Appalachian State reconsiders sexual assault policy

After rape allegations at Appalachian State University last year highlighted flaws in the university’s handling of sexual assault cases, administrators say reforms will improve the process and better protect students.

In 2011, two women filed sexual assault allegations against the same two football players. They presented their claims to the university’s Student Conduct Board, which included undergraduate students. The board suspended both players.

The players returned to campus, and one was reinstated on the 2012 football roster, said Annie Hegar, a student who protested the handling of the sexual assault cases.

After more than 150 students gathered at ASU last spring to silently protest the university’s handling of the cases, Hegar — along with ASU students Frank Byrne and John Secrest — proposed the formation of an Interpersonal Violence Task Force to review the university’s sexual assault policies.

The task force, which is composed of students, faculty and staff is currently conducting research about the university’s policies and the climate on campus.

J.J. Brown, dean of students and associate vice chancellor at ASU, said administrators welcomed the review after the cases last year.

“Given some challenges from last year, we absolutely wanted to review processes and procedures,” he said.

The university has also revamped its process for reporting sexual assaults.

Chancellor Kenneth Peacock removed students from the Sexual Misconduct Board, which reviews assault cases, in August, Brown said. Three members of faculty and staff will now attend each assault case hearing.

“Research has shown that by (removing students), victims will have more confidence in a system that involves trained members,” said Secrest, who is also a member of the task force and vice president of student affairs for the UNC-system Association of Student Governments.

ASU students are giving positive feedback about the new policies, said Hegar, another member of the task force.

“The (students) have been very happy that a positive is emerging from the stigma of the ‘cover-ups’ by universities,” she said.

Secrest is also talking with student deans and vice chancellors of student affairs across the UNC-system to gauge the feasibility of similar task forces at other campuses.

ASG, which is composed of student leaders across the system, also needs to focus more on sexual assault reforms, said Byrne, chief of staff for the association.

About one in four college women are sexually assaulted, he said.

“It’s insane — 25 percent — and it’s notoriously under-reported,” he said. “It’s not a society I want to live in or anyone wants to live in.”

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