Open meeting discusses sexual harassment policy: Changes to language and structure proposed

By Kathryn Kelly ’19

Off-colored jokes, sexual rumors and any unwelcomed text of a sexual nature are now specifically proposed to be prohibited under a new, highly detailed campus policy.

In compliance with federal mandate, the Presidential Oversight Committee on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (POCSASH) has proposed an updated policy for sexual harassment and formal complaint procedures, which they presented at an open meeting on Wednesday.

The changes were intended to make the language of the policy more specific, while at the same time clearer. The group also proposed changes to the layout of the document for clarity and ease of reporting.

One of the biggest proposed changes was breaking up the definition of sexual harassment into two detailed subsections in the policy.

According to Title IX Coordinator and member of POCSASH Amy O’Neill, this new proposed policy makes it easier for someone to know what his or her options are for reporting sexual harassment. The new draft details to whom students can report to and what level of confidentiality they offer.

“When somebody comes forward, whether it’s to a faculty member or counseling center or to myself, they know what that person can do with the information, they understand what the next steps are,” O’Neill said.

There were only seven students in attendance at the meeting, but O’Neill said she was not discouraged by the small audience.

“If an open meeting isn’t the forum for [students], I don’t want to fault them,” O’Neill said. “They know that I am available and I want to be able to talk to them about these issues and get their feedback in any forum that they’re comfortable in.”

Vice President of Human Resources Leslie Muhlfelder said in the meeting that those few students would even be helpful as a “focus group.” They were asked at the close of the meeting about the best ways for the committee to publicize the proposed changes, and offered suggestions about publicizing via posters around campus and stall talk editions.

The updates were in part prompted by a change in federal policy, which O’Neill said resulted from a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), an amendment to the Clery Act. The Clery Act “requires all colleges and universities who receive federal funding to share information about crime on campus,” and is submitted in the university’s “annual crime report,” according to the Clery Center website.

“Essentially what the Violence Against Women reauthorization did in amending Clery was they said there are some additional requirements when it comes to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking,” O’Neill said. While the updates were prompted by federal mandate, the policy needed to be reviewed regardless, O’Neill said, because they had not been looked at for some time.

“I thought, ‘Let’s see how we can make this policy better,’” she said.

The committee’s proposed changes will be reviewed by faculty and then submitted to the board for approval, Director of Student Conduct and member of POCSASH Jennifer Dize said.

“They [the faculty] have the opportunity to amend it or to send it back to us, so once we get through that meeting we will know whether they adopt the policy as it is, or whether we have more to do to make changes to it, but whatever they do we’ll take that back,” Dize said.

She said that this sort of process for implementing changes differs from what she’s experienced with similar changes in the past.

“At other schools when I’ve worked on policies it’s been a discussion amongst the administrators,” Dize said. “Then we put [the policy] in place versus having to present to communities and having them vote on it.”

President Alison Byerly said she is happy with the work the committee has done, but feels that there is always room to improve with these sorts of policies.

“I think every institution feels it could do better, these are difficult issues,” Byerly said. “I don’t think there’s ever a point where you can claim victory and say we have it exactly right.”

“But I think we’ve done as well as any college at looking hard at the issues, getting input from the community, and trying to think about what we could do better,” she added.

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