March 22, 2016
Topic: Campus News
Several changes to the University of Michigan's Student Sexual Misconduct Policy are designed to make the policy more clear and efficient while continuing to ensure that all students are treated fairly throughout the process.
"The overarching goal of all our efforts in this area is to diminish the frequency of sexual misconduct, encourage those who have been subject to misconduct to come forward, to investigate complaints efficiently and fairly, and to render decisions that make our campus as safe as possible for everyone," says President Mark Schlissel.
"We believe the revised policy is more transparent about our practices and will provide step-by-step, detailed information to all students about our process," he says.
"In crafting the policy, we were informed by the university's experience with cases brought under prior university policies, as well as our understanding about ways to encourage and support reporting and participation by all students."
The changes in the revised policy also follow updated federal laws and guidance.
The most significant changes to the policy, which will be titled University of Michigan Policy and Procedures on Student Sexual and Gender-based Misconduct and other forms of Interpersonal Violence, include:
• Expanding definitions of prohibited conduct to include gender-based harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking, with a clearer picture surrounding consent.
• Defining responsible employees and their obligations for sharing information about suspected sexual assault, sexual or gender-based harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking with the university.
• Providing further detail on how the university shares information with law enforcement to ensure public safety and comply with federal reporting and timely warnings.
• Procedural changes to continue to ensure a fair process and to enhance transparency of the process for claimants, respondents and witnesses. These include the use of an External Reviewer for appeals and a Sanctioning Board to determine sanctions.
• Clarification regarding policies and procedures that apply in various situations, such as when the respondent is an employee; the respondent is both a student and an employee; the respondent is a third party; or where the conduct committed is in the context of activities of a recognized student organization.
• Consideration of prior sexual contact between parties in the investigation process under specific limited circumstances, to aid in understanding the prior manner and nature of sexual communication. Prior sexual contact between parties will never be used to prove character or reputation. Prior sexual contact could be — and has been — used by the investigator in some situations. Even in the context of a relationship, consent to one sexual act does not constitute consent to another sexual act, and consent on one occasion does not constitute consent on a subsequent occasion.
The full updated policy will be available April 6 and will take effect July 1.
"The policy changes are designed to provide more detail to help students better understand the choices available during each part of the process. We want the policy to be supportive of the needs of all our students," says Royster Harper, vice president for student life.
The campus climate survey conducted last year informed aspects of the new policy, including the addition of intimate partner violence and stalking to the list of prohibited conduct.
The university also hosted several roundtables in the fall and collected feedback through a number of avenues to inform the policy revision.
"The changes in the policy are meant to address feedback from students, including a more streamlined approach in the sanctioning and appeals stages designed to be more efficient while still ensuring the process is fair and equitable for all parties involved," says Anthony Walesby, Title IX coordinator and senior director of the Office for Institutional Equity.
The university last revised the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy in 2013, replacing an interim procedure that was put into effect in August 2011 in response to guidance provided to all universities by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
The revised policy's list of prohibited conduct includes intimate partner violence, gender-based harassment and stalking. The policy also separately defines incapacitation, coercion and force to provide students with a more detailed explanation regarding how valid, affirmative consent is interpreted under the policy.
Under the revised policy, most employees serving in leadership positions, even on an interim basis, are responsible for reporting suspected misconduct to the university.
Those positions include: Regents; executive officers; associate or assistant vice presidents and provosts; deans, directors, department heads and chairs (including those serving in assistant or associate roles); graduate and undergraduate chairs; and supervisors of three or more employees who are not student or postdoctoral employees.
In addition, campus security authorities designated by the university under the Clery Act also are responsible for reporting suspected misconduct, including advisers to university-recognized student groups and all individuals working in the Student Life Division, the Division of Public Safety and Security, Intercollegiate Athletics and the Office for Institutional Equity, except those who serve in non-supervisory positions in select units.
Individuals serving in positions offering confidential services are excluded from the reporting requirement.
An online tool is being developed for release in the fall that will help employees determine if they are responsible for reporting.
Under the current policy, witnesses are not identified to the parties or named in the OIE investigative reports. The new policy will require all witnesses to be identified to the parties and named in the investigative reports. The investigative report is not made public by the university. The report is made available only to the complainant, the respondent and to those parties involved in the investigative or sanctioning processes.
Under the current policy, the Office for Institutional Equity makes a finding after an investigation, and the Office of Student Conflict Resolution facilitates sanctions through a resolution process or through determination by a resolution officer with approval from the dean of students.
Under the revised policy, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution no longer facilitates sanctions and there is no resolution officer involvement. A sanctions board, consisting of two representatives from faculty or staff along with a student, will review the investigative report from OIE, as well as any statements from the parties, and assign sanctions.
Currently, appeals of findings and sanctions are handled by an appeals board, which consists of a faculty member, staff member and student. It's only after both a finding and sanctions that either party may appeal the finding or sanction.
Under the revised policy, appeals will be handled by an external reviewer — an impartial, unbiased, conflict-free expert (usually an attorney) from outside the university with knowledge of sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence and stalking. This individual also will receive annual training regarding university's policies and procedures, and other issues related to sexual and gender-based harassment, and other forms of interpersonal violence.
The university has a long history of work in preventing sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking.
U-M has had a Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center on campus since 1986. SAPAC provides educational and confidential supportive services for all U-M community members related to sexual assault, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and stalking.
The university provides education and training to all incoming students as well as new faculty and staff on the topics of consent, bystander intervention, the University of Michigan Policy and Procedures on Student Sexual and Gender-based Misconduct and other forms of Interpersonal Violence, and the use of gender-inclusive language.
The university also conducts additional training sessions with student leaders in Greek Life, student athletes and coaches, ROTC cadets, the Michigan Marching Band and other campus groups.
"Our goal is to provide education and training on healthy relationships and sexuality so students can develop consent and communication skills. We want to empower students to make healthy choices based on their values, and recognize and respond to situations of potential harm," says Holly Rider-Milkovich, SAPAC director.
"Above all, we want everyone in our community to know that, no matter what situation they are facing or harm they experienced, they can get resources and support."
The university encourages all members of the campus community to report concerns of sexual or gender-based harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence or stalking. The Office for Institutional Equity follows up on each report received to determine appropriate next steps. Suspected misconduct concerns may be reported directly to the Title IX coordinator via email, phone, in person or online.
Faculty, staff and students also may report information to the U-M Police Department or choose to share information confidentially with the SAPAC.