Interim campuswide policy on sexual misconduct now in effect

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Photo of a WMU sign.

The campus community is encouraged to comment on the interim policy.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—After months of analysis and measuring federal guidelines against current campus practices, Western Michigan University has implemented a new interim policy designed to ensure a seamless reporting and support experience for members of the campus community who believe they've been the victims of sexual misconduct.

The WMU Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, and Stalking Interim Policy and Procedures were formally implemented Jan. 13 and will remain in effect until a final version of the policy is in place for fall 2015. The policy will be finalized following a period of feedback from WMU students, faculty and staff. An anonymous external feedback site has been set up to gather such input.

About the interim policy

The proactive WMU work on the policy predated the intense national media attention on campus sexual assault, which has included federal investigations at 85 colleges and universities, including three in Michigan, and a high-profile case at the University of Virginia. The federal investigations are looking at violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

"While we wanted to make sure we are in compliance with recent federal guidelines, an even more important reason to launch the process was our commitment to having a campus that is a safe and welcoming environment," WMU President John M. Dunn said in a campus message introducing the new policy and procedures. "We started this analysis because we wanted to make sure we did not have procedures in place that discouraged any campus community member from reporting misconduct. It was simply the right thing to do."

A new website—wmich.edu/sexualmisconduct—outlines the policy and procedures and offers a link to download the complete 35-page policy document. A second critical document for members of the campus community also is on that website and outlines campus and community resources for complainants who need to know the public safety, medical and counseling services ready to assist them. That four-page document concisely groups resources by level of confidentiality.

The new policy streamlines and consolidates the reporting and investigation structure into the Office of Institutional Equity under the direction of the University's Title IX coordinator. As is the case with all other alleged violations of WMU policy, the University's investigation can operate independent of any criminal charges and investigation by civil authorities. The new policy reaffirms the campus stance of always urging a complainant in a sexual violence case to report that violence to law enforcement officials. The policy also outlines the rights and responsibilities of respondents.

Other major features of the new policy and procedures are a list of carefully defined terms central to the issues of sexual misconduct. They include consent, force, coercion and incapacitation.

And finally, the new policy tackles the issue of confidentiality and employee responsibility to report wrongdoing. The latter part of the policy carefully lays out the relatively small group of employees who can offer confidentiality, with the vast majority of employees falling into the "responsible employee" category of people who must report wrongdoing. Previous University policies governing harm to minors and "duty to report" have been factored into the new policy. Earlier policies on such topics as sexual assault and harassment are no longer in effect, and members of the campus community will be asked to comb through print and electronic materials in the coming weeks to remove old policies and provide, instead, a link to the new policy and procedures.

"The revised policy provides a single, integrated umbrella policy for our campus to address such issues," says Evelyn Winfield, WMU's Title IX coordinator. "We're going to need the support of the whole community as we transition to this new policy. We want everyone to understand and embrace the change." 

Feedback sought

The policy was developed by representatives from WMU's Division of Student Affairs, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Institutional Equity. They were assisted by Pepper Hamilton, a national law firm with a specialty practice in Title IX issues.

Comments on the policy and procedures can be offered anonymously at surveymonkey.com/s/WesternMich_TitleIX. The site is for comments only on the new policy and procedures.

For more news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.