Students and administrators have begun to evaluate the changes made to the University’s sexual assault policy a year and a half after the U of C student body passed a referendum calling for change.
The referendum, which passed with an overwhelming 78 percent of the votes cast when it appeared on the spring 2010 Student Government election ballot, centered on three basic revisions to the sexual assault policy: making witness testimony by the accused equally accessible to both sides, the implementation of sensitivity training for the faculty committee, and the centralization of the sexual assault disciplinary process through the establishment of a standing committee.
Fourth-year and Undergraduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees Nakul Singh and fourth-year Working Group on Sexual Assault Policy (WGSAP) activist Michelle Boyd met with Vice President of Student Life Kim Goff-Crews and Assistant Vice President of Student Life Eleanor Daugherty on October 27 to discuss the changes made since the referendum was passed.
Boyd felt that the meeting served as a way to ensure that the concerns brought forth by the students—especially those who were involved with WGSAP and have since graduated—were addressed by the administration. “Some of the writing in the actual [revised] policy was a bit ambiguous,” she said.
One of WGSAP’s main concerns involved equal access to testimony by both the accused and the accuser. Due to vagueness over what constitutes a student’s private record, the statement of the accused can be held from the accuser under the Federal Educational Record Protection Act (FERPA).
The administration has yet to reconcile these ambiguities in the current sexual assault policy but acknowledges that it is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed.
“It’s great that they are identifying things that they are struggling with and want to know more about,” Ursula Wagner (SSA ’10) said, noting that those involved with WGSAP are willing to work with the administration and peer institutions such as Northwestern University in directing them to resources like Brett Sokolow, a consultant for sexual assault policy who can help advise the University.
The second focus of the referendum, sensitivity training for faculty committee, has been implemented and is being overseen by Associate Dean of Students in the University for Student Affairs Belinda Vasquez to ensure consistency in the disciplinary process.
Although the third major concern, centralization of the sexual assault disciplinary policy, has yet to come to full fruition due to opposition “by many deans and higher level academics,” Boyd is optimistic. The administration’s receptiveness toward the referendum, and the ongoing efforts to figure out the laden ambiguity in FERPA stands in stark contrast to the attitude in early years, Boyd said, where the rhetoric was more antagonistic.
“I think it’s a success story,” Boyd said.