Students, faculty, and staff voiced their concerns regarding UR’s sexual misconduct policies last Wednesday afternoon at a town hall meeting held in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library.
As detailed in an email to students the previous week, the meeting was called by University President Joel Seligman, who wanted to hear University community members’ thoughts and suggestions “to help continue the essential work of creating a safe, respectful campus.”
Title IX Coordinator Morgan Levy, Director of the Center for Student Conflict Management Kyle Orton, Senior Counsel for River Campus Legal Issues Richard Crummings, and Dean of the College Richard Feldman were also in attendance, answering questions as they arose.
Levy began the meeting by updating attendees on the policy changes and prevention efforts that have been recently implemented, largely as a response to student feedback received throughout the year.
Among the changes she mentioned were the translation of the student sexual misconduct policy into common languages UR students natively speak, an enhanced mandatory online and in-person training program for all new students that places a hold on their registration if they do not complete it, an online proxy reporting system that allows students to anonymously report sexual misconduct related incidents directly to the University, and a downloadable version of the resource cards students are given during orientation since many are lost or discarded.
Levy said that the University had not yet received an update from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights about the complaint filed against them by a student in the spring of 2015—the status of which had been asked about in a previous town hall meeting about arming Public Safety officers.
After a brief introduction, the hosts—Levy and Seligman—opened the floor to questions.
Several faculty members took issue with specific sections of the University’s sexual misconduct policy.
Assistant Professor of Brain & Cognitive Science Steven Piantadosi cited Policy 106—the University’s policy against discrimination and harassment—as a “really bad conflict of interest,” since, under his understanding, the person who investigates those cases is the same person who then represents the University in a Title IX lawsuit.
“How is that fair to the victims?,” he asked. “How can the University manage that in a way that’s fair to the victims?”
Crummings acknowledged that though the investigator does report to the University’s Office of Counsel, she also reports to the Human Resources Department, and that there is a “Chinese wall” between her dual functions.
Piantadosi further stressed that, regardless of there being no contact, it still seemed unfair to victims.
“I bring this up because I was recently involved in one, and it seemed to me that the investigating attorney did essentially everything within her power to make the case disappear,” he said. “I think that there are problems, and if you talk to faculty involved in that case and others you would see that people are dissatisfied with that type of system and there’s alternatives.”
Senior Nicholas Contento shifted the conversation from policy intricacies to student concerns, asking if individuals who are trained to handle survivors of sexual misconduct are given instructions that accommodate the needs of the LGBT community as well.
“All the people who are involved in the process of investigating allegations of sexual misconduct engage in substantial training throughout the year,” Levy said. “We worked really hard to try to make sure that we are demonstrating that we are here, and we want to know if there are problems that LGBT students are experiencing so we can help.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Seligman encouraged everyone to “keep the dialogue going” and reach out to Levy or Orton with suggestions or concerns.