University updates sexual assault policy

An updated sexual assault policy was sent out through email by Ron Coffey, Ph.D., vice president for student life, Sept. 30. The new policy is now seven pages long, compared to the original two, and outlines the definition of sexual assault and the hearing process.

(Logo provided)
(Logo provided)

An updated sexual assault policy was sent out through email by Ron Coffey, Ph.D.,  vice president for student life, Sept. 30. The new policy is now seven pages long, compared to the old policy which was two pages in the student handbook.

“Basically the federal government has put in place some new expectation on how colleges and universities report and process sexual crimes, which they would also include stalking in that sort of category,” Coffey said. “There will also be some training for students coming in the semester just for the sake of safety and awareness as it relates to sexual assault.”

The updated policy outlines how decision are to be made, prohibited behaviors, how the violations will be addressed and how survivors of sexual assault will be supported by the university.

“We wanted to provide some definitions, and you’ll see that in the new policy for sure,” Coffey said. “There’s probably more specificity in terms of process. We wanted to be specific as possible.

According to the new policy, unacceptable behavior includes sexual contact without consent, sexual contact while a person is incapacitated, sexual exploitation of another person – such as posting sexual pictures on social media, coercion for sexual contact, stalking and threatening or intimidating a person for sexual contact.

Coffey said there was no specific incident on campus “we can point to” that instigated the idea of a new policy.

“It’s basically a result of a lot of collaboration with other universities and other resources in terms of materials the government provides,” he said. “There was a collection of people that kind of worked on the documents.”

If a student wishes to file a report about a sexual assault, they are to communicate with the Student Life Office or Huntington Campus Police. The entire process will be kept anonymous, and the survivor will sign a detailed statement explaining what happened. The alleged perpetrator will then be allowed to give their side of the story and Coffey will then decide if their behavior violated the policy.

If there is reasonable cause to believe the perpetrator is a threat to campus safety, “The VP for Student Life may suspend the student on an interim basis when his/her behavior indicates that his/her continued presence on campus constitutes a danger to the normal operation of the institution, or to the safety of himself/herself or other, or to the property of the university,” according to the policy.

A hearing session will be held with faculty members, Coffey and Martha Smith, Ed.D., associate dean of student life, but no physical evidence is required to determine if sexual assault occurred. The perpetrator will not be excused of their actions if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. The survivor will not be asked if they were also under those same influences, according to the policy.

A new addition is that both parties are allowed to have representation with them at the hearing such as a parent or friend.

“I suppose it could be an attorney although that does get interesting because we are not a court of law and so we don’t particularly behave in that way. We offer basic due process which is what we should do, and that’s the right thing to do. If it’s a parent or close firned, someone who provides support, we will certainly honor that.”

If the perpetrator is found guilty, they have the right to make an appeal within 48 hours directly to the Sherilyn Emberton, Ed.D., president of the university. Emberton will then have the final say.

Punishments include immediate expulsion or suspension for a semester with required counseling. Upon returning to campus, the perpetrator will have separate housing and class scheduling from the alleged victim. If another instance occurs, the perpetrator will be expelled immediately.

Coffey said the campus should be more aware and educated when it comes to avoiding sexual assault.

“I don’t know if the policy itself, other than providing more clarity and more awareness, will make the campus a lot safer,” he said. “It will help us process, heaven forbid if something were to happen, more efficiently and effectively. However, I would say the most important thing we can do is to create awareness on the part of students. We really do need to work at that.”

Read the entire sexual assault policy here: Huntington University Sexual Assault Policy

This is an updated version of the original brief which only outlined the sexual assault policy.

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