Union under review by Office of Civil Rights

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In an email to the campus community on Monday, President Stephen C. Ainlay announced that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is reviewing Union’s sexual assault policies following “an on-campus incident that took place last academic year.”

Chief of Staff Robert Kelly could not provide any details into what the investigation specifically requires, but stated that, “the OCR will review all documents related to sexual assault issues at Union.”

Union’s Clery Act disclosures indicate that five incidents of sex offenses, which consist of rape, sodomy and fondling, were reported at Union in 2013. During the 2014 to 2015 academic year, according to crime and fire logs published in the Concordiensis, at least three sexual assaults were reported.

As an institution receiving federal financial aid, Union must abide by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education, which includes sexual harassment and assault in the definition of sex discrimination.

The OCR monitors compliance with Title IX at academic institutions.

Kelly said, “Anyone can bring forward a case to the OCR,” and added, “An investigation is not an indication of any wrongdoing.”

Ainlay’s email states that the OCR’s investigation into Union is one of 167 cases across 141 postsecondary institutions.

The OCR alerted Union to its review of the college’s policies last week.

Kelly assured that, “Dean Leavitt, Dr. Hathaway, student leaders, faculty and others have been working on these issues for years now, and policies and protocols at Union are in accordance with the best practices nationally.”

Union revised many of its sexual misconduct policies over the summer. In June, New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed his “Enough is Enough” legislation, enacting laws that required colleges to take proactive steps to combat sexual assault on campus.

This legislation requires all colleges to “adopt a comprehensive set of procedures and guidelines, including a uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy, and expanded access to law enforcement,” according to the New York state website.

Dean of Students Steve Leavitt said, “Union has been working to make sure its policy incorporates the new law’s provisions.”

He said that Union had to make small revisions to its definition of sexual assault and consent to comply with the new legislation. The definition of affirmative consent now clearly follows the “yes means yes” standard, which shifts responsibility onto the initiator in ensuring consensual sexual activity.

Leavitt said that the definition now contains language that designates “knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions” and “can be withdrawn at any time.”

He stated that Union also revised its Sexual Misconduct Policy, which established a new Title IX staff, reporting protocols, training programs and preventative measures. He further noted that revisions were made to procedures in order to shift responsibility for presenting a case, to reduce the stress of hearings for both parties.

The Union community is supporting the efforts to prevent sexual assault on campus by hosting Sexual Assault Awareness Week this week.

Every day this week, the Committee on Consent Education and Awareness is sponsoring events and speakers that will highlight the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.

Today, during common lunch in Reamer, students can participate in the Letter Project, co-hosted by the Omega Phi Beta sorority. The project shows support for survivors of sexual assault.

ConsentFest, a collaborative event sponsored by a variety of clubs, will be held tomorrow at Old Chapel from 5 to 7 p.m. At the event, each club will have an individual activity that promotes normalizing consent for any situation.

Overall, Kelly stated, “the goal is to prevent all forms of sexual violence from happening on campuses, and it’s wonderful we have so many people dedicated to creating a safer and more inclusive campus.”

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Matt Wu
Hi! I currently serve as the Editor-in-Chief of the Concordiensis. I'm a currently a junior at Union College and Clarkson University as a B.S. and M.B.A. candidate. I will be attending Albany Medical College in 2017.

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