In light of new sexual violence prevention guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center is looking to build upon its already nationally recognized program.
Vice President Joe Biden announced the new guidelines in a speech at the University of New Hampshire on Monday. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press conference call on Monday that the guidelines provide a structure for how colleges and schools should handle sexual violence. However, a SAPAC official said the University is already functioning in accordance with federal instruction.
In an April 4 White House press release, Biden wrote that the new guidelines will help colleges and universities improve the ways they deal with sexual assault.
“Students across the country deserve the safest possible environment in which to learn,” Biden wrote. “That’s why we’re taking new steps to help our nation’s schools, universities and colleges end the cycle of sexual violence on campus.”
The new guidelines are intended to clear up discrepancies between university policies and the Department of Education’s policy, Duncan said during the conference call. The guidelines came in the form of a document released Monday titled the “Dear Colleague Letter” and details the protocol schools and universities must follow under Title IX, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity,” the letter states.
“(The Department of Education) is issuing the (Dear Colleague Letter) to explain that the requirements of Title IX cover sexual violence and to remind schools of their responsibilities to take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence in accordance with the requirements of Title IX,” the letter states.
SAPAC Director Holly Rider-Milkovich said there is no discrepancy about how to handle sexual violence at the University.
“Nearly all of the pieces that they are asking for colleges and universities to implement, we already have in place,” Rider-Milkovich said.
She said programs like peer education have been available since SAPAC was established 25 years ago. SAPAC, which is operated under the University’s Division of Student Affairs, raises awareness about sexual assault and abuse and “provide(s) people with the tools to be able to prevent those crimes in the first place,” Rider-Milkovich said.
“Our education and prevention measures are ahead of the curve across the board,” she said.
According to the U.S. Justice Department’s Justice Blog, the University was one of 11 educational institutions honored by the department in 2010 for its commitment to combating sexual assault. However, other universities have received more negative attention for their sexual violence policies.
Yale University students and alumni filed a complaint last month with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights about the university claiming the administration didn’t effectively deal with several situations involving sexual misconduct that occurred in the last few years, according to an April 1 Yale Daily News article. The complaint states that Yale violated Title IX.
Despite the recent grievance, Duncan stressed during the conference call that the release of the guidelines was completely independent of Yale’s situation.
Rider-Milkovich said SAPAC has not taken any actions in direct response to Biden’s announcement at this time, but added that the program always aims to get better.
“We are always looking for ways to improve our prevention approach and also improve our services to survivors,” Rider-Milkovich said.