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Sexual Misconduct and Title IX

Sexual Misconduct Forum

Friday, November 20, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
Interfaith Chapel
Meeting Summary

Joel Seligman opened the forum by saying that this is an important topic about which there has been appropriate public concern by students and administrators on college campuses nationwide as well as federal and state leaders.  We have taken steps to reduce the incidences of sexual violence on campus, which Morgan Levy, our Director of Equal Opportunity Compliance and Title IX Coordinator, will address.  He said the purpose of the forum was to solicit ideas for how we can do a better job.  He emphasized that the administration is here to listen and learn.

Morgan Levy presented an overview of what the University has done over the last few years to address this issue.

Sexual misconduct is an umbrella term that encompasses a number of behaviors.  The University has done a large number of things over the last couple of years to be sure we are creating a campus that is as safe as possible.  We have an overarching university sexual misconduct policy and have revised this policy over the past few years.  We also have Deputy Title IX Coordinators in each of the schools and in Athletics.  We have started a “Stop.Ask.Clarify” campaign to ensure clear consent from partners.  The Students’ Association leadership last year started the “It’s On Us” campaign, as well as other programs, such as an initiative where students go into residence halls to talk to others about misconduct.  The University began online training (the Haven course) for all new students.  We revamped “Red Light, Green Light” and launched online training for student leaders, student employees, athletes as well as faculty and staff.  We do related programming during the year, such as our annual violence prevention conference.

Prevention initiatives were launched and, based on feedback from a student committee, the sexual misconduct website was revised.  Resource Cards have been created with contact information for resources on campus and in the community.  Know Your Rights Pamphlets, which were available in the back of the auditorium, have also been created for distribution.  Posters with tips for faculty and stickers with the contact information for Public Safety and rape crisis have been posted in every bathroom on campus to provide information for students who are seeking help have also been created.

In terms of response initiatives that we have improved upon, there are more resources in Public Safety.  We have formalized relationships with local community organizations (RESTORE/Rape Crisis and Willow/Domestic Violence Hotline) and strengthened relationships with local law enforcement.

Morgan Levy showed on a screen the revised website for sexual misconduct which went live a few days ago.  There is information about how to report an incident, what to do if you have been assaulted, and how to help a friend.  The administration learned through student leaders that it was important to have information about how to help a friend who had been assaulted.  There is a link to the policy and clarification about confidential resources and help with accessing any Rochester area resources available.

Joel Seligman expressed gratitude to the students who were involved in the It’s On Us campaign and those who have helped with bystander intervention.  The bottom line is that even a single case of sexual abuse or misconduct is one case too many.  He said he was interested in hearing thoughts about how we can get to having no cases on campus.  He said he wanted to listen.

Morgan Levy added that there were index cards available if people would prefer to ask questions confidentially.  She then opened the floor to questions.

One student said that the University should hold people responsible consistently under rules that were clarified to help students.  She recounted facts of a particular case involving her friend who was the victim of sexual abuse two years ago.  She said her friend was frustrated by the conflict between the 2013 and 2015 policies of sexual misconduct when the abuser’s case was reconsidered on appeal, which caused his sanctions to be reduced.

Joel Seligman said we want to do everything we can to have an appropriate process and appropriate sanctions.  Having the right rules and the right process is something we are deeply committed to.  He added that we cannot talk about specific cases but that he would be happy to talk with the student in private about the circumstances of the case to which she was referring.

Another student thanked the administration for holding this town hall.  He said he is aware that the University is under investigation for a case that happened last year.  He was informed by some articles that are a little spotty on facts but his perception is that the case involved misconduct by a Public Safety officer.  His understanding is that a woman was very upset after experiencing sexual misconduct and was “sat on” for up to an hour by Public Safety officers.  This is based on what he read in the Huffington Post.  It brings up an important question about the kind of training the Public Safety officers have with regard to this issue.  He appreciated Mark Fischer being present for this forum.

Joel Seligman said that with respect to the complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education (OCR) and of which there is an ongoing investigation, the OCR will investigate every complaint they have receive and they are currently investigating 180.  The University has committed to fully cooperate and provide information on a timely basis.  As a matter of investigatory approach, OCR looks at the immediate issues in the complaint and also examines cases during the three-year period preceding the complaint.  A significant number of universities are being subject to similar investigations.  We hope the outcomes will be determined by the facts; this is a process that is as frustrating to the students as it is to the administration.  We will cooperate fully and respond to whatever is asked, in a timely manner.  With respect to the particular case, Joel Seligman did not want to comment on the specifics of any case, but did say that sometimes when a student is having difficulties that require transport to health facilities, there are things that are done which may seem very tough, but are to protect that individual’s interests and the safety of others.  We have a small number of cases on campus and a smaller number off campus where the medical staff is involved and we do our best not to cause any injury.  As for training given to Public Safety officers, Mark Fischer should comment.

