Sexual assault policy changes imminent

The university will announce new sexual misconduct policies on Sept. 30 that will include redefining consent, increased support services through the newly formed Center for Sexual Misconduct Support Services, a centralized disciplinary process and increased community education and training.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said the shift in national discussions about sexual assault at colleges and an increase in federal action sparked a need to reevaluate NYU’s own policies.

Consent

CAS junior Joe Zelaskowski said consent needs to be clarified on campus for all genders.

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“There’s a lot of fear about the ambiguity of what consent is,” Zelaskowski said.

Beckman said the new policy will have a clearer definition of consent that follows federal guidelines.

“It is expected that under the new policy, consent will be defined as an affirmative agreement to engage in specific sexual activity with another person, requiring an outward demonstration, through mutually understandable words or actions that each person is freely choosing to engage in a sexual activity,” Beckman said.

The policy will also explain that consent requires more than just a simple yes from both parties involved.

“It will also be clear that consent cannot be obtained by coercion or given by a person who is incapacitated,” he said.

The current policy does not include language that explicitly defines consent, but says that engaging in a sexual act is consent unless there is an explicit no.

“[Sexual assault includes] sexual contact with someone who is unable to say ‘no’ and/or change his/her mind due to the presence of coercion or intimidation,” the current policy reads.

CAS junior and president of the NYU Feminist Society Meghan Racklin said the affirmation policy is extremely important.

“The wording of consent under the new sexual misconduct policy is a huge improvement over the previous policy,” Racklin said. “Creating a culture of consent is intrinsically tied to creating a culture of healthy sexuality.”

Center for Sexual Misconduct Support Services and Disciplinary Process

Tisch sophomore Emma Howard said she wouldn’t know where to go if she were sexually assaulted.

“There’s no clear hierarchy of who to go to first, and I think a lot of people would just as soon do nothing if they’re not sure,” Howard said.

Students are encouraged to call the Department of Public Safety, the Student Health Center and the Wellness Exchange hotline, the Title IX Coordinator, a staff member of residence life, a dean, another campus official or the Office of Community Standards.

The new Center for Sexual Misconduct Support Services will provide victims of sexual misconduct with additional services including medical and mental health, liaison with law enforcement and assistance with housing accommodations or academic programs.

“We are in the process of hiring a director with expertise in this area,” Beckman said.

The university’s policy on contacting the police will not change. Beckman said the university always discusses contacting the police following an assault.

“We support any student who does choose to involve the authorities — by connecting them with the police, accompanying them and providing transportation and offering support,” Beckman said. “It will continue to be up to the victim to make the decision [to contact police,] unless there is a safety risk.”

Wagner student Katie Radin said universities should ensure that students who commit sexual assault are punished properly.

“The people who commit these sort of things; these are crimes, they should be expelled from campuses,” Radin said.

Beckman said the university’s disciplinary process for all sexual misconduct cases will be handled by the Office of Community Standards by staff with expertise on sexual assault. The cases are currently handled by individual schools, but the university hopes to simplify the process.

There are no standardized punishments for sexual misconduct, however.

“The disciplinary system in NYU evaluates cases on a case-by-case basis,” Beckman said. “It is certainly possible that somebody who was found to have committed sexual misconduct could be expelled from the university, but it’s possible that a panel might [choose] a different punishment.”

Racklin said she would prefer if the disciplinary process was overseen by independent parties.

“This would help eliminate the potential conflict of interest a representative of the university may have in these cases,” Racklin said.

Community Education and Training

Howard said she has seen posters about sexual misconduct around campus, but the university needs to do more.

“They should be doing an active campaign,” she said.

There will be new training programs for various student leaders on campus including resident assistants, Welcome Week leaders, transfer ambassadors, commuter assistants and professional staff. Bystander intervention training will also increase with the new policies. Additionally, a mandatory online education and prevention program for all students will start in January.

Racklin said the online program could easily be ignored by students.

“To truly change the atmosphere on campus, I believe mandatory, continuous education is necessary, and I believe that this education must be comprehensive,” she said.

The complete policy will be available to the university and public next week.

“These new policies will not help to battle rape culture on campus unless they are discussed openly and often,” Racklin said. “There needs to be discussion about, and acknowledgement of, rape culture by students.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 25 print edition. Email Emily Bell, Nicole Brown and Casey Dalrymple at [email protected].

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