University addresses concerns raised by sexual misconduct policy
A new sexual misconduct policy that went into effect in March, is causing some to worry that implemented changes could deter survivors from coming forward.
Aside from confidential resources and other exceptions outlined in the policy, Central Michigan University staff and faculty are required to report information about sexual misconduct to Title IX Coordinator Katherine Lasher. Resident assistants and multicultural advisers are considered responsible employees, meaning students in these positions would also have to report sexual misconduct. Some worry this may deter some to report an incident, as anything mentioned to a staff member might be investigated.
Lasher said the complainant and respondent will both be more informed throughout the process, receiving information about where the process is and what interim measures have been taken.
Lasher said faculty and staff have always been considered mandatory reporters by the university, as mandated by the federal guidelines.
Lasher said, though this aspect of the policy isn’t new, there have been several changes with respect to reporting in recent years because of Title IX.
“As I understand, the point of Title IX is to encourage people to feel safe enough to come forward and understand that their concerns will be taken seriously and that if any help can be provided, it will,” Lasher said.
Some individuals on campus worry Title IX could prevent survivors from coming forward, despite the opportunity to investigate cases that might not have been reported otherwise.
“I think for some, it may prevent them from coming forward. I hope that’s not the case, because it really is intended to protect both the complainant as well as the (respondent),” said Michelle Veith, associate director of Residence Life.
She said it might also encourage some people to come forward because the policy shows the university cares and resources are available for justice.
Flint freshman Carissa Martin said mandatory reporting has positive and negative effects.
“It’s good in the way that it will cause some more reporting and if someone does want help but they don’t know where to go, that will take care of that,” Martin said. “However, it also discourages reporting because some people may not want to report.”
So far, the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity has focused on working with staff and faculty to understand the new policy, Lasher said. She said this year they will work with students more, attending orientation sessions during the summer, in addition to other events and locations.
She said she wants students to understand more about what the office is for and who they are.
“Throughout the year, we’re discussing ways we can meet with students, particularly in residence halls, to start the conversation again about bystander intervention and put a face to a name,” Lasher said.
She said one of the goals is to ensure that bystanders are speaking up.
Veith said in residence halls, the faculty and staff are trying to be as upfront as they can. She said RA and MA staff have been trained to let students know that they’re considered responsible employees under Title IX and will have to report what they’re told about sexual misconduct.
Lawton senior and Larzelere Hall MA Alyssa Barkovich said staff members go through rigorous training and and tell students to report a sexual misconduct issue right away.
“The goal, first and foremost, is to get the survivor the resources that they need, so we’re training our RAs and MAs to work with the Counseling Center and Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates to get some assistance for the survivor if that’s what they want, and then they would report what they know to me,” Lasher said. “Then I would reach out to the student and my first discussion with the student is about resources."
She then explains the different options available, the process off campus and the process on campus. From there, the decision on how to move forward is largely in the hands of the student, Lasher said.
“We try to leave it up to the survivor to make his or her own decisions,” Lasher said.
Veith said some students might not be ready to report right away or might not be sure what they want to do, so it’s important for them to know they have other options.
"Everybody's goal is to still try to leave as much choice and control in the survivor's hands as possible," Veith said.
Lasher said survivors have several options outlined in the policy.
“I feel this update will benefit many people at the university,” Barkovich said. “It informs students of the process and the policy of sexual misconduct and gives students opportunities to find the resources on and off campus that they have access to.”
Lasher said if a survivor chooses to talk to a confidential resource, no information is shared. Under the policy, the office keeps student information private.
"What that means is that we only tell those who need to know,” Lasher said.
Lasher said that whether or not a survivor chooses to come forward depends on the survivor, but she hopes that under this policy, survivors feel comfortable speaking up.
“I hope survivors feel comfortable talking to our office about what they would like to have done. I hope that they feel comfortable enough with this process that their needs are met,” Lasher said. “I also hope that the respondents that are involved in this process feel that they’re being heard as well. And I do hope that it starts a broader discussion on our campus about bystander intervention.”