Mark Fischer said that our officers receive several hours of basic training in a basic academy.  Peace Officers go through additional training.  Uniform officers have a multi-disciplinary approach, working with the Office of Counsel and the Dean’s office.  Several senior investigators have extensive experience working with local or state police.  The department trained nine female officers who stay in the ranks, working all three shifts.  They understand how to deal with a victim, secure evidence, and hold the scene until investigators arrive on the case.  There is a lot of training with rank and file officers, more with the peace officers and yet more with senior investigators.

A senior student living off campus asked a procedural question.  She goes to parties on and off campus and is not always clear where the realm of our own Public Safety office and the Rochester Police Department is.  She is unclear who the proper authorities to contact would be in a difficult circumstance.  For example, if she were assaulted off campus and then came back to Susan B. Anthony, whom should she contact? 

Morgan Levy said the University is always a good place to start – we have resources to help regardless of whether a student decides to file a formal complaint.  The University’s aim is to make sure the student is okay and connected to supportive resources.  Students can come to Morgan Levy herself, Deputy Title IX Coordinators, go through the CARE Network, or approach many others.  These resources can help connect the students with law enforcement if they decide to file a criminal report.  If a student has an interaction with another student and a student’s education is affected, we have the jurisdiction to investigate the case.  Cases are not related to geography in this regard.  Mark Fischer added that if students call Public Safety, they will always be directed to the appropriate place.  If a student wishes to work with the University or law enforcement, Public Safety can make the connection and get the appropriate services to the students as soon as possible.  A Public Safety officer will not leave a student’s side throughout the whole process so that is probably the best way to start, but students always have the option of calling 911.

As a follow-up question, the student asked about differences between the way that the Rochester Police Department and Public Safety would follow up. 

Mark Fischer said that the Rochester Police Department’s interest is whether you want to file a criminal complaint and then their protocol would be to take a statement.  But you don’t have to proceed criminally; the University can address the misconduct through its own complaint process and sanction the appropriate person within the University system.  It is the student’s decision whether and where to pursue a complaint.

Joel Seligman said there are different aspects of proceeding criminally as opposed to proceeding through the University system.  The big point is that it is always the choice of the individual who has experienced abuse.

Morgan Levy said that one important point is you can always do both.  You can proceed criminally and have the University involved.  If you make a complaint at the University, it is a complaint that a student has violated our sexual misconduct policy.  A complaint will be submitted to Kyle Orton’s (Director, Center for Student Conflict Management) office.  Kyle Orton explained that there is a panel of three administrators who can ask questions of the complainant and respondent and any witnesses and decide whether the policy was violated.  This takes about 60 days or can be less.  At the police department, the process takes longer and the consequences are different. 

Joel Seligman said it is worth highlighting the difference of the experience in the criminal system versus the University system. 

Gail Norris, Vice President and General Counsel, said the criminal proceeding is similar to what you see on TV – an individual is prosecuted with criminal consequences and the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  The legal standard of proof for our hearing boards is “preponderance of the evidence” (which means more than 50/50).  Usually the facts involved with a misconduct or assault case are such that it is hard to find enough proof to get to the criminal (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) standard, and this often drives the decision of law enforcement in proceeding.  But that doesn’t mean to suggest that the police should not investigate if that is what a student who experienced a sexual assault wants.

Joel Seligman emphasized that criminal proceedings proceed a lot slower.  His students in domestic violence clinics at law schools emphasized that the person who experienced sexual assault will be subjected to cross examination.  Through the University system, students will not be subject to the same kind of cross examination.

A former student asked who the three administrators are who sit on the board and asked what kind of training they receive.

Kyle Orton said that the hearing board is made of over 15 administrators from across campus, from Athletics to Academic Advising to the Interfaith Chapel.  The goal of recruitment is identifying administrators who (a) are interested in what this job takes – i.e., hearing difficult things, making difficult decisions, assessing facts and making a recommendation; and (b) come recommended as invested in students’ lives.  He then meets with these individuals.  They try to keep the board consistent and will take no more than a few new people each year.  Involved administrators receive annual training on how the process works, the misconduct policy, and have check-ins throughout the year so they can stay fresh with sanctioning ideas and what is appropriate under the policy.

A student asked how administrators are assigned to cases.  Kyle Orton said that they sign up for dates ahead of time, and the dates occur every other Tuesday.  Names of students are sent out ahead of time and the hearing board members will not serve if they have conflicts (alternates are always ready to serve in those instances).

