Sex assault policy may get stricter

University leaders are working to possibly reconfigure how the school punishes the crimes.

Parker Lemke

The University of Minnesota could soon have stricter policies regarding sexual assault.

The Minnesota Student Association is working with administrators to re-evaluate the University’s current sexual consent guidelines and examine whether the school should make its minimum sanctions against students disciplined for sexual assault more severe.

The planning comes at a time when addressing sexual assault on college campuses has received heightened attention nationally and at the state level.

“Universities across the country, including the ‘U,’ have been looking to make sure we have the appropriate policies in place,” said Katie Eichele, director of the University’s Aurora Center.

For MSA, changing the University’s approach to minimum sanctions is a top priority, the group’s president Joelle Stangler said. MSA expects to vote on a resolution to support updating the University’s sanctions policy on Tuesday.

Currently at the University, there’s a range of possible sanctions for violations of Title IX, which prohibits sexual harassment and assault in schools, Eichele said.

“The very minimum is a warning all the way up to expulsion,” she said, adding that the Aurora Center has been advocating for tougher sanctions since 2011.

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action investigates sexual assault claims and can charge accused students who are found in violation of the Student Conduct Code.

Though MSA hasn’t yet acquired complete data on the trends for how the University reprimands sexual assault, Stangler said, MSA has heard from victims who allege their perpetrators’ punishments have included receiving academic probation or having to write an essay.

She said the University should set suspension or expulsion as the minimum sanction.

“No one who has been found responsible in the University process should be allowed to be on campus,” Stangler said.

‘Yes means yes’

Last semester, MSA passed a resolution that created a task force to work with the University’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action to evaluate the implementation of an affirmative consent policy on campus.

The resolution followed the passage of California’s “Yes Means Yes” law, which mandates state colleges implement procedures requiring students to obtain an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”

Minnesota lawmakers and higher education leaders are currently drafting legislation to create a similar affirmative consent policy for colleges across the state.

With MSA still drafting its language while keeping an eye on possible action by state lawmakers, changes to University policies on affirmative consent could take time, said MSA Communications Director Drew Coveyou.

He said fall is likely the earliest that updated policies would be in place.

A victim shouldn’t have to say “no” in order stop a sexual assault, Coveyou said, and the policy would help ensure that.

“Maybe they don’t feel safe saying ‘no.’ Maybe they think they would be threatened, or maybe they’re too drunk,” he said.

The University currently describes consent as “informed, freely and actively given, and mutually understood” in its Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Policy.

Under affirmative consent, silence wouldn’t count as a go-ahead, a prior relationship wouldn’t automatically imply consent and individuals would have more control over revoking consent during specific sexual acts, Eichele said.

Limited communication is a major barrier to addressing the problem, said Jesse Mara, chair of MSA’s Sexual Assault Training Taskforce, adding that many people get uncomfortable talking about the topic.

“Sexually transmitted diseases, protection, sexual assault — any of those things are awkward conversations,” she said. “We’re adults, and they shouldn’t be.”

To address communication concerns, MSA has partnered with the University’s greek community on education and outreach campaigns, Mara said.

“It’s been a nice partnership to have,” Interfraternity Council President JD Braun said. “The ultimate goal is to be able to have an advocate in each chapter house, kind of like a health advocate.”

Braun said he supports MSA’s affirmative consent platform and that the group is trying to build a grassroots movement rather than force a policy.

MSA will use Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April to hold many educational seminars, Mara said, adding that it’s important to approach the issue in a gender-neutral way and not point fingers.

“This is not a woman’s problem,” she said. “This is a humanity problem.”