The SMU administration is ending the 2012-2013 school year with the much-anticipated release of recommendations from the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures.
The 41 recommendations come after a year-long review in which the task force examined how the school currently reviews sexual misconduct.
President R. Gerald Turner said on Wednesday, May 8, that he had accepted the Task Force’s recommendations. The recommendations range from reporting procedures to the university conduct board process, education on sexual misconduct, and more extensive training among staff and faculty.
The Task Force was created by President Turner in September 2012 after several sexual assaults were reported on campus and two SMU students were indicted by Dallas County grand juries.
“Sexual misconduct is a serious issue at universities and colleges nationwide,” Turner said on Wednesday. “SMU is committed to acting on its values and policies to foster a healthy learning environment based on mutual respect, responsible behavior and fair treatment of all students.”
The Task Force was made up of 20 members selected by President Turner, including SMU graduate student Monika Korra who was sexually assaulted in 2009, and has since become an advocate for victims of sexual assault.
In addition, other members of SMU students, staff, and faculty were selected. The Task Force also had a representative from the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and the executive director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Initiative.
Kelly Compton, an SMUI Board of Trustee member and the chair of the task force, said that with such a diverse group of administrative members, as well as those who work extensively with victims of sexual assault, there was a lot that needed to be discussed.
“We spent a lot of time educating ourselves, discussing and understanding the issue,” Compton said.
Through those discussions came 41 recommendations, which Compton said is a reflection of the strong consensus among the members of the task force.
Compton stressed that the main message that the university should take from these recommendations is that dealing with sexual misconduct needs to simpler and easier to understand — communication is critical.
“We need to make everything more clear,” Compton said. “Everything is in place, but nothing is very clear.”
Two of the recommendations made were to “provide clear information regarding both internal and external support services available to the campus and community in the event of sexual misconduct,” and to help define the term consent.
In order to make the sexual misconduct policy more visible, it will be taken out of the code of conduct, which will increase its visibility among students.
“We need to have clear definition of what is acceptable and what is not,” Compton said.
Despite the recommendations related to the way the university manages sexual assault policies and procedures, the task force must also adhere to state and federal laws, such as Title IX, to handle sexual misconduct.
An April 2011 letter from the Office of Civil Rights titled “Dear Colleague” was sent out to universities across the country and changed the interpretation of Title IX — in terms of reducing the requirements of evidence to preponderance along with other issues.
The new Title IX requires all universities that receive federal funding to have some type of internal grievance process which handles investigating sexual misconduct allegations. For example, the “Dear Colleague” letter said,
“The school should...allow students to change academic or living situations as appropriate.”
Another recommendation, made in regard to the University Conduct Code, was limiting the number of students who represent on the board.
Though input from students helped the task force create these recommendations, they believe that students should not chair of the University Conduct Review board, nor should they be the majority.
One of the most important recommendations made, according to Compton, was “creating an environment that supports students reporting sexual misconduct both on and off campus.”
“The victim in the situation needs to have control of how the process is handled,” Compton said. “It is important for the complainant to have that right. Through this we hope we are encouraging the complainant to report.”
The task force hopes that through these recommendations students will better understand the difference between the University Conduct Review Board and the criminal justice system.
The conduct review board has been criticized in past Daily Campus editorials as limiting what can happen to students found guilty of sexual misconduct.
The conduct board has the power to decide if a violation did or did not occur, based on preponderance. The review board, through the school also has the power to make accommodations for the complainant, by changing their classes or even their dorms if they feel unsafe.
If the school deems the respondent is a threat to the safety of the school, sanctions can be placed against them, before a review hearing is held.
If a respondent is found guilty the University can sanction them with anything ranging from suspension to expulsion. However, a criminal court holds individuals to a higher bar, and therefore respondents need to be found guilty “without a reasonable doubt.”
The hope of the task force is that by encouraging students to report to SMU they can bring the two systems together to streamline and assist the complainant.
One of the recommendations will also clarify to students whether a location is a confidential place to report or not.
The SMU Chaplain’s office and any SMU counseling office is confidential, whereas the Office of the Dean of Student Life and the Women’s Center are required to notify SMU’s Title IX coordinator, Beth Wilson, of any sexual misconduct.