On Oct. 28, students crossing the Diag would have seen something beside the block ‘M’. That morning, an anonymous group spray-painted slogans reading “Expel rapists” and “Rape happens here,” and published a list of seven demands calling for change in how the University approaches sexual assault on campus.
The group’s demands touched on issues beyond the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, addressing preventative measures, staff and faculty training as well as sexual assault in Greek life and the athletic community. According to University officials, however, some of these demands have already been or are in the process of being met.
First demand: Unified training system, including threat of disenrollment
The first demand called for the creation of a unified training system for incoming students before they come to campus, including the punishment of disenrollment if this training is not completed. The University currently administers educational programs to new students such as AlcoholEdu, an online alcohol training program that indirectly addresses sexual assault prevention, and Relationship Remix, which encourages positive relationships and educates students about consent.
However, there are currently no consequences for failing to complete either program.
These programs were created in part by SAPAC, which provides preventative education as well as support for sexual assault survivors.
SAPAC’s effectiveness on campus has come under criticism following a Washington Post report citing the University as having the third-largest number of reported forcible sex offenses on campus in the nation. SAPAC Director Holly Rider-Milkovich said this first demand has already been met in part by the University, and the threat of disenrollment is unnecessary given the number of students who already participate in the training process.
“We already do have a mandatory, unified training that is happening before they come to campus,” Rider-Milkovich said. “Every student at our university has an opportunity to participate in online training. We have very high participation rates for undergraduate students; nearly 99 percent participation in that online course.”
While participation rates for the broad online training program may be high, only about 5,000 students participated in the focused, peer-run Relationship Remix in 2014. These programs are open to all students, but are primarily intended for those living in residence halls. In 2014, the University admitted about 6,500 freshmen, suggesting that a substantial portion of students did not take part in Relationship Remix.
Second demand: Require a definition of consent in sororities and fraternities
The anonymous group included a demand addressing sexual assault by members of Greek life institutions, asking that a definition of consent be posted in common areas of sorority and fraternity houses.
In a November interview with The Michigan Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said such a demand would be difficult for the University to implement.
“It’s a tough thing to target this specific subset of our community and tell them what they have to say to their guests at their private establishments,” he said.
According to results from the National College Health Assessment administered by the University Health Services last February, individuals involved in Greek life are at a higher risk for instances of sexual assault as well as non-physical violence. Three percent of fraternity and sorority members reported having sex without giving consent in the past year, compared to 1 percent of non-Greek undergraduates, according to the report.
Despite Schlissel’s reservations, Panhellenic Association President Sarah Blegen, an LSA senior, said she hopes to promote discussions of sexual assault within chapters, adding that the Interfraternity Council would be open to requiring houses to post definitions of consent in common areas.
“I’ve talked to Tommy Wydra, the president of the Interfraternity Council, and I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Blegen said. “We know we could meet that demand, no problem, and that’s just a great idea in general that is easy to incorporate into any social events we have.”
With the end of the semester approaching, Blegen said she would make the recommendation to the incoming council president during the Winter 2015 semester.
SAPAC student volunteer Katelyn Maddock, an LSA senior, said while it is important to consider where sexual assault occurs on campus, isolating groups such as athletes and members of Greek life is not helpful to addressing the larger issue.
“I think these demands are valid concerns,” Maddock said. “I don’t think anyone should discount them, but isolating Greek life and athletes as being the problem isn’t fair, because those are only a fraction of our campus. We need to focus on everyone — the entire student body. Perpetrators come from all different backgrounds and all different walks of life, so I don’t think targeting those communities alone will remove the problem.”
Third Demand: Equal treatment of athletes and non-athletes
This call to action follows the University’s permanent separation of former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons for violating the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy. The decision to permanently separate Gibbons from the University came nearly four years after the incident in question, which is reportedly occurred Nov. 22, 2009.
The current policy states, “In all cases, the University will respond to the report in a prompt, thorough, procedurally fair, and effective manner. Upon receipt of a report, the University will strive to complete its review within sixty (60) calendar days.”
While the policy does apply for cases in which this timeline cannot be met, questions regarding this case quickly swirled around campus. After news surfaced of the time gap between the date of the incident and that of Gibbons’ separation — during which he continued to play for the University’s football team — one anonymous individual or group of individuals hung a sign from Mason Hall with the words “This administration defends rapists.”
