The U.S. Department of Education is trying to initiate an open discussion on sexual assault, an issue that many universities have tried to “sweep under the rug,” said Melinda Manning, assistant dean of students at UNC-CH.
By next fall, UNC-system schools will be required to be more active in investigating sexual assault cases as a result of the new guidelines set in place by the department.
Universities across the nation received a letter from the department’s Office for Civil Rights earlier this month, outlining the guidelines to help institutions better understand how to respond to sexual assaults on campus.
With these guidelines, universities will be required to investigate all sexual assault cases that are reported.
“Right now we do an investigation through the honor system only if it is what the student wishes,” Manning said.
But now the University will be mandated to investigate the assault case separately from what the Department of Public Safety might do, she said.
“The guidelines indicate that no matter what happens, we have to do an investigation,” Manning said. “The conflict is that it is not always what the student wants, and we need to figure out how to handle that.”
But the new requirements do not define what an investigation entails.
“That is one of the questions we need to answer,” Manning said. “How much investigation needs to be done?”
The Dean of Students Office will work with the University’s counsel this summer to adjust UNC-CH’s sexual assault policy, she said.
“The reason they are saying this is because there is the belief that some colleges try to sweep this under the rug,” she said. “I don’t believe UNC is doing that. We want students to report.”
The guidelines will improve how colleges and universities handle sexual assault cases, said S. Daniel Carter, the director of public policy for Security on Campus, which is a national nonprofit committed to promoting safe college campuses.
“It will help provide a framework for the proper response and that victims are properly reported,” he said.
The requirements are necessary because many universities are not living up to the expectations of the Office of Civil Rights, Carter said.
“They would rather deal with it and keep it quiet,” he said.
One of the biggest changes with the new guidelines will be the standard of evidence needed to find someone guilty of sexual assault.
Manning said the University uses beyond reasonable doubt, but now a decision will be made based on preponderance of evidence.
This means a person can be found guilt of sexual assault if he or she “more likely than not committed the act,” she said.
“It will be easier to find someone guilty,” Manning said.
Rebecca Caldwell, the director of Crossroads, a substance abuse prevention and education program at UNC-Wilmington, said the university also plans to implement new changes by next fall.
The biggest change for UNC-W will be the victim’s ability to appeal the honor court’s ruling.
“In our system, if a person is found responsible for violation, they have a right for appeals, but the Office of Civil Rights is saying that the victim also has a right to appeal,” Caldwell said.
She said Crossroads will meet with the university’s legal counsel, the office of the dean of students and university police this summer to determine what changes will need to be made in the fall.
Contact the State & National Editor at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.