In looking at how to prevent rapes on campus, a student said she has heard about programs such as “sober brothers” providing walks home for students after parties.  Could there be something in place (even a student organization) that was a non-judgmental way to help get people home?

Morgan Levy said we have an alcohol amnesty policy related to sexual misconduct.  A person who comes forward as a complainant in a sexual misconduct situation will not be penalized for underage drinking and it has been our practice as long as she has been here.  Mark Fischer said the Rochester Police Department has little interest in enforcing underage drinking laws.  There is no way that someone under 21 reporting an attack will be charged. 

Another student said that she was refused rides by Public Safety officers to her off-campus housing. 

Joel Seligman said we are trying to get to the safest possible campus and we need to think these issues through.

One student who is a senior said she had a friend who was sexually assaulted when she was sober and didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want to ruin the attacker’s life.  Is there a way to handle cases like that where she just wanted acknowledgment, but not prosecution and penalty?

Morgan Levy said she often hears something similar from survivors.  There is a lot of guilt that can come with being a survivor of a sexual assault and the feeling that the attacker is not a bad person, just someone who did a bad thing.  She emphasizes to students that it is important for people to take responsibility for their actions.  If someone reports an incidence of sexual misconduct to the University and requests our help in resolving the complaint, it does need to go through the formal investigative and adjudication process.  It is important for us to hear that this concern about the potential consequences for the accused student is a barrier to coming forward.  She added that OCR has prescribed that colleges and universities cannot mediate cases of sexual violence or sexual assault so we are unable to merely bring students in and ask them to admit what they did was bad and apologize – we have to go through our formal sexual misconduct process.  There are other resources, such as the counseling center that students can utilize if they want help but don’t want to make a formal report.  Students can also do proxy reports as a way of telling the University that something bad happened in as much detail as possible without using their own name; these reports are submitted to Morgan Levy’s office.  They can be used to track patterns, for example, if an attacker is named in more than one report – this provides more information for follow-up.

A student wanted to add another resource.  She said that a family court judge can give an order of protection and they have added a clause of jurisdictions in intimate family relationships, including sexual assault and sexual violence.  She spoke to a judge who encouraged her to bring this back to the school.  Joel Seligman agreed to ensure that the University looked into this.

Morgan Levy directed the student to the pamphlet about sexual misconduct which states that her office can help students obtain an order of protection through the family court or criminal system.

Joel Seligman said that people might not be as aware of their rights as they might be, and we might want to think through how to communicate what options exist.  Morgan Levy emphasized that we would welcome ideas about how better to disseminate information.

A student asked about the sexual misconduct blackboard course.  There was a focus on the victim and how individuals can avoid being assaulted.  Are there intentions of changing that course so we can protect victims and change the culture that enables victims?  Maybe we can change the culture as to what makes people a victim. 

Morgan Levy said she appreciates any feedback on this course.  The last question for the course was “what can we do to make this course better?” and that has helped a great deal.  Please keep offering feedback.  Several of those topics are prescribed by NY state law, so we are required to include some of that information.  She agreed that it is important to think about assault in terms of avoiding assaulting people, not avoiding being assaulted.

A student stated that in case anyone in the room was not aware, today (Friday, November 20) is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  He hopes the University can continue to make the campus safer for trans students – making restrooms gender neutral is great.  He wants to make more spaces inclusive to trans students.  Joel Seligman agreed.

Another student said that with respect to Public Safety, she doesn’t understand how it would be justifiable for someone to sit on a student in any situation and asked for thoughts.  She understands the case is under investigation, but as a student she would not feel comfortable going to Public Safety after what she has heard.

Joel Seligman said without focusing on the specific incidents, there are some specific cases where for the good of people around, that kind of restraint may be necessary.  It is not commonly done, but he encouraged her not to hesitate to reach out to Public Safety for any need. 

Gail Norris commented that students have rights, and referred to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  University officials are not allowed to talk about cases where the student hasn’t waived FERPA rights.  This is one of those cases.  It is frustrating, but we are respecting the privacy rights of the student who was involved in that incident.  It is being investigated and we are cooperating with OCR.  To the extent students feel that it isn’t being addressed, understand that if there were issues it will come out in the investigation. 

A senior student said she was an RA for two years.  She saw a lot of positive changes.  She noticed especially last year freshmen received the same message in different ways.  The messages were focused on one-time sexual abuse and party-related abuse.  As a suggestion, she would like to incorporate more training about sexual abuse in the relationship setting.

A student said he had to report someone last year for sexual harassment.  He used up his 10 sessions with UCC and was not able to get more.  He thought the system was set up to connect students with resources.  He saw that but he didn’t feel as though anyone was following up with him.  It has been months and he has not been able to find a therapist.  He has gotten the sense that UCC counselors and the administration are only interested in giving out names and not doing anything else to make sure he gets the appropriate help.  He said students here would appreciate a warmer and more engaging response, particularly in the case when the student is international.  Joel Seligman asked the student to email him and/or Morgan Levy and we can figure out what to do offline – he gave out his email address,

Joellen Popma, Director of the University Counseling Center, was present and said students should come back if those three names do not work out.  If you feel as though you have not been given what you want, talk to her directly.  She will assist students who have concerns about referrals.  UCC has several case managers who specifically help with community referrals and follow up with students who need help.  Those case managers guide students in making calls if needed while in the office.  Other UCC counselors will also help as needed.  UCC provides groups, Therapist Assisted On-line (TAO), walk-in triage appointments during daytime business hours and crisis services after hours. 

A student said that students generally are not familiar with all the resources.  She asked if administrators could come into organizations (such as the Greek organizations) to talk about resources and possibilities. 

Morgan Levy said that is great feedback.  In addition to this conversation, there is a plan for holding smaller conversations in different settings.  Dawn Bruner, Director of Parent & Family Relations and Deputy Title IX Coordinator for AS&E is working on spreading this information more effectively.

A student said she had a friend who was assaulted a couple of years ago.  She wanted to get through it as normally as possible.  Her information was spread through her RA and others.  She said that it is important for students to know that confidentiality will be preserved.

Morgan Levy said she wanted to follow up with that student.  If an RA is the first person to hear about that incident, her office has advised that the RA should not ask too many questions but refer the student to another person better suited to helping with that issue.  We try to keep it so that as few people as possible get information so as not a lot of people know intimate details about the experience.  Once someone does make a report, the information is contained among only the individuals who need to know, e.g., a Public Safety officer.

A student who used to be an RA asked if an RA hears something like this, is he/she required to report and is there a way to minimize the amount of people who know?

Morgan Levy said she has worked with Residential Life to ensure that RAs report the incidents and receive support.

Joel Seligman said we want to respect people’s privacy as much as possible.  We are dealing with intense emotions which are understandable.  As hard as we try, the reason for this meeting is to make the process overall as supportive and effective as it can be.

A student commented as a member of SEGway and said that if anyone here wants to be part of the discussion, that group is working to get more out into the community.  If anyone is interested in helping get these resources to a broader community, contact SEGway.

A Take 5 student said he thought that the notion of a student running out of therapy sessions after the initial 10 really bothers him.  He has never used any and it is bothersome that others run out.  He feels he should be able to donate the unused sessions to a pool so students who need the services have access.

Joel Seligman said that is a very interesting thought.  It is complicated by the rules of insurance companies and available resources.  But it is troubling that a student who needs help would run out of sessions without a clear way to get additional help.

A student said it would be great if other resources could be presented to organizations other than Greek organizations.

Joel Seligman agreed and said sexual violence knows no age or class or group boundaries.  Justice is on a person by person basis.

A student asked what part of the training tells Public Safety officers that they can sit on a student.

Mark Fischer said Public Safety does not teach that.  Sometimes in a physical confrontation the officers need to resort to something that has not been taught.  They are often engaged in patient restraints in the hospital so they have become quite expert at dealing with this.  In this organization, training dictates negotiating and talking as much as possible and going with the least amount of force possible.  He is very constrained in terms of talking about the facts of that case.  He said he is very proud of the men and women in the department; they act according to their training virtually every time.  There is a vigorous internal affairs process, and students are able to file a complaint against an officer.  Any time there is an allegation it is always investigated.  The process is the same as a criminal investigation.  If the officer is in the wrong, he or she is sanctioned.  The sanction can run from a letter of sanction up to termination.

A student said one large population on campus is Chinese students.  Are there any efforts to engage students for whom English is not their primary language to connect them with the right resources?

Morgan Levy said that is a fantastic point.  Students have been engaged in translating our sexual misconduct policy into other languages, and we need to more fully develop that.

Seeing no additional questions, Joel Seligman thanked the group for coming to the forum to help us improve and be as effective as possible.

If others have additional questions, they are welcome to follow up with Joel Seligman or Morgan Levy.  There were some specific suggestions.  On the website, we will explain how we intend to follow up on them.  Our goal is creating as safe a campus as we can achieve.  He is appreciative that we have made some progress, and he is cognizant that it is not perfect.  He wants the University to make this as fair and effective as we possibly can.

Joel Seligman said that if anyone wanted to talk further, he would be available after the forum.