Lawrence University announces updated sexual assault policy

By Marcus Campbell

Over the summer, Lawrence University wrote and implemented a newly updated sexual assault and harassment policy, and President Burstein approved the new policy shortly before the beginning of this school year. Changes were also made to campus resources, such as SHARE [Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education], formerly known as SHARB [Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources Board]. These changes, according to university Title IX Coordinator and Associate Professor of Education Bob Williams, better reflect the civil rights of victims of sexual assault and harassment.

The previous policy was actually two policies: one for sexual assault and one for sexual harassment. “[It] was based on Wisconsin law,” says Williams, “and had a lot of technical legal distinctions … that were not really germane to what we were concerned with.” Since Title IX, the federal education gender equity law to which university policies must adhere, is a civil rights law rather than a criminal law, the changes were made to better reflect this distinction and the university’s mission to provide a safe environment for students. The new policy, Williams states, is based on the model policy from the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA) with Lawrence-specific procedures and language built into it.

The new policy has consolidated sexual assault and sexual harassment into one policy. It is written in more simple language and better conforms to the requirements of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. It includes an expanded definition of consent, stating that “Consent may be given by word or action, but it must be clear, freely given, and evident throughout a sexual encounter, and it can be revoked at any time.” The definition goes on to further specify what is not consent, and that any sexual activity that is engaged in without consent is in violation of the policy.

The new policy also redefines specific acts of sexual assault and harassment. In the previous policy, sexual assault was categorized by degree of the offense, which was in reference to Wisconsin legal definitions. These categories are now defined in plain language as sexual harassment, non-consensual sexual contact, non-consensual sexual intercourse and sexual exploitation. The definition of each is provided, along with expanded definitions of sexual contact and intercourse that include forms of both that are separate from vaginal penetration.

Another major change to the policy is an expansion of the portion that deals with reporting incidents of alleged sexual assault and harassment. The policy enumerates what resources both on- and off-campus are available to students, which of those resources are confidential and which university employees are considered “Responsible Employees” whom victims can confide in and trust to refer them to campus resources. While the investigation and sanctioning portions of the policy have not experienced any major changes, those policies, in keeping with the theme of the policy changes, have been streamlined and made easier to understand.

In addition to the policy changes, students and campus administrators have been working on initiatives focused on the campus environment and culture. The administrative panel formerly known as SHARB has changed its name to SHARE to emphasize the body’s primary role as a resource for education over its secondary disciplinary role suggested by other “boards” like the Judicial Board and Honor Council.

Health Services, led by Associate Dean of Students for Health and Wellness and Director of Counseling Services Scott Radtke, is working on the development of a mobile web application to provide students with immediate, mobile access to resources for victims of sexual and harassment.

The Student Alliance Against Sexual Assault and Harassment, (SAASHA) originally an LUCC task force, is now a standing LUCC committee. Several male students have also gotten together to form a group for men that fight to change the culture surrounding sexual assault and harassment on campus, called Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS).