The University Senate voted 70-1-3 Thursday to approve a sexual misconduct policy that includes mandated sexual assault education for every member of the university community.
A university legal team drafted the policy after receiving recommendations from the senate’s Sexual Harassment Task Force, a 15-member commission university President Wallace Loh and senate leadership charged last year to conduct a thorough review of the university’s sexual misconduct policies and offer recommendations for reform. Loh temporarily ratified the policy Aug. 23, after which it awaited senate approval to become permanent.
“This is a really important day for the university, and today was the first step in changing a culture that blames the victim before it blames the perpetrator,” said Lauren Redding, a 2013 university graduate and former Diamondback editor who proposed the education mandate legislation last winter. “Today really was the start of changing that and making sure that when a student is sexually assaulted, he or she isn’t afraid to come forward.”
One of the task force report’s focal points is a requirement that everyone on the campus undertake some form of sexual misconduct training, which will be offered through different platforms, including Greek life, dorms, UNIV 100 courses and potentially the Web.
While the training operation will kick into effect next semester, according to the report, wellness officials and the CARE to Stop Violence program will run a pilot program this semester, which is designed to inform a long-term solution.
The university’s Institutional Review Board has approved the pilot, and Stephanie Rivero, assistant coordinator of the CARE office, said it will be ready in the next few weeks.
Through the pilot program, officials will attempt to measure and compare the impact of online and face-to-face sexual misconduct training. Rivero said she expects the pilot program will prove in-person discussion to be vastly more effective than an online program in the vein of AlcoholEdu.
“An online module could definitely be helpful, but we don’t think it should be the only thing that students are getting,” Rivero said.
Because a mandate to educate everyone on the campus will increase the CARE office’s workload exponentially, Rivero said CARE will need to add to its current staff of two full-time employees, a part-time therapist and three interns.
“We would have to grow as an office, which is really exciting for us,” Rivero said.
Cynthia Hale, the task force chair, has said the federal government’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in March ultimately made mandated training a requirement for the university, but campus advocates were already aggressively pursuing the mandate.
When Redding, a feminist activist, formally proposed the mandate in January, the task force — created in June 2012 — took over consideration of the policy.
In a report spanning dozens of pages, the task force called for a “multi-dimensional” communication strategy to raise awareness of the new policies. It also called for the integration of at least 21 university divisions and departments into the policies’ implementation.
Because it found the university’s process for reporting and pursuing misconduct inconsistent and unclear, the task force recommended the establishment of a Title IX compliance office staffed by a full-time coordinator. The office would specialize in the receipt of complaints, the report said.
As it conducted research and concocted recommendations, the task force needed to change course at times because of federal government action — including not only VAWA’s reauthorization but also higher education policies put forth by the U.S. Education and Justice departments, Hale said.
“National events, in a sense, overtook the task force,” she said.
Hale added that over the course of its research, the task force shifted away from the use of specific labels like “assault” and “harassment,” instead more broadly describing “sexual misconduct” as its target.
At Thursday’s meeting, senators spent the better part of an hour discussing and debating the report and its recommendations, adopting an amendment by undergraduate senator Josh Ratner that would place a specific requirement on in-person training sessions if those prove most effective in this fall’s pilot.
“We need to have more training, effective training,” he said. “This way, we’re a responsible student body, and it shows how much we care for the well-being of each other,” he said.
Before the senate vote, Redding, a rape survivor, described an attack she faced in March 2011 and her efforts to recover.
“My rape is something that will always be with me, even two years later. I still experience [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I’m still unable to even be alone in the elevator with a man,” she said.
“The University of Maryland will always be so many things to me. It’s the place where my parents met. It’s the place where my parents got married. It’s the place where I met some of the most important people in my life and got an amazing education. But more than anything, it will always be the place where I met my rapist.”