policy identified significant flaws in both investigative practices and discrepancies in the definition of consent between official policy and what the Sexual Assault and Prevention Awareness Center teaches. In response, the Daily wrote an editorial calling for the University to revise its policy to maintain the University’s “sincerity in combating sexual assault on campus.”

This desperately needed change may be implemented soon, albeit after an opportunity to hear from student voices. On Oct. 1, in an e-mail to students, E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student life, announced a series of roundtable discussions and an online survey to address revisions to the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy. While the administration has “devoted significant time and expertise in crafting these draft revisions,” Harper wrote, “our efforts are incomplete without your thoughtful review and feedback.” For our safety, all students must be involved in this process. Apathy is not an option.

Over the next three weeks, University administration will be hosting several roundtables in tandem with other organizations like the Spectrum Center, Trotter Multicultural Center, Office of Greek Life, Central Student Government and Culture Shift. By partnering with these organizations, it appears the administration is hoping to target demographics of students who are disproportionately affected by sexual misconduct on campus, in addition to the student body at large. LGBTQ, Greek life and underrepresented minority students were all at least two times more likely to have experienced unwanted or nonconsensual penetration, according to the University’s 2015 campus climate study regarding sexual misconduct. It is encouraging that the University feels inclined to address sexual misconduct on campus in a manner that recognizes the complexities of the issue; each demographic on campus has different needs and brings a unique perspective. Now, the administration must make a concerted effort to truly listen, and students must make an equal effort to voice their concerns, whether that’s by attending these roundtable discussions or filling out the online survey.

The problem with how the University organized these roundtables, though, is that there is no explanation of what has exactly changed in the sexual misconduct policy. Harper’s e-mail only provides a link to a draft policy that lacks highlights or comments that point to the revisions made by the administration. At best, this was an unfortunate oversight by whoever created the page for this draft. At worst, this whole effort to include students appears to be an empty gesture if students, who are likely (and understandably) not well-versed in University policy, don’t know what they should be looking for.

The most notable change in the drafted policy, which is slated to take effect in January 2016, is an expansion on the definition of consent. Additional bullet points clarify that consent cannot be inferred from silence or passivity, or from existing or prior relationships. Consenting to a singular sexual activity does not mean consent to other activities or the same activity later on, and consenting to sexual activity with one person does not mean consent to activity with another person.

Furthermore, if the revisions are instituted, the investigation process will allow students to appeal investigation findings to a separate and impartial external reviewer, most likely an attorney. In the current policy, students can appeal investigation findings, but only to the same board that decides the initial sanctions a student will face.

Other changes include that the University will identify all witnesses by name in reports, replace the role of resolution officer — who, according to the Daily, “previously resolved appeals to sanctions or resolutions handed down by the resolution coordinator” — with an appeals board and explicitly state which instances would use the sexual history of either party in the investigation. Though complicated and requiring an understanding of the investigative process to grasp their significance, these are critical changes that ideally will ensure greater equity in the process by removing previous biases and change decision-making from a sole individual.

While all of us hope to never be involved in a sexual misconduct investigation, the importance of having a sound, equitable and trustworthy policy is imperative to the safety and comfort of students on campus. The University should have taken better efforts to ensure all students have the opportunity to understand the revised policy, and there is still time. In the meantime, students should take it upon themselves to educate each other on the implications of these revisions. That way, students can attend these roundtables or fill out the online survey prepared to provide the administration the constructive feedback they need — making involving students in this drafting process more than a meaningless exercise.

 

Schedule of Policy Revision Roundtables:

Roundtables co-hosted with Central Student Government:
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 5:30-7 p.m.; Central Student Government Chambers, Michigan Union
Monday, Oct. 26, 4:00-6:00 p.m.; East Room, Pierpont Commons
Tuesday, Nov. 3, 5:00-6:30 p.m.; Central Student Government Chambers, Michigan Union

Roundtable for Self-identified LGBTQ Students co-hosted with the Spectrum Center:
Tuesday, Oct. 13, 5:30-7:00 p.m., Spectrum Center, Michigan Union

Roundtable for Students Involved in Sexual Violence Prevention Activism co-hosted with Culture Shift:
Thursday, Oct. 15, 8:00-9:30 p.m., Pond Room, Michigan Union

Roundtable for Self-identified Students of Color co-hosted with Trotter Multicultural Center:
Monday, Nov. 2; 5:00-7:30 p.m., Trotter Multicultural Center

Roundtable for Students Involved in Greek Life co-hosted with the Office for Greek Life:
Monday, Nov. 2; 7:30-9:00 p.m., Pendleton Room, Michigan Union