Fourth Demand: Increased training for DPS, faculty, and staff
Beginning this week, the University implemented a new online training system for new faculty and staff addressing a variety of personal health and protection issues, including sexual assault. The training program was first used this year to service graduate student instructors, and it is now being expanded to all faculty and staff.
“All incoming staff and faculty will be receiving an online training as well about a range of these issues,” Rider-Milkovich said. “SAPAC also provides training to faculty and staff, to housing security officers, to RAs and hall directors.”
Fifth Demand: Giving survivors the option to have perpetrators expelled
At this time, the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy allows for the “permanent separation,” or expulsion, of individuals found guilty of violations of the policy, following results of a University review panel. While survivors of sexual assault may provide input to the panel, they do not make the final decision about whether or not the accused party is expelled.
The policy also states that the accused perpetrator is assumed to be innocent unless sufficient evidence is presented to the panel proving his or her violations.
Schlissel said he agrees with the current policy as it regards this particular issue, citing this demand as one of the two he took issue with — the other being the second demand imposing specific requirements on fraternities and sororities.
“The survivors of assault ask that they have, in effect, the rights to determine results and the punishment, and I think that is way tougher,” Schlissel said. “I think that the University has to retain the right to develop policies and find ways to ensure the safety of survivors — the physical and psychological safety of survivors — but to define what the University must do in hypothetical future circumstances is tough to do.”
SAPAC student volunteer Laura Meyer, an LSA senior, said she believes there is no single change that could be made that would significantly decrease occurrences of sexual assault on campus.
“It’s not like we can change one policy and make a difference,” Meyer said. “It’s a cultural problem, and sexual violence is just normalized within the culture so we do a lot already just to combat that.”
Sixth Demand: Increased support for survivors
SAPAC offers a variety of options for survivors, but this demand asserts that these options are insufficient and are not widely advertised.
Rider-Milkovich said she hopes to hear from students what exactly is missing from SAPAC’s current program, but said many of the resources that students might want are already in place.
“I think there are a lot of resources SAPAC does offer that students just don’t know about,” she said. “We always need to be talking to survivors about what ways you would feel supported effectively.”
SAPAC has also expressed interest in exploring continuing education programs for students beyond the training they receive during their first year at the University.
Rider-Milkovich said SAPAC’s research indicates the impact of the messages conveyed to incoming students begins to diminish after their first year on campus.
As a student volunteer, Maddock said she focuses on providing education and preventative measures for students on campus, adding that SAPAC’s professional staff, which includes a handful of individuals with the appropriate qualifications, interacts with and helps survivors.
“On our professional staff, we have four permanent staff that can do advocacy and all of that work,” Maddock said. “Having that many people, we could always have more. Having more people on hand to support survivors would really be helpful, because at our survivor center, I think having more people available would help them get the best care possible, and we are trying to do that now with the limited resources we have.”
Seventh Demand: Recognition of student voices
The final demand called for all student perspectives to be included in conversations about sexual assault, including those from underrepresented communities on campus. Students have some impact on the types of programs administered to incoming students in the form of Relationship Remix, which is at its core a peer-based program. Paid staff members oversee the Relationship Remix programs, and student volunteers can discuss their concerns and ideas, which are reviewed by SAPAC staff members.
This demand suggests a need for SAPAC staff and the voices being heard to adequately represent different communities on campus.
SAPAC student volunteers have yet to see any action in response to these demands. Meyer said some of the demands she read seemed unreasonable, and while she said SAPAC is continually striving to improve, none of the improvements she mentioned were related to the suggestions made by this anonymous group.
“I don’t know who was involved, but if I remember correctly, taking steps like that, small things, to make a difference, I think the University should consider student ideas like that,” Meyer said. “I don’t think all of them are reasonable, but I think the University should consider taking small steps like that.”
Schlissel calls for better education about services available
University President Mark Schlissel responded to the protest during a Nov. 4 interview with The Michigan Daily, emphasizing the need for improved procedures regarding the handling of sexual assault on campus. Schlissel added that the University needs to commit to better informing the public about progress in this area.
While he applauded the passion of the group responsible for the list of demands, Schlissel said he felt the ways those students chose to convey their thoughts and ideas were not conducive to developing a dialogue about the subject of sexual assault on campus.
“The one thing I will object to, which drives me a little nutty, is framing things as demands,” Schlissel said. “I think that makes it really difficult to have discussions.”