Students at Amherst College no longer have to worry about being judged by classmates or faculty who have traditionally adjudicated sexual assault complaints on campus. Instead, the liberal arts school will rely on independent, trained professionals from outside the academic community to oversee such charges. After a second full year of the new system, it's just one of many changes being made on campuses across the country as tens of thousands of students return to schools under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault incidents.
One in five women will face sexual assault while attending college, according to a government report. But beyond that rough estimate, there is so little reliable information about the prevalence of sexual assault and gender-based violence. In April, the White House released a list of 55 colleges and universities under federal investigation for possible violations of Title IX, the 1972 federal gender equity law that requires schools to investigate all reports of sexual assault. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is facing separate lawsuits from students, which, as of August 8, includes 76 schools.
As students prepare for the fall semester, msnbc asked schools currently facing investigations to make public any changes in policy regarding the handling of sexual assault complaints.
Most respondents cited the addition of programs that emphasize "bystander intervention"; they plan to offer sexual assault awareness training for incoming freshmen, and will publish online resources on sexual assault policies and information for survivors. Schools are also making changes to their disciplinary proceedings, including the possibility of expulsion for perpetrators of sexual violence.
In the past, disciplinary hearings have led to wildly inappropriate questions for survivors and light punishments – including writing a paper and suspensions levied after graduation – for perpetrators found guilty of assault.
Meanwhile, some measures are notably absent from proposed changes: climate surveys, which are designed to elicit honest responses from students about assault and harassment on campus, and consistent transparency about how schools punish students found responsible for sexual assault. Some schools are providing online information in plain language but others continue to rely on complicated legal wording to explain how sexual assault cases are handled. And while all schools emphasize a commitment to eliminating sexual violence on campus, that commitment will be put to the test when survivors come forward seeking help.
Dana Bolger of the survivor activist group Know Your IX told msnbc the current spotlight has to intensify for real progress to take shape. “A lot of schools aren’t feeling the heat and aren’t feeling the urgency to change,” Bolger said.
Highlights from 28 schools are below.
- Carnegie Mellon University: Sexual assault policies and resources are available through the school’s website, listed in the “student policies” section. A representative declined to comment on whether there had been any recent changes or if any were under debate.
- Dartmouth College: In addition to an open Title IX investigation, Dartmouth is being investigated over allegations that it violated the Clery Act, a campus safety law. While these probes are underway, Dartmouth has taken steps to change its sexual assault policies. It adopted a new policy in June that makes expulsion mandatory in some sexual assault cases. That policy says the college will appoint an independent investigator to handle complaints. The school also plans to establish a community center for sexual violence prevention. It should be noted that the new sexual assault policies will only apply to incidents that took place after June 19. Alumni, students, and community members offered input on the school’s policy changes.
- University of Delaware: The school has created a website that will serve as a hub for information about gender-based violence, which features basic information about the school’s policies and prevention efforts. The site features a flowchart that lists different options for reporting assaults, but it does not yet include a comprehensive list of resources for victims of sexual assault or gender-based violence. The school's policies are currently under review and are expected to be finalized in the spring.
- University of Kansas: There are no new policies set to take effect when students return to K.U. this fall, although a spokeswoman highlighted a new training course that will be used starting this semester on sexual harassment and assault. The university’s resources on sexual assault policies and survivor resources, including community resources and 24-hour services, appear on the school’s website.
- William and Mary College: While the federal investigation was launched in April, William and Mary has been accused of mishandling several sexual assault cases over the past 20 years. This year, new policies are not yet finalized, but they will include increased community outreach and expanded education and prevention and training programs. The school's resources for survivors can be found here.
- Florida State University: FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks told msnbc that the school will unveil new sexual assault policy changes for the fall in the coming weeks and said the school “has welcomed the national focus” on the issue, although she declined to discuss specifics. The open investigation into FSU is related to its handling of allegations that Heisman Trophy-winning football player Jameis Winston assaulted a freshman.
- Amherst College: Amherst's most recent round of updates to its policies came in 2013, when it overhauled its processes for conducting hearings on sexual assault cases. The school did away with panels comprised of Amherst students, faculty and staff. Under the new system, officials from the other schools in the Amherst area decide cases. The school has also expanded its staff dedicated to Title IX and training students and created websites with resources for survivors. And while Amherst's president announced in 2012 that the school would release three years' worth of information on honor code violations, which included punishments for students found guilty of sexual assault, the school did not release more recent data to Amherst student reporter Ethan Corey when he requested it.
- Ohio State University: There have been no recent changes to the school's policies, but OSU does have a dedicated Title IX website and it publicizes guildelines for investigating discrimination and harassment complaints. Ohio State fired its marching band director in July after an investigation uncovered widespread sexual harassment and apparent complacency towards a "sexualized culture" among band members.
- Princeton University: Princeton outlines its policies and has a list of recent changes available on its website. Recent updates include creating a bystander intervention training program, a new training program on Title IX, and working to expand the office that provides resources for survivors of assault and harassment. According to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, punishment in some cases of sexual assault can be expulsion.
