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Student Union awaits administrative action on two passed bills

September 22nd, 2016

 

John Carroll University has not taken complete action regarding two bills that the Student Union passed in November of 2015.

 

A bill begins by being drafted by a senator and then brought up at a student union meeting. After a majority vote, the Student Union President signs or vetoes the bill. If passed, the bill is then sent to the department it affects as well as the Vice President for Student Affairs. Bills that are passed at a Tuesday meeting are usually delivered to the involved parties within the week. Those in the departments are usually responsive and reach out to Student Union after receiving these bills. The departments then work with Student Union to agree on a solution depending on how much substantive legislation is passed.

 

“I’m surprised they took so long to get back to us on these bills,” said Student Union President Will Hudson.

 

The first bill addresses sexual assault related incidents and regards the University’s consent policy. An open forum was held in October 2015 and was open to students and faculty. At the forum, the 50 attendants had a discussion with Student Union members about the consent standard and its repercussions. Student Union recommended that the University rewrite their consent standard to make consent verbal rather than non-verbal. Student Union also believed the language was vague and outdated.

 

Senior senator Madison Chickos explained that the student union did not write that language themselves because there is a process that the policy must go through before it can be changed.

 

The first part of the University consent standard is, “Whether sexual misconduct (as detailed in the definitions above) has occurred depends in part on whether “effective consent” exists.  Effective consent is granted when a person freely, actively and knowingly agrees at the time to participate in a particular sexual act with a particular person.  Effective consent exists when mutually understandable words and/or actions demonstrate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed-upon activity at every stage of that sexual activity.  Consent is mutually understandable when a reasonable person would consider the words and/or actions of the parties to have reached agreement to engage in the particular sexual activity.  In the absence of mutually understandable affirmative words or actions, it becomes the responsibility of the initiator (the person who wants to engage in a specific sexual activity) to obtain effective consent from the other partner.  Effective consent has time boundaries.  Consent at one time does not imply consent at any other time. The existence of a dating/romantic relationship between the persons involved or the fact of a previous sexual relationship does not automatically establish effective consent for future sexual activity.  There is no consent when agreement is only inferred from a person’s silence or lack of resistance; there is threat of physical force, harm or intimidation; or there is coercion.”

 

Senior Senator, Madison Chickos, explained that she felt sections of this text were problematic such as the phrases “mutually understandable” and “reasonable person” because they were vague terms.

 

One change to this text, which took place during a policy and procedure review over the summer, is the term “effective consent.” Title IX Coordinator, David Sipusic, wrote this change in collaboration with Dean of Students, Sherri Crahen.

 

Effective consent is defined by Reed College as “informed, freely and actively given by mutually understandable words or actions that indicate a willingness to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity.”

 

“During this semester, we want to educate students on effective consent so they understand what that is,” said Crahen.

 

She also said that there is not widespread agreement on verbal consent.

 

“Our goal is to look at how to provide language that is clear to students,” Crahen said. “Is it practical for two people in an intimate relationship to think about verbal consent? It’s not a good idea to create a policy when you know that’s not how students behave in reality.”

 

Chickos said that consent for each step of a sexual encounter is often misunderstood as asking for permission for each act that takes place.

 

She explained that it is simply checking in with the partner throughout a sexual act to make sure that they are comfortable with what is happening. “It prevents traumatization, and that’s not too much to ask,” Chickos said.

 

Additionally, there is also a new Violence Prevention and Action Coordinator, who took the place of Stephanie Cerula, who stepped down from her position.

 

The Dean of Students’ office has hired Amanda Cottrell, previous VPAC from 2010-2013 as the new VPAC. She began on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

 

When Cerula first started the job in January of 2014, her position included the role of mandatory reporter. This means that she was legally obligated to report about acts of violence or abuse. In the summer of 2014, it changed.

 

A student is now able to go speak about an incident in complete confidence to someone at the counseling center or a priest in pastoral counseling.

 

If a student were to talk about an incident that occurred regarding sexual assault to the VPAC, they would be responsible only for reporting non-identifying information such as the date, time and location of the assault to the Title IX Coordinator.

 

There would only be an investigation against a victim’s wishes if there were multiple reports on campus and the Title IX Coordinator saw a pattern. “We have to look at what’s a risk to other students,” said Crahen.

 

“Revamping the investigative process and hiring a [full-time] title IX coordinator is a positive step,” said Chickos. “It prevents survivors from having to relive the attack.”

 

The second bill recommended that students who are expelled have the reason for their expulsion printed on their transcript.

 

The reason could be academic or non-academic meaning acts like vandalism or interpersonal violence. This bill passed unanimously in the Student Union Senate.

 

“I thought they were progressive legislation for the University to consider,” said Hudson.

 

This topic is being discussed federally as well as on college campuses. It is possible that the University may be mandated by law to make notations on a student’s transcript.

 

Until then, Crahen said, “This requires more conversation of other members of the campus community.”

 

There has been discussion on this subject but no decision has been made yet. Crahen explained that the concern was that if a student is expelled from JCU, and there is a notation on their transcript, it limits their ability to attend school other places.

 

Chickos said that her concern was that other universities have this policy in order to know who is living in the dorms, especially if they have violated the interpersonal violence policy.

 

“It’s good we have conversations about this,” said adviser to Student Union Lisa Ramsey. “[Getting a bill put into action] is more complicated than students think.”

 

In order to make changes based on these bills, the Dean of Students Office meets with the provost and in the case of the transcript bill, the registrar’s office.

 

Chickos along with two other students met with the Dean of Students on Tuesday, Sept. 13 to discuss why there have been no changes regarding the bills.

 

“There is no reason it should not have been enacted immediately,” Chickos said. “These recommendations need to be taken into consideration.”

 

The administration tries not to change policies mid-year. They are looking at national conversations regarding Title IX and making sure they are compliant with federal laws.

 

“This is the consent policy for right now, but it will be reviewed every year in the summer,” said Crahen.

 

“Students should have a dialogue and keep it on the radar. Student Union should invite speakers to Student Union meetings to speak to them on updates on policies,” said Ramsey.

 

Chickos’ next steps are to continue to put pressure on the administration to act on the bills, re-recommend bills when necessary and even rally students through a petition or demonstration if necessary.

 

“I have every intent of settling this. It means too much to too many people to go un-resolved,” Chikos said.