UNC- Pembroke has a new policy regarding Title IX and the Clery Act. This was done because the Department of Education issued a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter that explained how campuses should really be conducting their Title IX and Clery Act policy, prompting adjustments by many schools.
VAWA, or ‘The Violence Against Women Act’ was signed by President Obama in 2013. It protects and gives funding to services that focus on defending “ all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking – including Native American women, immigrants, LGBT victims, college students and youth, and public housing residents,” according to nnedv.org. “In compliance with the Dear Colleague letter and the VAWA…it had to be changed so we would be in compliance with federal law,” said Ronette Sutton Gerber, director of Title IX and Clery Compliance.
The new policy has more reporting options for victims, a shift in main focus, and promotion of active student awareness.
“The policy started out as a student sexual assault policy,” said Gerber. “Now it is a sexual misconduct policy,” said Gerber. Gerber’s office, The Office of Student Conduct, Counseling and Psychological Services, Campus Police and the Smart Team decided to do away with the old policy and start from scratch during the summer of 2015 to establish a new policy in January of 2016.
Sexual misconduct includes, but is not limited to bullying, stalking, sexual violence, harassment, exploitation, and retaliation. The old policy had a more narrow view of sexual assault that only included forced sexual intercourse, rape and forcible sodomy. The new policy stands on five main points that distinguishes it from the old sexual assault policy.
●More Reporting Options
Reporting parties now have other options in cases of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. In the previous sexual assault policy, the campus police always had to file an investigation report. Campus police would then notify the Director of the Student Code of conduct. Depending if they have enough evidence, the Office of Student Conduct would then organize a student administrative hearing.
“For many years students would be on that panel, the new policy strongly urged to take students off of that and we did,” said Gerber.
However, with the new policy, the student has the right to decide if they want to file a report with campus police or not. In fact, if a reporting party tells campus police, faculty or staff that they were a victim of sexual assault, that person must email Gerber so she can help the reporting individual.
“If a student comes to them and says they were sexually assaulted at some point, preferably early on in the discussion, they have to tell the student they have a right to file… or not file a report,” she said.
The new Title IX department conducts its own investigation into the incident with the option to file a police report or not. The office representatives will speak with both the reporting party and accused party to find out what went wrong.
“In most incidents the accused party does not even know something went wrong,” said Gerber. In many cases, the incidents involve miscommunication and lack of clarification. This policy does not just focus on students, but also assault of a faculty or staff member. If a faculty or staff member is a victim of sexual assault their case is treated the same way.
“My role is to help them get through this process and make sure it is fair…listen to them and hear them. Unbiased,” said Gerber.
●The Human Side of the Policy
Instead of only having the option of reporting to the police and filing a report against the accused party, Gerber’s job is to make sure the reporting party, if it is a student, is mentally and emotionally stable to finish school. She offers them counseling, time off from school and other measures to ensure this.
“I think that it is very comforting to victims of sexual misconduct and other students to know that, no matter what they may go through, they will be treated with compassion and understanding,” said Rachel Correa, a student starting her third year in the Fall of 2016.
If a student has to miss class because they were either a witness, reporting party or accused party, Gerber will send out a letter to those professors stating that the student is excused from class. These absences are not included in any absence policy a professor may have in place for the class.
“You are involved in a very serious, personal matter…it’s coming from my office, they know it has something to do with one of these offenses or pregnancy and parenting,” said Gerber.
Gerber also stresses the importance that counseling services have in these situations. Although she does not push the reporting party to go, she offers it to them and when that time is right for the reporting party, she will drop everything to make sure they are comfortable with the right counselor.
Another part of this new policy is the Pregnancy and Parenting Program. This program ensures students who are parents or expecting parents receive equal education rights while at the same time giving them the best opportunities possible on campus.
With parents, absences usually hurt them in their classes, however under this program the absences will not count against expectant mothers or fathers. Title IX captured this program from the ADA in order to give families and parents every equal option available to them.
This program is unique in the fact that, the program does not discriminate against the father.
“I did not know that this campus had a pregnancy and parenting program. I think that is amazing that the fathers are included especially during this day and age when young mothers need all the support they can get,” said Ricardo Carraquillo, a senior in the Spring of 2016.
Every opportunity this program offers student mothers are also offered to student fathers as well.
The Title IX and Clery Act department is focused on making sure that students are educated and aware of not only the precautions of sexual misconduct, but also the rights and procedures available to all students, faculty and staff.
Gerber is also conscious of the efforts that student run organizations have made in the education and awareness of sexual misconduct. Gerber stresses that she does not want to squash their efforts and activities.
“I just have to make sure it is happening on campus that is not something I will put a stop to but I will encourage them to pull in experts,” said Gerber.
Gerber is also very willing to not only collaborate with these organizations but also to encourage and support them in any way possible. She explains that the best way to spread awareness is for her to go out on the campus and educate face to face.
“These meetings offer a question and answer session. There is a better understanding and that helps” she said.
To encourage more student awareness and inclusion with the new policy, Gerber is in the process of initiating a student advisory program.
This student advisory program would give students an opportunity to be involved with the establishment and impact of the overall process. Students who are involved in the advisory program would have the job of policy making, helping with review and revisions of the policy and informing/educating other students.
“The goal is not for victims to go to these students, but they will help bring people to the right place,” said Gerber.
All students are encouraged to read the new policy and be educated in the rights and services it offers to everyone on campus.