- Regis University: The school's policy includes a definition of consent that states, "To obtain consent, a clear, 'yes,' verbal or otherwise, is necessary," and includes examples, and lists who at the school is and is not required to take a report of an assault to school authorities.
- Knox College: According to spokeswoman Megan Scott, Knox is in the early stages of rolling out a mobile safety app for the college's students, and that among its efforts this year, the school is currently analyzing the results of a climate survey it conducted in May. It has also introduced a bystander intervention training program, created a confidential support group for survivors of assault and entered into a memorandum of understanding with a community group to expand services to survivors. Scott told msnbc that Knox plans to implement changes based on the results of the climate survey.
- Temple University: The most recent updates to Temple's sexual assault and harassment policies went into effect in the fall of 2013. The school also conducts trainings for students and staff about sexual assault, harassment, consent, and how to handle complaints.
- Hobart and William Smith Colleges: Cathy Williams, a school spokeswoman, said that the school is reviewing its policies, and that it is working on putting in place more training programs, conducting a climate survey, and starting a 24-hour hotline. A female student spoke to The New York Times about her experience with the school’s sexual assault investigation and disciplinary process and filed a complaint with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.
- Boston University: B.U. uses bystander intervention trainings and includes programming in its orientation plans. Colin Riley, a spokesman, told msnbc that B.U. has increased its resources for survivors after creating a sexual assault response and prevention center in 2012. Riley also said that school is currently revising its policies to make them clearer, and it is making as-yet unfinalized changes to the disciplinary procedures.
- Indiana University: I.U. will roll out new, comprehensive sexual assault policies and procedures during the fall semester, and the university will have a new website that lists resources for students by the end of August. The system also plans to expand bystander intervention programming. The flagship campus in Bloomington boasts a host of student groups dedicated to prevention and support.
- University of California-Berkeley: This year, new students will go through a new series of trainings on sexual assault and bystander intervention, and a new online training dedicated specifically to sexual assault will be required for new students. At the end of last semester, the school launched its own dedicated website on sexual assault, and in the past year has created new staff positions dedicated to sexual assault response. This will also mark the second school year with a Title IX advisory committee, which is designed to include students. The school also has a website that lists its policies and resources in one place.
- Frostburg State University: Maryland’s university system approved a new sexual misconduct policy in June, which will apply to all state colleges, and FSU is in the process of hiring a new, full-time Title IX coordinator. Currently, the school requires new students to do in-person trainings on sexual assault and bystander intervention, as well as an online training. The school also has a student peer education group that raises awareness of the “red zone,” the time period in the beginning of the school year when sexual assaults are most likely to occur.
- Vest Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine: The most recent revisions to the school’s policies on sexual assault were made in November 2013. The school’s website lists contact information for a regional domestic violence center that provides support for survivors.
- University of Richmond: The student conduct policy was updated in mid-August. In its resources on reporting cases, the school’s website states that students reporting assaults will not be subject to the school’s alcohol policy if underage drinking is involved.
- University of Akron: The university formed a committee in May to review the school’s sexual assault policies and offer recommendations. As part of that project, the school plans to roll out a climate survey this fall. New students will have to take a new online training program within the first week of classes.
- Washburn University: The school does not have any new policies in place this fall, but Washburn’s Title IX coordinator told msnbc they review and change them based on federal guidelines. Washburn’s policies are available on the school’s website.
- Johns Hopkins University: This summer, the school launched a new website to serve as a portal for information and resources and expanded 24-hour emergency help line to cover all university campuses. Incoming students go through training programs, and R.A.s take a bystander intervention training and a sexual assault response training. The Education Department’s investigation into Johns Hopkins was reported on August 12, making it one of the most recent additions to the list.
- University of Colorado-Boulder: After an audit of U.C.-Boulder's policies was done in January, U.C.-Boulder created a new Title IX coordinator position, and Valerie Simons assumed the role in July. Simons told msnbc that she is still working on coordinating the school's efforts, but that she hopes to expand education and prevention programming beyond what incoming students get now.
- Occidental College: Ruth Jones, Occidental's Title IX coordinator, told msnbc that the college has already implemented many of the recommendations made by the White House task force in April, including developing a climate survey to be conducted this year. Jones also said that she hopes to include students and student groups in conversations about preventing and responding to sexual assault.
- Minot State University: The school's policies are available on its website, and a representative said that Minot State reviews policies to remain in compliance with Title IX.
- Hampshire College: A representative from the school said that Hampshire reviews policies "proactively" and pointed to policies available on the school's website, which includes a detailed description of different aspects of consent and on- and off-campus resources for survivors.
- Vincennes University: Details of Title IX-related changes were given to students, parents, and university employees at the start of the school year, and the school's website includes pages with information on bystander intervention, cyber-stalking, and available resources. The school partners with community groups to provide resources for survivors, but it does not have its own dedicated coordinator or team for sexual assault response.
- University of Idaho: Students arriving at school will be subject to a revised code of conduct that went into effect this July, and students can learn about educcational events through the university's Violence Prevention Programs website. The school also links to the White House task force's report on campus sexual assault and notalone.gov.