As new requirements are placed on campuses by the federal government, Union is updating its policies and procedures for dealing with sexual violence and harassment.
In March 2013 President Barack Obama signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) which imposes obligations on colleges and universities under the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.
The SaVE Act requires that universities create specific policies related to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, developing clear procedures and penalties for each of the four areas.
Union updated its sexual harassment policy — a component of the larger policy on harassment — about two years ago, according to Bryan Carrier, vice president for student life and dean of students.
An additional policy has been created to comply with the Campus SaVE Act and is available this semester at Union’s website. The policy will also appear in next year’s student handbook.
“Union University will not tolerate sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, as defined in this policy, in any form,” states the policy. “Such acts of violence are prohibited by Union policy, as well as state and federal laws. Individuals whom the University determines have engaged in these types of behaviors are subject to discipline up to and including expulsion from Union University.”
The policy defines the four areas of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking and contains information on the rights of the victim, local resources and information on bystander intervention.
It states that a student with a complaint of sexual assault involving a member of the campus community should make initial contact with either Carrier; Cynthia Jayne, Title IX coordinator and provost for intercultural and international studies; or John Carbonell, associate vice president for human resources.
“All conduct proceedings … shall provide a prompt, fair, and impartial investigation and resolution,” the policy states. “All investigations and proceedings shall be conducted by officials who receive annual training on the nature of the types of cases they are handling, how to conduct a proceeding in a manner that protects the safety of each individual and promotes accountability.”
The policy states that determining charges for a student accused of violating the student conduct code will use the preponderance of evidence standard. The vice president for student life, Carrier, has the authority to determine sanctions for a student found responsible for violating the new policy.
Carrier said while the act is an excellent step to combat sexual violence, it creates unique difficulties for universities.
“I think it’s great to generate awareness, I think the training component is great,” Carrier said. “What’s difficult is that the onus is on the university. This is a state and federal violation of law to assault someone, and yet they’re putting the primary obligation on the universities to investigate and adjudicate that. … A university is not equipped as a law enforcement agency would be to investigate a crime at the same level.”
Carrier said the school will have to partner with law enforcement for investigations into sexual assault.
The SaVE Act also requires schools to report all incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. This is a broadening of the requirements of the Jeanne Clery Act, which was first enacted in 1990 and requires universities to make campus safety information public.
The act requires schools to provide prevention and awareness programs for all new students, faculty and staff.
Carrier said these requirements go into full effect this year. Union will go a step further, Carrier said, by also requiring current students, faculty and staff to participate in the training. The training will be conducted through an online vendor this semester.
The SaVE Act was designed to complement Title IX laws which were passed in the 1970s to ensure equal opportunities for men and women in things like sports, Jayne said.
Jayne convenes a group on campus to ensure that the school remains compliant with Title IX legislation. The group also responds to concerns and complaints regarding discrimination, harassment and assault.
Title IX does not only require freedom of bias based on gender, but also for other group statuses, such as racial minorities.
“As a Christian institution we have a strong desire to make sure that we treat people appropriately and fairly in all things and in all cases,” Jayne said. “It’s part of who we are, and it’s also a legal concern for us.”
The group convened by Jayne includes Carrier; Carbonell; Debbie Snell, associate vice president for compliance and athletic programs; and Matthew Marshall, director for service and diversity initiatives and director of the center for racial reconciliation.
Jayne said any student who feels discriminated against based on group status may contact her. Matters involving an employee will always include Carbonell, while matters involving a student will always involve Carrier, she said.
Jayne said questions come up regularly as well as occasional complaints, which she then investigates.
“Union students are like all other students,” Jayne said. “We experience the same kinds of issues, and hopefully our mission and our identity help us to deal more effectively and more transparently with those kinds of circumstances than many institutions are able to do. … It would be naïve of us to think that we never have those kinds of questions. Of course we do. We’re human beings working with other human beings from all parts of the world and we’re going to have misunderstandings and sometimes we’re going to have real problems that we need to address.”
In an investigation, the group will listen to the people involved in the situation, go through all information available, look at how expectations were addressed, then determine whether there was intent to discriminate or treat someone inappropriately, Jayne said. Finally, the issue will be addressed with all parties concerned.
Jayne said she wants students to come to her or another member of the Title IX committee to report a concern regardless of the circumstances.
According to the Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study, 13.7 percent of undergraduate women had been victims of at least one sexual assault since entering college.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, which has a different context and scope than the CSA Study, found that from 1997 to 2013, women ages 18 to 24 consistently had higher rates of rape and sexual assault than females in other age brackets.
The survey also reported that 80 percent of student rape and sexual assault victimizations were not reported to the police, compared to 67 percent of nonstudent victimizations.
According to the CSA study, on average 50 percent of sexual assaults of women during college involve the use of alcohol or other drugs by the perpetrator, victim or both.
Since alcohol and drugs are not permitted among Union students, Jayne said it is a concern of the committee that students might fear reporting an assault if alcohol was involved.
“We can’t get away from the fact that [alcohol] is against the rules, so that’s a problem, but that’s not a reason to ignore something like sexual assault or simply attribute it to [drinking],” Jayne said. “… I hope that no student ever feels that they would be judged outright for having broken a rule and then gotten into a situation or been put in a situation where they were assaulted and feel that they couldn’t be treated fairly or wouldn’t be taken seriously.”
Last fall, Student Senate passed a resolution supporting the revision and clarification of Union’s sexual harassment policy.
Allison Pulliam, junior broadcast journalism and political science major, proposed the bill with Daniel Langley, junior political science major. Pulliam works with Speak Out, Speak Now, an initiative to give children and teenagers a voice to address domestic violence.
Pulliam said when she presented the resolution, most students did not know about their rights under Title IX. Students did not know that the school had to take a proactive stance for complainants and that the school had to guarantee a student’s ability to continue his or her education without fear of retaliation, she said.
“I didn’t know that the school could offer those things,” Pulliam said. “Most people don’t. It’s not really something that you’re presented with when you come to college.”
Carrier said the administration was not able to make the changes asked for by Student Senate because the “legalese” in the harassment policy is federal requirement. He added that the policy was already in the process of being updated due to Campus SaVE.
Pulliam said students should not handle sexual harassment and assault among themselves, but should go to an authority figure for help.
“I think it’s important for people to realize that these issues do happen,” Pulliam said. “I think that a lot of times people like to assume that because they don’t see it with their own eyes that it’s not going on. A lot of this stuff is very subtle, will go on when the supervisor’s not in the room, over social media, over Snapchat, over text messages. I think it’s important for people to be talking about this and to have more of an open mind. If people aren’t talking about this, it’s very hard for victims to come forward, because they think people don’t understand, that no one’s going to listen to them.”
- Union University Title IX resources page
- Union University harassment policy
- Complaint/grievance procedure guidelines
- Union University Campus SaVE Act policy
- Cynthia Jayne, Title IX coordinator and associate provost for intercultural and international studies 731.661.5358 firstname.lastname@example.org
- 24/7 Campus Safety and Security 731.394.2922
- Jackson Police Department 731.425.8500
- WRAP (Wo/Men’s Resource & Rape Assistance Program) 731.668.0411