University officials enacted a new policy regarding student sexual misconduct allegations, changing the way the University investigates sexual harassment and assault accusations. In response to a 2011 mandate from the Department of Education, colleges across the country are revisiting their sexual misconduct policies in order to be compliant with Title IX, the federal statute that bans sexual discrimination. After two years of planning, the University’s new approach to sexual misconduct investigations puts more responsibility on University investigators rather than the student who reported the crime. The policy changes are a step in the right direction, as they place a greater burden on the University to investigate sexual misconduct on campus. But with new policies come new potential misunderstandings, and the University needs to clearly explain what these changes mean for students — especially when it comes to confidentiality.
The revised protocol modifies the model for sexual-misconduct investigations, bringing University officials from multiple departments together in an attempt to connect survivors with appropriate services. Under the finalized policy, once an incident of sexual misconduct is reported, the survivor is then directed to campus support services, such as Counseling and Psychological Services or staff from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. The University then determines if a more direct intervention is needed — such as moving a student from a particular residence hall or class. The accuser can also refuse to meet with investigators, though ultimately the University’s Title IX coordinator may choose to continue the investigation without that person’s cooperation. The newly outlined investigation process also makes a special note to keep interviews with the survivor and the accused separate. “We ask follow-up questions based on the information we have,” Anthony Walesby, senior director of the Office of Institutional Equality, said. “But you never have to worry about being in the same room as the person you are accusing and vice versa.” Furthermore, University investigators will use a lower standard of proof when determining guilt.
Ultimately, these changes place less of a burden on accusers, signaling the University’s resolve in addressing sexual misconduct on campus and reducing its impact. Reporting sexual misconduct can be difficult for survivors, and the University’s more organized response to such allegations may help those people to feel more comfortable when disclosing what can be very personal information.
One noticeable change in the policy is who offers confidentiality. Only three University groups — SAPAC, CAPS and the Office of Ombuds — offer full confidentiality. Residential advisers and University staff are instructed to go to a Title IX coordinator. SAPAC director Holly Rider-Milkovich said first-year students have been informed “multiple times” about this change. While we applaud that action, she also says that she “hopes” students make an informed choice on who to report sexual misconduct to. It’s absolutely critical that the University and groups like SAPAC communicate this change in confidentiality to students. It’s unreasonable to assume that all students will be aware of this change themselves.
Sexual misconduct is a forefront problem on college campuses. It’s up to the universities to assume the burden of these investigations. The University should be commended for making this change. However, its impact can only occur if there’s a buy-in from the entire University community.