SMU President R. Gerald Turner announced May 8 that he has accepted the recommendations of the SMU Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures for maintaining and improving programs related to sexual misconduct. The recommendations address areas including sexual misconduct reporting procedures, requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the student conduct process, education programs for students, enhanced training for staff and communications to parents.
Turner established the Task Force in September 2012 to re-examine the University’s procedures and policies related to sexual misconduct to determine what changes are needed. Among the 20 members of the Task Force were external experts, including a representative of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and the executive director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Initiative, as well as SMU students, faculty and staff members.
“Sexual misconduct is a serious issue at universities and colleges nationwide, which are required by the federal government to investigate allegations and hold violators accountable through an internal grievance procedure,” Turner said. “Even without such requirements, SMU is committed to policies and procedures that uphold community standards and foster a healthy learning environment based on mutual respect, responsible behavior and fair treatment of all students. I am grateful to the Task Force for its careful deliberations and recommendations. SMU is committed to implementing these changes and monitoring our practices.”
The Task Force made 41 recommendations, some of which address policies and procedures in place at SMU that the group felt should be continued but strengthened. Among these are procedures related to student reporting of sexual misconduct and the process for dealing with sexual misconduct allegations under the Student Code of Conduct. New initiatives recommended include new and more extensive education programs for students, as well as student mentoring and bystander intervention programs. Several Task Force recommendations were implemented during the past year, such as expanding information on SMU’s website. The full report is available online.
“Through our research and meetings, we learned that SMU has in place policies and procedures that align with national benchmarks,” said Task Force chair Kelly Compton, SMU trustee and chair of the Board’s committee on Student Affairs. “We also found areas that should be improved or more effectively addressed with new measures, particularly programs promoting education, training and communication. We are united in our commitment to the well-being of students through effective procedures, helpful resources and the support of a caring community.”
During its deliberations, the Task Force took into account adherence to state and federal laws, in particular Title IX of the Education Amendments and its requirements for handling sexual misconduct allegations. Members also examined other universities’ conduct processes, which – like SMU’s conduct process – are separate and independent of the criminal process.
The Task Force report emphasized that students who experience sexual misconduct should continue to be allowed to choose options that best meet their needs and foster personal healing, as is recommended by sexual misconduct experts. At the same time, SMU should continue to urge students to seek medical care and alert law enforcement about sexual misconduct. The Task Force recommended that SMU enhance efforts to educate students about the right to pursue a Title IX complaint under University policy and their options to pursue criminal charges, the SMU conduct review process, or both processes at the same time. Read more about these options here.
Because these options must be considered during a sensitive time, SMU must clearly communicate and explain processes and ensure that staff members are well-informed in providing guidance. According to the Task Force, education efforts also should focus on students’ understanding of consent, the interpersonal communications related to consent and the impact of alcohol use.
The Task Force recommended that SMU continue its use of hearing boards in student conduct cases, including those related to sexual misconduct cases, a practice similar to that of other universities. It also recommended that SMU continue to have a sexual misconduct hearing board and, also consistent with benchmark practices, reaffirmed that students continue to serve on this board, with these changes: They should not be in the majority nor serve as chair. The majority of this board would consist of faculty and staff, and all members would receive special training and be bound by strict confidentiality requirements.
Regarding student participation on the sexual misconduct hearing board, the Task Force received feedback from students that their understanding of campus social life is critical in aiding conduct deliberations and that SMU has a long history of trusting and valuing student leadership, including appointing a voting student member of the Board of Trustees. Students also described student participation on conduct boards as a way to educate other students about the conduct process. The Task Force agreed with these perspectives.
The Task Force also recommended that student leaders encourage the student body to develop, adopt and disseminate a new SMU Values Statement, such as the following: “I, as a citizen of the SMU Community, commit myself to upholding the values of intellectual integrity, academic honesty, personal responsibility and sincere regard and respect for all SMU students, faculty, and staff.”
The Task Force said SMU should develop a bystander intervention program similar to those at Duke and Yale universities. Those programs provide students the skills to intervene when they perceive peers to be in high-risk situations. In addition, students who may hesitate to report sexual misconduct because of their alcohol or drug use could be granted immunity for those transgressions in order to encourage reporting of sexual misconduct first and foremost, though they also would be referred for counseling to SMU’s Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention.
During meetings with the Task Force, several visiting experts shared information and perspectives, including law enforcement and health officials. The Task Force invited feedback from the campus community, including from students involved in sexual misconduct cases through SMU’s conduct process. During their 12 meetings and additional small-group meetings, the Task Force reviewed more than 45 benchmarking reports, including student conduct codes and task force reports from other universities and government agencies.
“The Task Force valued all of the input provided, and especially appreciated hearing from students and members of our North Texas community,” Compton said. “Sexual misconduct is a community issue that requires community partnerships, including with local service and health care providers and law enforcement officials. We recommend that SMU continue building these relationships.”
SMU’s vice president for student affairs, Lori White, will oversee implementation of the Task Force recommendations in coordination with campus offices including Counseling and Psychiatric Services, the Health Center, Dean of Student Life Office, Title IX Coordinator, SMU Police, the Women’s Center for Pride and Gender Initiatives, Chaplain’s Office and Residence Life and Student Housing. As recommended by the Task Force, Student Affairs and other University representatives will maintain regular meetings on sexual misconduct issues with local law enforcement and resource agencies.
“The University thanks the Task Force and the many experts and campus and community members who have provided their perspectives,” Turner said. “SMU regularly reviews its policies and procedures, and no issue is more important than our students’ well-being. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of all our policies and procedures on sexual misconduct.”