Colleges address sexual assault, consent issues
FINGER LAKES--New York State has proposed a uniform set of practices regarding sexual assault to be established across the SUNY system. These practices include a uniform, system-wide definition of consent that is required between participants before engaging in sexual activity, an immunity policy to protect students coming forward to report sexual assault, a statewide training program for campus police and administrators regarding how to address sexual assault incidents, a public campaign to increase awareness among students and parents and a uniform Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights that will inform a student of his or her rights following an attack including the option of approaching state police.
While Keuka College is not part of the SUNY system, Director of Marketing and Communications Pete Bekisz said the college is planning to upgrade their current policy on sexual assault this fall.
"Our Title IX Task Force is consolidating our three policies that currently cover students, faculty and staff under separate policies into 'One Policy - One Process' as suggested by ATIXA (Association of Title IX Administrators)," Bekisz said. "This new policy is under review within the governance structure of the college and we expect approval of the new policy later this fall."
Bekisz said the college is still looking at the state's proposed policies and will determine later if they will adopt similar policy measures. He said the college had three cases of non-forcible sexual offenses, while in 2013, the college had one case of a forcible sexual offense.
"Keuka College acknowledges that sexual assault is a serious crime, not a mere violation of college policy," Bekisz said. "Persons who bring forth charges of sexual assault are strongly encouraged to report the crime to the Yates County Sheriff's Office (YCSO) or the state police. In addition, college staff assist victims in accessing medical and psychological support from the College's Health and Counseling Center, Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, and area hospitals."
Bekisz said through its Title IX coordinator, the college is "developing a comprehensive and integrated policy on sexual misconduct that will apply to all students, faculty and staff in a consistent and fair manner." He said while he believes a uniform definition of offenses among schools is a good idea, it is difficult to tell if the new policy will have any impact.
"A uniform definition of offenses is a very good idea," Bekisz said. "Each college and university has its own governance structure, and a uniform policy should not dictate how it is to be implemented. [...] Colleges are not turning a blind eye to the issue of sexual assault on campus--quite the contrary. Many colleges are developing reporting procedures that will ensure that crimes are reported, and are keeping statistics in order to comply with state and federal laws."
At Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC), Director of Public Relations and Community Affairs Lenore Friend said the college has already been revising their code of conduct to reflect much of what the state is asking for.
"Many of these action items reflect the language of the Violence Against Women Act, which FLCC is already in the midst of incorporating into its own policies," Friend said. "For example, FLCC code of conduct revisions include a new definition of consent. That definition is very similar to the one in [the] release from the governor's office, but a bit longer. I have no doubt that other colleges have also been working on updating the definition of consent. So it appears SUNY is seeking to make these efforts uniform, which will be helpful, given that many students transfer within the SUNY system."
Friend said the revisions do include an amnesty policy in regards to sexual violence, while confidentiality and reporting protocols are being revised based on the Violence Against Women Act. She said regarding training, currently the people who deal directly with victims have Title IX training. Friend said FLCC does not use "judicial panels" in responding to sexual assault reports, so FLCC does not have "lay people" involved in investigating or making decisions.
"The FLCC Campus Safety Office is working with Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes to develop victim-supportive resources that educate people making reports regarding the many options that they have," Friend said. "This approach provides information that allows people making reports to control how the situation is handled and also connects them with our local victim resources, should they choose to do so. Often steps that can improve the experience for a victim are about sensitivity, not just being compliant with policies or laws. For example, you would not want to schedule meetings with a victim and an accused at adjacent times to prevent them from seeing each other coming and going."
Friend said FLCC already has a number of programs under way for training students, but added they will review SUNY's guidance to align their events.