Affirmative Actions

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As government officials train their attention on sexual assault at colleges, Oxy bolsters its policies, procedures, and personnel

When SB 967—California's "yes means yes" affirmative consent bill—was signed into law at the end of September, local TV reporters came to campus to record students' reactions. What they learned is that Oxy has had an affirmative consent standard since 2011.

As state and federal officials increasingly turn their attention to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, their proposals often mirror the policies and procedures Oxy already has in place. "We have been working steadily to improve our response to sexual assault, and there is still much left to do," says Ruth Jones, the College's Title IX coordinator. "But Oxy has either adopted or is in the process of adopting these proposed measures—what amount to the latest thinking on best practices for colleges."

Oxy has mandatory bystander intervention training for students, a full-time survivor advocate, a single disciplinary process that applies to all students, and partnerships with community-based organizations to provide additional resources for students—all recommendations of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault or provisions of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill's pending legislation.

Jones is working with Occidental's Office of Institutional Research to draft a campus climate survey to be administered this academic year, based on the recommendations of the White House Task Force. "The survey will help us better gauge the prevalence of sexual assault here, ascertain our students' attitudes and awareness about the issue and available resources, and provide us with invaluable feedback that can further shape our policies and procedures," she says.

A national survey conducted by the Senate subcommittee McCaskill chairs found that more than 40 percent of colleges have not conducted a single sexual assault investigation in five years, and that only 25 percent of schools had investigated 10 or more cases during the past five years. By contrast, Oxy investigated 21 cases from fall 2009 through December 2013. Respondents in 16 of those cases were found responsible for misconduct ranging from sexual harassment and non-consensual touching to non-consensual intercourse. The 16 cases involved 12 respondents; nine of the 12 were expelled.

Occidental's latest Clery Report—the federally mandated annual accounting of certain categories of crime that occur on or near campus—provides some evidence that more survivors are coming forward.  The report, which covers calendar year 2013, shows a dramatic increase in the number of sexual assaults—64, compared to 11 in the 2012 report. More than half of the reported assaults—34—occurred prior to 2013; the Clery Act requires incidents to be counted in the year they were reported, rather than the year in which they occurred.

"We believe that's a reflection not of an increase in assaults but rather evidence that students are more willing to let us know what has happened," says Veronika Barsegyan, Oxy's new Clery coordinator. "What we'd like to see now is not just reports, but students coming forward to receive support."

In the meantime, Jones has taken a number of measures—everything from in­stalling new case-management software and printing new brochures to conducting dozens of training sessions and designating two deputy coordinators—to bolster Oxy's response to sexual assault.

She also is planning a revision of Oxy's policies and procedures "with the goal of creating a document that can serve us well for the foreseeable future," she says. To that end, she is reviewing recommendations from Oxy's Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board, regulations stemming from the recent reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act, the recommendations of the President's Task Force, and pending federal and state laws to prepare a plan and timeline.

"Our ultimate goal is to ensure that our community truly reflects Oxy values of fairness and equity," Jones says.

A side-by-side comparison of Oxy policies and procedures with proposed legislation and recent reports can be found here.