By Lorraine Kelly
Within the past decade, sexual misconduct on college campuses has come to the forefront of conversation. In the wake of the highly publicized arrest of Brock Turner and the sexual harassment accusations in Hollywood, many individuals have come forward, releasing details of sexual harassment and assault in various settings, ranging from college campuses to the workplace.
In 2014, the University of Puget Sound began revising its policies against sexual misconduct. In the informational session for the new policy, Sarah Shives, the Dean of Students, explained that the original policy did not specifically outline individual procedures for faculty and students. She noted that it also covered a large amount of information, which created confusion for many campus members. The process of revising was a process of “disentangling the previous policy” to create a more accessible document.
According to Shives, this new policy has been written in accordance with national policies and within the guidelines of Title IX. Title IX, part of the Education Amendment Act of 1972, states that “No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program” (US Department of Education). The act of sexual misconduct falls under Title IX in that it impedes access to education due to creating an unsafe environment.
Completed in 2017, the new campus policy has been lengthened, including robust definitions of consent, coercion and harassment. The policy has been split into two parts, one describing the policy itself and another which definitively outlines the procedure for sexual misconduct violations and accusations for faculty, staff and students. This policy will be revisited annually to ensure campus safety.
These procedures are complaint-driven,”according to Jessica Pense, the Director of Student Conduct, meaning that all proceedings occur in accordance with the wishes of the complainant. Processes are not through a legal entity; rather, all proceedings go through the Sexual Misconduct Board, which is made up of trained faculty. The resolutions of these cases are determined by the “preponderance of evidence,” in which the board takes personal narrative as evidence, which differs from law enforcement tactics.
The procedure also outlines the right to a support person, whose purpose is to be utilized for “support, guidance, advice, etc.” This person, allowed for both the complainant and the respondent (the individual being accused) may not advocate for either party, but rather, serve as emotional support.
Jo Gudgell, a sophomore who attended the informational meeting, still believes there is some ambiguity surrounding the idea of support persons. “I was a little confused about the support person addition because I think it’s really important for survivors to have people there for them, but the support person can’t say anything or advocate for them, so I was a little confused about the point of that,” Gudgell stated.
While these procedures have been clarified, their purpose is still a point of confusion for some students. Luckily, students may submit forms online reviewing the policy, which allows for more student voices to be heard.
Both the policy and the procedure include various resources both on and off campus, including faculty, student groups and outside support groups. This policy is available on the campus website, which also includes an online report form. Reporting through this form may be anonymous and may contain as much or as little of the story as the complainant wishes to tell.
According to the policy’s statement of purpose, “This policy is informed by an understanding that sexual misconduct destroys the respect, dignity, and trust necessary to form a vibrant community.” This revised policy creates a standard for our campus community that allows for a safe environment while maintaining transparency between students and campus conduct officials.