Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing
Sep 24, 2012
By Chealsia Smedley
An updated policy on sexual misconduct was submitted this summer by Laura Myers, executive director of the Office for Institutional Equity and signed by Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis on Aug. 3.
The policy, which became effective Sept. 3, defines Ohio University's expectations for conduct and outlines procedures for addressing sex-based discrimination in the form of harassment, non-consensual sexual contact or intercourse, exploitation and retaliation.
The revision process began at Ohio University after the April 4, 2011, publication of a "Dear Colleague Letter" by the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In the publication, OCR identified areas of concern in its enforcement of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal finance assistance, such as Ohio University. Under Title IX, colleges and universities are expected to stop, remediate and prevent recurrence of sexual misconduct, which can be a form of sex-based discrimination.
Since April, Institutional Equity has worked with other offices including Legal Affairs, University Human Resources, and the Ohio University Police Department to complete a review and revision of policies, processes and procedures to ensure compliance with the law and OCR's newly announced guidelines for enforcement.
"We decided, taking a look at the policy, that it should be updated to expand definitions, to clarify roles, responsibilities, and duties, such as the duty to report, to make sure that we really are making the environment as safe as we can," said Myers, whose duties also include serving as Ohio University's Title IX coordinator, a position that all educational institutions are mandated to have.
The new policy covers a multitude of situations. The drafters of the policy took into account how communication technology has changed the way students, faculty, staff and the community interact.
"Technology brings many opportunities for students to connect with their worlds in positive ways," Myers said. "Unfortunately, in some situations, the ease of connection and dissemination of information can be used in ways that are devastatingly harmful."
Sexual exploitation and "cyberstalking" are examples of conduct that could violate the revised policy.
"We wanted to make sure that we had a process where anyone could pick up the policy and kind of understand, 'what do I do?'" said Myers.
Institutional Equity continues to work closely with the Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility in the implementation of the revised policy. Both offices respond to sexual misconduct complaints.
Traditionally, Community Standards dealt primarily with peer–to-peer conflict, and Institutional Equity dealt with faculty-student situations. Under the new enforcement guidance, Institutional Equity, as the office of the Title IX coordinator, must play an oversight role in the investigation of and processing of all complaints of sex-based discrimination and harassment.
"We work much more closely with community standards," said Myers. "That relationship is the place where we have made the most improvement in our institutional response. We continually try to improve how we collaborate with other offices."
As an effect of the new policy, the two offices now share information more freely and work together to ensure that people who were harmed receive thorough help in dealing with both the sanctioning process and the aftermath. For example, Institutional Equity works to fill in the cracks that a conduct office may not be able to cover, by facilitating discussions about possible medical withdrawals, housing changes or financial aid, and conducting a comprehensive investigation.
"I think it puts us on a level playing field for faculty, staff, and students alike, and it really gets us up to snuff with what the letter has asked us to do," said Assistant Director of Community Standards Ardy Gonyer.
Institutional Equity also collaborates with Residential Housing, Dean of Students and the Survivor Advocacy Program to ensure the provision of the best resources for responding to sexual harassment, assault and misconduct.
"All of these offices have been providing quality services to individuals affected by sexual misconduct," said Myers. "That isn't what needed to change. What needed to change was that we work in a more streamlined fashion to ensure remediation of problems and prevention of future problems."
"Higher education is kind of magical to me," said Myers. "There really is a promise of transforming yourself during your college experience. That is why this work is so important because everybody should have the right to participate in the magic that we can create here. I don't want someone else's violence to prevent you from pursuing the dream that you have to learn, live or work here at Ohio University."