By Ryan Semerad
In 2001, a group of students and faculty encouraged President Roger Hull to instate a committee that would improve college policies and practices regarding sexual harassment in response to series of sexual assaults and harassment of a homosexual student.
The new committee will focus specifically on the effectiveness of Union’s policies and will work to improve the safety of all students.
For the past seven years, history professor Andrew Feffer has led the committee. Feffer also has an integral role in the new committee, which has already held two meetings this academic year.
In describing the objectives of the newly-formed committee, Feffer said, “We will continue our regular surveys on campus sexual assault and harassment, and we’ll continue as well the work we have been doing improving the campus climate generally on matters of sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender harassment.”
However, the most significant change resulting from this new committee is modernizing Union’s campus so that it accords with federal civil rights.
“The most important feature of the new committee, however, is that it involves compliance with federal law, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that constitutes very serious backing from the federal government and overall involves campuses across the nation in a collective effort to address a problem that has persisted for way too long,” said Feffer.
Last spring, a new sexual assault policy was implemented to ensure that Union appropriately deals with every kind of sexual misconduct case.
Dean of Students Stephen Leavitt said the policy change was “in response to the perception that Union was not handling sexual assault cases properly.”
The new policy puts more control in the hands of victims by giving them access to a sexual assault advocate, advising them on their options, and allowing two different kinds of charges to be levied—namely, sexual misconduct or sexual assault.
The former policy comprises any kind of sexually undesired act that does not constitute direct, unwanted sexual acts, while the latter is solely comprised of these kinds of violations.
The new committee will serve to enforce these new policies and will work to improve the environment on campus.
With regard to the new policy, Feffer said “the finer distinctions that are now being made between various forms of sexual misconduct and sexual violence are useful for developing a more just and responsive policy.”
According to the annual surveys conducted by Feffer’s committee, the campus climate has improved in recent years.
In a statement given via e-mail on the topic of Union’s treatment of sexual assault, the Women’s Union said, “Union provides a very lengthy and detailed account in the student handbook of what sexual assault is and how it should be handled, which is great. It shows they take the issue very seriously and want to be prepared for any situation. The fact that Union’s revised its sexual assault policy within recent years shows they are trying to adapt to a system that makes as many students feel comfortable in their surroundings, which is also very positive.”
However, the rate of sexual assault on campus is still a problem.
“The persistence of this problem has required a more active intervention on behalf of sexual assault victims to make the process of dealing with sexual assaults more victim-centered—we are hoping that it will be possible in the near future to address the persistence of sexual assault more openly and effectively,” said Feffer.