'It's on Us' to Understand the University's Sexual Misconduct Policy

On Friday, Sept. 19, President Barack Obama joined Vice President Joe Biden and Americans across the country to launch the “It’s On Us” initiative – an awareness campaign to help put an end to sexual assault on college campuses.

"An estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years – one in five," the president noted in his remarks. "Of those assaults, only 12 percent are reported, and of those reported assaults, only a fraction of the offenders are punished."

As part of the campaign's launch, student leaders from nearly 200 colleges and universities across the country, including St. Thomas Undergraduate Student Government President Ryan Smith, signed on to bring this campaign to their campuses and take action.

"It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable," Obama said.

While the "It's On Us" campaign has gained national attention recently, the University of St. Thomas has been ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting members of its community and providing resources for those in need.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires colleges and universities to take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence. In response to federal requirements and the increased nationwide focus on sexual violence on campuses, President Julie Sullivan approved a new university Sexual Misconduct Policy in June.

While previous policies had been in place to deal with sexual harassment and sexual violence, the new policy provides clearer definitions of sexual misconduct, according to Abigail Crouse from the university's Office of the General Counsel.

"Like the university’s former sexual harassment and sexual violence policies, the new sexual misconduct policy prohibits harassment and sexual violence, but it also specifically covers coercion, exploitation, stalking and relationship violence. In addition, the policy contains a clear definition of consent," said Crouse, noting that simply not saying "no" does not qualify as consent under the policy or the law, but that an affirmative "yes" must be made clear through a person’s words or actions. Read more about what the university considers prohibited sexual misconduct.

In addition to clarifying the definition of misconduct, the new policy also outlines the process by which incidents of sexual violence are handled on campus.

"The expectation we have of members of our community is very transparent with our new policy," said Rachel Harris, associate dean of students. "As a value of St. Thomas, this is not a place where violence is accepted, so everyone needs to step up and do something."

The policy describes the ways victims can report sexual misconduct. It also clearly outlines the responsibilities of the members of the staff and faculty when they are made aware of incidents of sexual misconduct. Read more about the reporting and investigation process.

Federal regulations require that all university employees be trained on the policy. Leadership Academy courses are available for staff through Oct. 30; the university is working with deans and department chairs to provide faculty training.

In addition to staff and faculty outreach, the Dean of Students office has led the effort to engage students on the issues. This fall, more than 1,400 incoming students, including new first-year students, transfer students and international students, received training on bystander intervention. Tommie Central employees, the STAR board and Undergraduate Student Government have received training. All 250 Tommie Ambassadors will be trained next week. The Study Abroad office is learning about how to respond to students who experience sexual misconduct in other countries.

"Any student groups that are interested can contact us. We are happy to come do a presentation to any club or organization that wants to learn more," Harris said.

The message is being heard. Mark Hill, St. Thomas senior and Sigma Chi president, attended the required employee training as a STAR intern and saw an opportunity to empower members of his organization to be advocates on campus.

"Whether we like it or not, as fraternity members and as men, we are part of that community that is committing these acts – but we can also be part of that change," said Hill, who proactively reached out to Harris and asked she meet with the brothers of Sigma Chi.

See Hill and Harris talk about the importance of engaging men on the issue in this KSTP story:

"No place is immune to this, but we have an effective response and investigation process for when something happens," Harris said. "We’re working on making sure that our community is engaged in creating a safe environment."

Additional resources: