IU adopts comprehensive, sexual misconduct policy
Indiana University has adopted a comprehensive policy on sexual misconduct that describes the university's prohibition of all forms of sexual harassment and sex- and gender-based discrimination — including rape and sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, sexual exploitation and stalking.
The policy also serves to provide information on how to report allegations of sexual misconduct; information on resources and assistance; and the university's procedures for addressing reports, in one central policy document. It also updates those longtime practices and procedures, such as the adjudication proceedings for sexual misconduct under the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct.
The policy, effective March 1, results from a more than six-month project and reflects input and analysis from multiple constituencies. It incorporates legal compliance requirements into the university's processes with the ultimate goal of creating a safe and supportive environment for students, faculty and staff.
“Indiana University is thoroughly committed to the safety and well-being of all members of the university community,” said IU President Michael A. McRobbie. “This policy makes clear that we take sexual misconduct very seriously and that we will respond promptly and appropriately when misconduct is reported. The staff and faculty who worked long and hard to create the policy deserve our thanks.”
The policy incorporates components from IU's former policy on sexual harassment, student and faculty conduct codes, human resource policies and other sources. Officials also reviewed comparable policies from other universities to get ideas for improving the document. A draft of the policy was made public last fall, and it was revised multiple times in response to feedback, a process that included collecting and tracking well over 150 comments.
Emily Springston, chief student welfare and Title IX officer, and Jenny Kincaid, chief policy officer with the Office of the Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs, worked with faculty, staff and university officials to develop and refine the policy, incorporating suggestions from town-hall meetings at all seven IU-administered campuses.
“We recognized that although we had existing policies and procedures, there was a need for an overarching policy to better speak to and inform our entire community about our response to sexual misconduct,” Springston said. “In addition to providing clarity for students, faculty and staff, the policy demonstrates our commitment to complying with all federal and state laws and guidelines on sexual misconduct, and most importantly, it ensures that we are collectively responding to reports in an prompt and effective manner.”
The University Faculty Council, the academic governing body for all Indiana University campuses, unanimously adopted the policy last week. It also approved a resolution that expressed serious concern with whether the “preponderance of the evidence” standard mandated by the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education will adequately protect due-process rights of individuals accused of sexual misconduct. The resolution called upon the administration to monitor any changes in the law and to update the council on the policy within one year. Executive Vice President John Applegate confirmed that the university administration will continue to monitor legal and other developments and continue to work closely with faculty and other key stakeholders.
In the months leading up to the faculty council vote, a six-member faculty committee -- with two members from IU Bloomington, two from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and two representing regional campuses -- worked extensively on the policy.
“The process was really a good one,” said Jim Sherman, co-secretary of the University Faculty Council and Chancellor's Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU Bloomington. “The committee met multiple times, we had many questions and lots of suggestions, and Jenny and Emily did an incredibly good job of incorporating them into the policy document.”
As the policy was developed, IU expanded efforts to raise awareness of and deter sexual misconduct. It launched a Student Welfare Initiative in August 2014 to coordinate responses to sexual misconduct. It created a “Stop Sexual Violence” website to inform the university community about where to go for help and resources. A poster campaign was designed to engage students when they arrived on campus last fall.
The sexual misconduct policy covers conduct affecting IU students and personnel whether it occurs on or off campus. It includes definitions of various forms of sexual misconduct, along with a detailed definition of consent, which must be “expressed through affirmative, voluntary words or actions mutually understandable to all parties involved.”
IU Bloomington student Rachel Green, senior advisor to the student-led Culture of Care initiative, said the definition of consent is arguably the most important element of the policy from a student perspective.
“It's so important that IU states that consent is expressed in an affirmative and voluntary manner — with emphasis on the ‘affirmative,'” Green said. “I also think it's important that IU is addressing prevention education programming. That's vital for all universities moving forward."
The policy explains where people may go to get help, including confidential counseling, if they experience sexual misconduct. It also details both the interim measures that may be available and the procedures the university follows to investigate incidents while respecting the rights of all parties.
Also included are sections on the role of responsible employees, such as faculty, instructors, advisors and others, who are required to report incidents of sexual misconduct, and the importance of the IU Police Department and other law enforcement agencies for addressing potential crimes.
The policy includes summaries of rights for those who have experienced sexual misconduct as well as those who may be accused of sexual misconduct. It emphasizes the university's responsibility to provide education, training and prevention programs and includes a section clarifying that the policy should not be used to discourage intellectual inquiry and debate, which are “vital to the university's academic mission.”