Missouri State University President Clif Smart announced on Sept. 26 that MSU will not be changing its current policy on sexual assault procedures on campus. This decision comes in the wake of a new interim guidance on sexual misconduct on college campuses under Title IX issued by the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 22.
The interim policy replaces the former campus guidance on sexual assault policy put in place by the Obama Administration, which was recently rescinded by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
"This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly," said DeVos in a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Education. "Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes."
On Oct. 2, Sen. Claire McCaskill released a letter she wrote to President Donald Trump which requested a meeting with him to discuss Devos’ decisions.
“I believe your administration shares the goal of ensuring that survivors are supported, but the recent decisions by Secretary DeVos and Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson to rescind the Department’s guidance on campus sexual violence is not only creating confusion for colleges and universities in the midst of their academic cycle but it also fails to fully protect students and offer the needed support for survivors,” McCaskill said.
The MSU administrative board unanimously decided to not change anything in the university’s sexual assault policy.
“Our current policy does align with the new policy. There are three major changes in the new policy, but it doesn’t mandate that you make the changes, it gives you more flexibility,” Smart said.
Smart discussed the changes to the new policy. The first deals with the standard in which the case is judged. The second change gives the option to mediate sexual assault cases, and the third gives a longer period of time to resolve complaints.
“Our thinking on the mediation is: It frankly is often used as a way to bully victims into withdrawing their complaint and that’s not a good thing. So we don’t intend to change that. We think it’s important that things are done in a timely manner and so we think it important to keep that same timeline in place,” Smart said.
“Preponderance of Evidence,” the university’s standard to judge cases of sexual assault, says the evidence has to be “more believable than not.” The Department of Education’s new policy gives the option of changing to using “clear and convincing evidence” as the standard, but does not require it.
“We think it’s important that all misconduct is judged by the same standard,” Smart said. “We shouldn’t have a separate standard for sexual assault than we do for theft, drug use, fighting, gun possession or anything else.”
Smart said the issue has potential ramifications for everyone involved. He said the change issued by the Department of Education is partly due to some schools treating people unfairly.
He said this occurs when schools are “railroading” students, which means students are always found guilty of the accused sexual assault and expelled solely on the allegation.
“We didn’t think we needed to change it to make it harder to prove that someone sexually assaulted you,” Smart said. “We cannot have people who would be in that predator category on campus endangering any of our students.”
The Student Government Association held “Take Back the Night” on Sept. 28, focusing on educating students about “Green Dot” and “It’s On Us” — both campaigns promote bystander intervention.
“The majority of sexual crimes aren’t reported because of feelings of shame, so if we can normalize it and get the conversation going, then maybe if someone you know is suffering and if you start that conversation, they will feel comfortable coming to you and you can help them get help,” sophomore psychology and gerontology major Luke Batson, member of the SGA Title IX Commission, said.
For more information and resources, visit https://www.missouristate.edu/titleix/get-help-now.htm or call the Title IX Office at (417) 836-6810.