Across the country, the rates of sexual assault occurring on college campus vary, but almost all estimates are troubling.
In January 2014, The White House Council on Women and Girls reported that approximately 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.
Since 2011, when the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a Dear Colleague Letter that changed the way sexual assaults in schools are investigated, the awareness of sexual harassment and sex crimes on college campuses has risen significantly.
Students at Eastern Michigan University have already seen the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. In October, 2013, two female student residents of Putnam Hall reported being raped in the same weekend. The two incidents were unrelated according to EMU police.
In an event for the Counsel for Women and Girls on January 22, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.“It is estimated that 1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there,” Obama said. “These young women worked so hard just to get into college, often their parents are doing everything they can to help them pay for it. So when they finally make it there only to be assaulted, that is not just a nightmare for them and their families, it’s an affront to everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve. It’s totally unacceptable.”
EMU has taken a proactive role in dealing with sexual assault and sexual harassment cases. One major influence on EMU’s Student Code of Conduct and Community Standards’ guidelines regarding sexual assault is a Dear Colleague Letter written by the U.S. Department of Education addressing sexual violence in public schools and Title IX.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued the Dear Colleague Letter in April 2011 to all schools receiving federal funding further specifying new federal standards.
According to the letter, all institutions needed to change their procedure in resolving complaints of sexual discrimination from a “clear and convincing” standard to the “preponderance of evidence” standard in order to be Title IX compliant.
Supreme Court rulings like 1992’s Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools have stated that sexual harassment is considered a form of sexual discrimination in education. Therefore, Title IX requires schools to act immediately and follow an investigation through to the end when a violation occurs.
According to Gloria Hage, EMU’s General Council of Legal Affairs, Eastern is ahead of the curve. She said EMU and a few other universities were already using the preponderance of evidence standard prior to the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, while others were not.
Jesus Hernandez, Director of Student Judicial Services clarified the preponderance of evidence standard.“In a legal hearing, the accused must be found guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt,” Hernandez said. “In a Student Code of Conduct hearing, the conduct board must only be 51 percent sure to prosecute.”
Ellen Collier, coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center at EMU, believes the change in standards helps to better protect EMU students.
“It is a good idea to lower the standard of evidence,” Collier said. “When we look at false reporting it certainly exists. However, I think it is also important to remember that it is close to less than 1 percent of cases that are actually reported are a false report. There is a difference between a false report, a fabricated report and a report that does not meet the standard of evidence. I think that is where people get a little bit confused.”
Passed in 1972, Title IX is a frequently misunderstood piece of legislature most commonly associated with athletics. Title IX’s actual purpose is to ensure gender equality by protecting the rights of women and men in all schools that receive public funding in all areas, not just athletics.
The beginning of the statute states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Heather Lyke, EMU’s athletic director and vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics, believes the university and the athletic department is doing its due diligence to protect its students.
“We are governed completely by the University’s Code of Conduct,” Lyke said. “That is a part of being integrated in the University and that’s an important part of what we do in the Athletic Department. We have an Athletic Department Student Code of Conduct as well. The purpose of that is really because our student athletes are really held to a higher standard in a number of behavior type situations.”
Lyke said the athletic code included case specific things like gambling and hazing which could affect an EMU student athlete’s eligibility and their academic status with the university. She said that in order to maintain impartiality, the athletic department does not take an active role in the disciplinary process for one of their athletes, but would be notified of the incident and kept informed of proceedings.
EMU’s athletic department is bound by a chain-of-command protocol, which requires an employee to report any impropriety to their superior.
“If a student athlete gets in any kind of trouble or has any kind of information [regarding a violation to the Code of Conduct] across the gamut…they report to the coach.” Lyke said. “The coach reports to that sport’s sports administrator or myself, the sports administrator reports it to me, and I report to the president.”
In November 2010, EMU entered into a Resolution Agreement with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to improve their policies in regards to sexual harassment.
On a national scale, in October 2013, the Association of Governing Boards published an advisory statement on sexual misconduct to universities. A few months later in January 2014, President Obama formed a White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault.
Obama said he directed “the Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls to lead an interagency effort to address campus rape and sexual assault, including coordinating Federal enforcement efforts by executive departments and agencies and helping institutions meet their obligations under Federal law.”
The size and scope of these changes are large, and universities are working to understand and enforce them. The awareness that sexual violence crimes on college campuses are a serious threat is partially a result of the changes to the standard in investigating these crimes.
Recently, multiple EMU departments—namely the Title IX compliance department, the Women’s Resource Center, Legal Affairs and Media Relations—have worked together to spread awareness about Title IX, student’s rights and sexual assault. They believe education, prevention and awareness are the best way to combat sexual assault on campus.
Some of the methods EMU is using to accomplish this are:
At a recent Board of Regents Student Affairs Committee meeting Tuesday, Francine Parker, Chair of the Board, said she was in favor or the steps EMU has taken thus far to promote the prevention of sexual violence. However, she also expressed her concerns that men use prevention programs much less than women.
“It’s not unique to the university,” Parker said. “Men utilize prevention services much less than women. It is a phenomena that carries on.”
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