Editorial: Questions about student conduct process need answers

By The Beacon | December 8, 2016 12:39pm

Asking for answers from Waldschmidt Hall: The Beacon Editorial Board feels students have a right to information about the student conduct process.

Media Credit: Sam Keeler / The Beacon

The campus-wide conversation on sexual assault reignited last week when University of Portland freshman Clara Ell sent out an email about her experience going through the University’s student conduct process in which her alleged perpetrator was found “not responsible.” Ell appealed the decision, but it was upheld. She told The Beacon she believes the University's student conduct process has failed her.

This conversation is laced with questions that aren’t being answered.

In the interest of safety and respect for every member of the University community, The Beacon is calling for increased transparency about the student conduct process in situations involving reports of sexual violence. Students deserve answers to the following questions:

  • At what point is a student intoxicated to the point that they cannot consent to sex? What are the specific criteria for determining whether or not someone was able to consent?
  • How are the members of the student conduct board selected? How are they trained, and by whom?
  • What sort of professional training in the intricacies of sexual assault cases and victim trauma does the Vice President for Student Affairs receive to inform his decisions when a case is appealed?
  • Life on the Bluff says “Questions, statements or information about past sexual activity between the reporting party and the responding party may only be discussed if relevant to the issue of consent.” Why are past relationships ever considered relevant to consent? How is this  information used?
  • How many cases of alleged sexual violence are in or have gone through the student conduct process this year? How many were ruled in favor of the reporting party? How many ruled in favor of the respondent?
  • How is the student conduct process of appeals handled?
  • What kind of training do public safety officers go through to respond to people who report sexual violence? Are they trained to respond to victims in crisis and how often do they have to update their training?
  • Are students who report being sexually assaulted adequately advised of their reporting options and given clear information about the student conduct process as compared to reporting to police?

This list includes questions that The Beacon has specifically asked University of Portland Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. John Donato C.S.C., and he has declined to answer under the inappropriate context of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

It is obviously inappropriate for the University of Portland to disclose information that is protected by FERPA, including individual identities and case details. However, FERPA in no way prevents University administration from releasing general information and statistics about the way sexual assault allegations are handled by the student conduct process. It is absolutely necessary that this general information be accessible to all students, faculty and University community members.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that at least 20 percent of women will be sexually assaulted during their undergraduate years. In 2015, 2,176 women were enrolled at the University of Portland according to institutional research. This suggests that, come graduation, it is likely that roughly 435 of them will have fallen victim to sexual violence. Men are significantly less likely to fall victim to sexual assault, but are not immune to it. Approximately six percent of undergraduate men will be sexually assaulted during their undergraduate years.

It is for these students that the standards of the student conduct process need to be made clear.

Understanding the reality of sexual violence on campus means taking a moment to acknowledge the rape culture that is unintentionally being fostered.

Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) defines rape culture as “the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence.” Here on The Bluff, rape culture is further perpetuated by the inclusion of past dating and sexual history between reporter and accused in sexual violence allegations, the lack of an affirmative consent policy and the lack of a full time Title IX Coordinator. The Beacon editorial board has previously called for both an affirmative consent policy and the hire of a full-time Title IX Coordinator.

Additionally, The Beacon calls on UP’s Department of Public Safety to follow federal law in documenting crimes reported and include that information online in the Daily Fire and Crime Log as required by the Clery Act.

For the past two years, the University’s Department of Public Safety Crime and Fire Report has reported only three sexual assaults in each year. In The Beacon’s coverage of the Clara Ell case, it was discovered that this incident was investigated by Public Safety in early October but it was not listed in the Daily Fire and Crime Log until last week after The Beacon published the Clara Ell story. The law says crimes must be recorded within two days of being reported.

When a student chooses to report sexual assault to the University instead of or in addition to the police, and chooses to seek justice through the student conduct process, they deserve to know that their case is being handled in a fair manner that is consistent with publicly-known, reasonable standards.

The decisions that the student conduct process is entrusted with making are often ones that change lives drastically. We are invested in this process because it is an important one. People are not guilty until they are proven to be, but both reporters and respondents should know what to expect when entering into the conduct process.

The Beacon would like to commend President Fr. Mark Poorman for his appointment of the Ad Hoc Committee for Title IX procedure review, which he announced almost a month before the initial email was sent by Ell and her story broke. We hope that the University will respond to this campus initiative and dig deeper to increase the safety, equality and respect for all students.

Colleges and universities across the U.S. are also struggling to figure out the most equitable way to adjudicate allegations of sexual violence. It is from this initiative for fairness and transparency that the University of Portland has the opportunity to take action and become an example for other universities.

On-campus resources for victims of sexual violence:

File a Title IX report

Campus and Community Resources (Confidential and non confidential)

Off-campus resources for victims of sexual violence:

Portland Police Bureau: 24-hour emergency: 911

24-hour non-emergency: 503.823.3333

“What Happens When I Report” to Portland Police?

Multnomah County District Attorneys Office- Information on “Sexual Assault Victims Advocates” program and medical exams (Note: Survivors may request a medical exam and “rape kit” after an assault even if they choose not to report the incident to Portland Police)

Portland Women’s Crisis Line: 503-235-5333

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE

“What is a rape kit?” (RAINN)