Tulane to implement policies to strike down sexual misconduct

Robert Marchini, Staff Reporter

In the wake of a sexual misconduct epidemic in the last year across college campuses and new federal legislation, Tulane reviewed and updated its Title IX policies and procedures.

Significant changes include the notification of the victim of any consequences the perpetrator receives after an investigation and a hearing and more detailed definitions of sexual misconduct that include rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence. 

Additionally, Undergraduate Student Government will begin to take part in a new White House campaign to stop sexual assault on college campuses called the “It’s on Us” campaign. Their efforts will aid the administrations’ work to stop sexual violence on Tulane’s campus. 

Many of the new changes are the result of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which passed as part of the 2013 reauthorization of the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Title IX requires institutions receiving any federal money — including federal grants and loans to students — to comply with equal opportunity legislation. The SaVE Act clarifies schools’ requirements to address sexual misconduct. Institutions have to comply with Title IX changes, according to the SaVE Act, by Oct. 1.

Tulane regularly reviews its Title IX policies and procedures. Deborah Love, the vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity, said that Tulane constantly works to strengthen its current procedures and that the university’s President and Provost are providing guidance regarding Title IX and equal opportunity.

“Tulane, like many institutions, is looking to improve our policies and procedures,” Love said. “With respect to equal opportunity and anti-discrimination, our polices are strong.”

As part of these changes, Tulane has clarified what conditions legally require investigation of suspected sexual misconduct allegations, including, for instance, that if staff members hear about sexual misconduct between students, they are required to report it to the university, which has an obligation to investigate it even if the student did not report the incident. 

The Campus SaVE Act requires the university to issue a “campus climate” survey to assess how safe students feel on campus. Julia Broussard, coordinator of the office of violence prevention and support services, said the university was planned on issuing a similar survey even before the requirement.

The law now requires that both the victim and the alleged perpetrator are notified of the outcome. Previously, universities were not required to tell the victim what consequences had been given to the perpetrator.

Both victims and perpetrators are allowed an advisor for their conduct hearing. Previously, their advisor could not be an attorney or a witness to the case. The updated legislation that anyone, including attorneys, can serve as an adviser. Witnesses are still prevented from serving as advisors because of a conflict of interest with the case.

Director of Student Conduct Abigail Gaunt said Title IX policies are to ensure fair treatment for all students.

“The principle mandate is that both sides have to be treated equitably,” Gaunt said.

Government agencies such as the White House Task Force make recommendations on the best policies institutions can implement, and Tulane is following those recommendations.

One requirement of the Campus SaVE Act is to educate the campus on what constitutes unacceptable behavior and encourage students to prevent sexual misconduct among their peers.

“The Code of Conduct was revised this year to incorporate changes required by the Campus SaVE Act,” Gaunt said.

Love said these definitions clearly articulate what behaviors are unacceptable.

“If Tulane won’t tolerate, for instance, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating and domestic violence, we want the community to know those definitions and the conduct we consider to be a violation of Tulane’s policies,” Love said.

Enforcement is complicated by the severe underreporting of sexual misconduct. Gaunt said, however, that she believes Tulane students, faculty, and staff report sexual misconduct at a higher rate than do peer institutions.

“There seems to be a culture of reporting overall, not just limited to sexual misconduct but also around mental health and substance abuse,” Gaunt said. 

Reporting opens up certain resources to students, and the act requires a clear statement of what resources are available to victims of sexual violence. Tulane now publishes a guide for sexual misconduct survivors, available through the Office of Student Affairs. Broussard said that Tulane provides resources tailored to each student’s needs.

“Even if a student isn’t interested in going through the formal process, they can get help,” Broussard said.

The formal process includes filing a report followed by an investigation and a conduct hearing. Students can file formal reports through the Office of Student Affairs or Tulane University Police Department.

Informal processes emphasize counseling for victims. Counseling and Psychological Services, the Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education, and SAPHE, a student organization that operates a 24-hour confidential hotline, provide such services.

Beyond the regulatory changes, Tulane is focusing on community involvement to prevent sexual misconduct. Love said that Tulane is implementing several programs to accommodate this.

“We’re all working together to do everything possible to ensure we have a safe community,” Love said.

The programs include a bystander program, training for incoming freshmen on consent, sexual misconduct and alcohol, student groups, and support awareness events. Love emphasized the Provost’s request for community input regarding these programs. The Sexual Violence Prevention and Intervention Committee, which was formalized this summer, will coordinate these activities.

“[The committee] brings together all the different efforts that were happening around campus,” Gaunt said. 

The White House introduced a campaign called “It’s On Us” on Friday that encourages college students to recognize sexual misconduct and to step in to halt it. It also aims to provide support to victims. It features celebrities like “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm and partner organizations such as the NCAA, the American Association of University Women, and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. 

Tulane’s Undergraduate Student Government is tasked with implementing the national campaign on campus. USG President Morgan Wittenberg said that USG will launch its efforts at next week’s Senate meeting with a social media campaign, and plans to create ways for students to interact with the initiative. She said the campaign easily fits in Tulane’s culture of leadership and public service.

“Some of the founding and most sacred principles and standards of this university center around the ideas of responsibility and community,” Wittenberg said. “It’s all about building a supportive and educated community. It’s a service we owe to ourselves and to our peers.”