Sexual assault policies to remain the same
Michelle Shnayder – Contributor
Recently, the Trump administration proposed numerous rules that would expand the rights of college students accused of sexual misconduct.
According to a 2017 speech by Education Secretary Betsy Devos, the proposed new rules would obligate schools to investigate sexual misconduct complaints only if the alleged incidents occurred on campus. Similarly, Devos stated, schools would only be liable for investigating a complaint if the complainant spoke directly to the administrator in charge of such cases.
Administration said they will not stop investigating any allegations of misconduct, even if the proposed changes are codified in law. Assistant Dean of Students Christopher Piscitelli said Devos’ proposals could “allow schools to wash their hands of that” and Southern would not do that.
“What she is proposing are codified changes, which means that they would be bonded in law,” said Piscitelli. “However, as I’ve read, I do not see the need to institute any immediate changes to Southern’s policies.”
Jenna Retort, assistant director of student conduct, said the university weighs all the facts of a case, and will continue to do so.
According to Retort, Southern strives to make it as painless as possible for victims to report allegations of misconduct and seek out and advocacy options.
“The university has a lot of options available to students. They can receive support, contact the university police if it is a criminal matter, and file a complaint with student conduct,” said Retort.
At Southern, the administrators are teaming up with on campus leadership groups and university police to give students options.
Piscitelli said regardless of whether or not Devos’ changes become law, Southern has been granted more federal funding to continue battling sexual misconduct.
“We were awarded another $750,000 from the Department of Justice to continue combatting sexual misconduct,” Piscitelli said, “This amounts to $1.5 million in funding over the course of six years.”
This grant would allow the university to help students throughout all the stages of reporting and recovery process, Piscitelli said. In addition, it will help fight sexual misconduct on college campuses, he said.
Melissa Kissi is one of the sexual assault and violence prevention specialists at Southern. Kissi does not support DeVos’ proposed changes to Title IX, saying that they can potentially reinforce victim blaming.
“I think the proposed changes can definitely be harmful to survivors, because in the culture we have, victim blaming is common, and these changes can further reinforce that,” said Kissi.
Kissi said that Southern will continue to support victims and work to combat sexual assault.
“From my experience, Southern is very unique in the advocacy and support we provide to victims of sexual misconduct,” said Kissi.
According to Kissi, Support is available to everyone through the Violence Prevention Victim Advocacy and Support Center (VPAS). She said that students can reach the center anytime, day or night, and be listened to.
“Victims deserve to hear, ‘I believe you. I support you. What do you need to feel as safe and comfortable as possible,’” said Kissi.
“As advocates, we don’t need details or proof to lend support and a listening ear to anyone who identifies as a victim of sexual misconduct,” Kissi added.
Photo Credit: Michelle Shnayder