UMD sexual misconduct reports increasing

Numbers of reports on sexual misconduct at UMD, according to the  “Summary of Campus Climate Reports”  Graph by: Rebecca Kottke.

Numbers of reports on sexual misconduct at UMD, according to the “Summary of Campus Climate Reports” Graph by: Rebecca Kottke.

According to Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, by the average age of 23, nearly one in four Minnesota female college students have been sexually assaulted. In addition, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network states that 5.4 percent of undergraduate male students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation, and that 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted.

For years, UMD has been working on improving the experience of sexual misconduct survivors. Lisa Erwin, vice chancellor of student life and dean of students, said that reports of sexual misconduct have increased in the past few years. There were 11 reports of sexual misconduct in 2014-15, nine in 2015-16 and 27 in 2016-17.

“We are receiving more reports,” Erwin said. “The effort that we have made through email, through letting people know how to report, we think is working to some degree.”

Erwin said that over the past several years, UMD has trained over 300 faculty and staff on ways to support students and respond appropriately to reports.

Lisa Erwin with Student Association Members. Photo courtesy of Mike Kenyanya

Lisa Erwin with Student Association Members.
Photo courtesy of Mike Kenyanya

“We have announced staff and faculty training over an all staff and faculty email at least twice a year over the last four years,” Erwin said. “Certainly during sexual assault month in April, and then we try to do one in the September time frame as well that lets the community know on how to report.”

According to Erwin, there are two kinds of training for faculty and staff. One is an online training, and the second is an in-person training where participants may ask questions as well. Staff and faculty are taught about different ways to report.

“We talk about what sexual misconduct is, we talk about their obligations to report and the offices in which they need to report, and what happens after they report, so they can begin to build some confidence in the process,” Erwin said.

No training was done this fall due to University President Eric Kaler moving toward a mandatory training for all faculty and staff in the University of Minnesota system. This is set to launch in January of 2018. Erwin said that UMD will then figure out what the in-person training will look like once it’s launched.

“The mandatory part would be the online part,” Erwin said. “We are going to try to make a complementary part for the in-person part, because people work differently and it’s hard to ask a computer module questions.”

If a student files a report online, the report goes to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. Katie Jackson, director of student conduct and conflict mediation, will then meet with the student who is having the experience to discuss what they want to do.

“Some people aren’t interested in the conduct process and want resources and support,” Jackson said. “If the conduct process isn’t what they are interested in at that point in time, that’s OK. They always have the option to come back and change their mind in the future.”

If a student wants to pursue the conduct process done by UMD, the office makes sure that they have a good understanding of what it looks like.

“It involves an investigation. They can make statements, they may also suggest witnesses, provide documents such as text, pictures and that kind of thing,” Jackson said. “This way all the information can come together in an investigative report so that it can be shared with the student that is making the complaint and the respondent.”

Jackson said that the office then makes sure if there is anything else the student wants to add and if they have got anything wrong. This way both parties feel that it is a fair and transparent process and that they have been heard. From there, it is turned over to a decision maker.

“The decision maker will review all the information, decide if there is enough information to make a charge,” Jackson said. “We decide whether 50 percent in the feather of the information suggest that there is a policy violation.”

Depending on the case, there are various ways a student can be disciplined.

“Not all sexual misconduct is alike, there’s everything from verbal misconduct all the way up to sexual assault,” Jackson said. “It depends on what happened, but if the person experienced sexual assault, the most common starting point is a suspension for the time it takes for the complainant to graduate from UMD.”

Jackson said that the starting point can be modified if a student goes into a formal hearing where a student panel has the decision making ability. A student hearing panel consists of three people: a faculty, staff and student. They generally keep the sanction the same if the decision is the same, but they can increase or decrease it, depending on the case.

“I have not seen two cases exactly the same in terms of people’s experiences,” Jackson said. “Certainly there's a lot to bear in mind in making a decision that’s going to make sense for the individual that had the experience as well as the person who committed the act and where they are in their own reflection and learning; some have great remorse, some don’t understand that what they did was a problem, so that’s going to be taken into account.“

The University of Minnesota Duluth Police Department is also a place for students to report. Jackson said that if a student report comes to her office, it’s her job to make sure that the student is aware of UMDPD as another reporting option.

“I do not take the complaint and pass it on to the police,” Jackson said. “Doing that removes the power of the person, and making sure that they’re informed and that is an option.”

In addition to the Office of Student Conduct, Conflict Resolution and the UMDPD, UMD students can report sexual misconduct to numerous different campus departments. These offices include Health Services, Office of Diversity and Inclusion and UMD WRAC. Off campus resources include local hospitals, such as St. Luke's, Essentia Health and PAVSA.