Unsilenced: A Petition for Sexual Misconduct Policy Reform at La Sierra University

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Unsilenced: A Petition for Sexual Misconduct Policy Reform at La Sierra University

We, the students, faculty, and staff of La Sierra University and the undersigned, present the following demands to President Randal Wisbey, the Board of Trustees, and Student Life administrators in an effort to rid our campus of sex discrimination, sexual misconduct, and intimate partner violence. We pledge to withhold donations to La Sierra University until these demands are met.

We commend the institution’s leadership for moving toward compliance with the Title IX Act of 1972. We recognize these efforts through the establishment of a Title IX office, publication of the La Sierra University Title IX Policy document, and sections added to the institution’s website.

However, we regret that La Sierra University did not implement these changes until 2015 -- four years after the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued clear guidance on Title IX compliance to all colleges and universities receiving federal funding. Furthermore, despite the physical presence of La Sierra’s new Title IX office, challenges remain. A hostile campus atmosphere for victims and reporting parties persists in the following ways:

  • The leadership of La Sierra University responds to sexual assault incidents by resorting to rape myths and stereotypes. This is evident in comments made to students when misconduct is reported, through the course of investigations and interviews, and in written and verbal explanations that attempt to justify unconscionably light penalties for sexual harassment and assault.
  • Failure, and even refusals, to investigate sexual harassment and violence when the university becomes aware of incidents.
  • Failure to respond to incidents promptly and effectively, and to resolve cases within the 60 calendar day time frame set forth by federal guidelines. Title IX permits only a slightly longer time frame for complicated cases such as those delayed by a simultaneous police investigation, in which the delay would typically not extend beyond three to ten days to collect evidence.
  • Failure to disclose to victims and complainants the details and existence of no-contact orders and sanctions imposed on perpetrators and harassers, thus preventing victims from documenting violations of no-contact orders.
  • Refusal to enforce stated penalties for violations of no-contact orders.
  • Significant breaches of confidentiality by administrators for disclosing the identity of victims to persons and students having no involvement or awareness of existing and ongoing Title IX cases.
  • Refusal to engage with students as conversation partners about sexuality and relationships, at the initiative of students according to their own needs and concerns. Engagement is a critical preventative measure against sex discrimination and sexual misconduct.
  • Refusal to publish and distribute an issue of the Criterion student newspaper dedicated entirely to sexuality, shutting down the Criterion for six months afterward.

We call on LSU’s administration to amend current practices when responding to incidents and to incorporate a preventative approach that emphasizes relationships that are healthy, safe, and honor consent. We will not allow a hostile campus environment that re-traumatizes victims and discourages future victims from coming forward to report misconduct.

The university must publish a report indicating when each demand was met and provide evidence for policy reforms as outlined in this petition and in accordance with all federal guidelines addressing sex discrimination and sexual misconduct on the La Sierra University website by December 30, 2016.

Demand One: The Title IX coordinator position must be increased from part time to full time, as mandated* by the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (2015).

Demand completion date: July 1, 2016.

Demand Two: Publish reports of Title IX activity on a quarterly basis.

Publish the following aggregate data on the La Sierra University Title IX website and publicize through campus email. All following data should be included in one cohesive report and updated at least once per quarter. The first report should be published by the first day of first year orientation for the class of 2020. The reports should include, but are not limited to:

  • How many cases were reported?
  • How many survivors were denied accommodations they requested?
  • How long cases remained open, on average?
  • How students found responsible were sanctioned?
  • Appeals and success/denial, changing of sanctions?

Demand completion date: ongoing, to be initiated immediately.

Demand Three: Reform the Title IX Investigative Team and Judicial Committee as indicated below.

The Title IX coordinator and one deputy Title IX coordinator will screen current and potential members of the Investigative Team and Judicial Committee for rape myth acceptance, implicit identity bias, and campus responsibilities and job duties creating a conflict of interest. Use the results of this screening in the selection process for members of the Investigative Team and Judicial Committee.

Provide annual training of members of the Investigative Team and Judicial Committee to a minimum of 20 hours and ensure ongoing competency as prescribed to universities by the Department of Education, Office for Civil Liberties:

“All persons involved in implementing a school’s grievance procedures (e.g., Title IX coordinators, others who receive complaints, investigators, and adjudicators) must have training or experience in handling sexual violence complaints, and in the operation of the school’s grievance procedures. The training should include information on working with and interviewing persons subjected to sexual violence; information on particular types of conduct that would constitute sexual violence, including same-sex sexual violence; the proper standard of review for sexual violence complaints (preponderance of the evidence); information on consent and the role drugs or alcohol can play in the ability to consent; the importance of accountability for individuals found to have committed sexual violence; the need for remedial actions for the perpetrator, complainant, and school community; how to determine credibility; how to evaluate evidence and weigh it in an impartial manner; how to conduct investigations; confidentiality; the effects of trauma, including neurobiological change; and cultural awareness training regarding how sexual violence may impact students differently depending on their cultural backgrounds.” (Office for Civil Rights, 2014, Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence, pg 47)

Replace the current Chair of the Judicial Committee, the Dean of Students, with a person whose official role at the University does not create a likelihood of a conflict of interest or implicit identity bias due to a close working relationship or mentorship of students on a regular basis.

Demand completion date: to be initiated immediately.

Demand Four: Develop, publish, and publicize a Survivor’s Bill of Rights to be provided to each survivor with a hard copy upon reporting.

The Bill of Rights should outline a survivor's rights at every step of the process and include a clearly published statement that notes that the institution cannot prevent survivors from sharing information about their conduct case under any circumstances.

Demand completion date: September 26, 2016.

Demand Five: Clarify, organize, and unify sex discrimination and sexual misconduct policies within the La Sierra University Student Handbook and the Faculty Handbook with the Title IX policy.

Use definitions that are comprehensive, clear, and consistent across all college literature and reduce jargon in these definitions. Identify all members and groups involved in Title IX investigations and decision-making, the nature and function of Title IX committees, and how members are chosen to serve as investigators or on committees.

Demand completion date: September 26, 2016

Demand Six: Develop and implement a research-based comprehensive sexual assault prevention strategy.

The strategy should include goals and outcomes, measure the impact and re-evaluate strategy yearly, work with campus leaders to maximize participation from students, and ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to creating this programming.

Demand completion date: ongoing, to be initiated immediately.

Demand Seven: Conduct bi-annual town hall meetings with students.

The President, Provost, Vice-President for Student Life, and Dean of Students will meet with the student body for bi-annual town hall meetings aiming to facilitate open, honest, and constructive dialogue. Members of the Board of Trustees are encouraged to attend.

A faculty member will serve as moderator and receive agenda items and topics to address from the student body in advance of the meeting. A second faculty member will serve as secretary and recorder of the meeting. Students in attendance will be permitted to advance the conversation and pose questions at the behest of the moderator. Minutes will be provided to administrators, board members, and students within one week after the meeting.

Demand completion date: ongoing, first meeting to be held by June 9, 2016.

*As some have pointed out, "mandated" by the Office of Civil Rights (2015) too strongly expresses what the "Dear Colleague" guidance letter urges universities to do. Universities receiving federal funding are "urged to" designate a full-time Title IX coordinator position "[to] minimize the risk of a conflict of interest and in many cases ensure sufficient time is available to perform all the role’s responsibilities. If a recipient designates one employee to coordinate the recipient’s compliance with Title IX and other related laws, it is critical that the employee has the qualifications, training, authority, and time to address all complaints throughout the institution, including those raising Title IX issues." ("Dear Colleague Letter on Title IX Coordinators," Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, April 24, 2015, page 3)

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