KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University has announced a new policy designed to make it easier for students and staff to report cases of sexual assault.
The WMU Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, and Stalking Interim Policy and Procedures were formally put in place on Jan. 13. The policy will be finalized for the beginning of the 2015 fall semester, after the university gets feedback from students, faculty and staff. An anonymous feedback site is now online to get input on the interim policy.
Under the new policy, all reports of sexual misconduct and investigations into those reports will be handled by the Office of Institutional Equity, which will be headed by the university’s Title IX coordinator. Previously, there was a different process for complaints involving students and complaints involving staff.
“We felt like moving to a model where we had one office oversee the entire policy made more sense,” said WMU Vice President of Student Affairs Diane Anderson.
Anderson said students previously brought complaints before a panel. Now they will only talk to one person in the Office of Institutional Equity, who will investigate and write a report determining if anything wrong happened.
Anderson said she believes the policy will be less intimidating for students, which may mean more students come forward with complaints.
“More people may choose to come forward that may in the past not have chosen to come forward,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t mean there’s more problematic behavior. It means that more people may feel comfortable coming forward than have in the past.”
Anderson said she’s not concerned about how WMU may look if the number of reports rises, saying it could actually signify something positive.
“I believe we’re doing the right thing for the right reasons,” she said. “I’m actually really pleased that we’re really putting this under a microscope and paying really close attention to it, so I’m not at all concerned. I feel very proud of the way we’re approaching it, and really confident that we are heading in the right direction.”
Investigations into violations of WMU policy will be separate from investigations conducted by police.
The policy and procedures also carefully define the terms consent, force, coercion and incapacitation as in regards to sexual assault.
The new policy also focuses on the issue of confidentiality and employee responsibility to report wrongdoing. Under the new procedures, there will be a 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, according to a WMU news release.
“We want to make sure that individuals who may have had this kind of experience know that we take it seriously and we have put a lot of time and attention to creating polices and practices that we think will encourage and support them,” said Anderson.
The university had been working on the policy before the federal investigation into violations of Title IX at 85 colleges and universities, including three in Michigan, a Tuesday release from the university said.