U of M system puts changes to sexual assault policy in effect
On Jan. 1, a system-wide policy change was put into effect in the University of Minnesota. The changes were made to the school system’s “Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Stalking and Relationship Violence” policy.
“Up until this policy came into play, we used to have two separate policies,” Director of the Office of Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution Dr. Katie Jackson said. “One that addressed sexual harassment, and then one that addressed all the other kinds of sexual misconduct: sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence. And so this policy brings everything into one, which is, I think, more user-friendly for students, faculty and staff who are looking for information.”
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents’ December 2017 docket (page 255) states: “The proposed administrative policy was developed following a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. In that agreement, the University agreed to develop a single policy to address sexual misconduct, and to provide detailed information about resources and processes in that policy.”
“The most important thing that was taken into the consideration of that policy was student safety," student Representative to the Board of the Regents Allie Ulland said.
Ulland said that she and her fellow student representatives didn’t have any objections to the policy.
"I think the intent of this,” Ulland said, “is to really work to eliminate sexual misconduct at the University of Minnesota campuses."
According to both Jackson and Interim Human Resources and Equal Opportunity Director Karna Kurtz, the policy was changed so it would be easier for both students and faculty to understand, and make it easier for people to come forward.
“I think the most important thing to know for students,” Jackson said, “is that any student who tells any employee that they’ve experienced sexual misconduct, that [it] must be reported. There is no option. It’s not encouraged, it’s a mandate.”
Jackson and Kurtz both note that students who work on campus, besides resident advisers (RA's), do not fall into the category of university employees.
"Because we're a public employer," Kurtz said, "when we hire students ... we don't call them student employees, we call them student workers because the money that they earn is considered a form of financial aid and not employment. So that's the reason they don't have the same requirement to report."
After just over a month of being in effect, Dr. Jackson and Kurtz said they haven’t seen a change in reporting, but that it will take some time before they see people start to step forward.
“There’s heightened awareness, and people asking more questions,” Kurtz said, “especially because of the events happening in the broader social context, and people reflecting. But I don’t know that I’ve seen a dramatic increase in reports in our office.”
The policy also states that amnesty is provided for certain drug and alcohol-related offenses that come to light during a prohibited conduct investigation.
“The new policy has an amnesty section that provides amnesty to certain kinds of alcohol and drug policy violations,” Jackson said. “We know that alcohol and drugs can be a component to situations that people find themselves in with sexual misconduct experiences. So that can, in some cases, feel like a barrier to people to reporting. They’re hesitant to report because they don’t want to get in trouble for alcohol and drugs.”
Jackson said that the policy gives amnesty not just to the violators of certain types of drug and alcohol violations, but to people responding to the complaints and to the witnesses.
"I believe it's a step in the right direction,” Ulland said. “I don't think it's an end point by any means, it's going to take a while till this issue is completely eliminated, but it's a step in the right direction, which really helps in a way, because there are a lot of things that go unreported."