Today, the BYU Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault issued its recommendations for preventing and responding to sexual assault within the campus community. President Kevin J Worthen told the campus community this morning that the Advisory Council had completed its study and that the President’s Council had agreed with all of the recommendations in the council’s report.
Throughout the summer, the Advisory Council spent hundreds of hours researching and talking to many people inside and outside the university to identify changes that will help BYU determine how to better handle the reporting process for victims of sexual assault. The Advisory Council was comprised of four members:
Dr. Janet S. Scharman, Vice President for Student Life and former dean of students at BYU, who is a licensed psychologist with a doctoral degree from the University of Utah in counseling psychology.
Dr. Sandra Rogers, International Vice President at BYU and a former dean of the BYU College of Nursing.
Dr. Ben Ogles, dean of BYU’s College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, who came to BYU from Ohio University where he served as chair and director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology.
Dr. Julie Valentine, a BYU Nursing professor, whose research focuses on sexual assault and violence against women.
As Advisory Council Chair, Vice President Scharman talked with University Communications’ Natalie Tripp about the council’s deliberations and some of the key outcomes.
Natalie Tripp: What do the Advisory Council’s recommendations mean for BYU students?
Jan Scharman: Our overarching goal is to provide for our students a positive, safe and supportive environment in which they can study, work and live. More specifically, and consistent with the charge President Worthen gave to the Advisory Council, we hope these recommendations will help the university work toward the elimination of sexual assault on campus. Consistent with this goal, we are recommending increased resources, enhancement of current support systems and a broad educational campaign regarding the assistance we want to offer to all in our campus community.
NT: What went into the Advisory Council’s deliberations?
JS: Advisory Council members spent several months and literally hundreds of hours meeting with individuals and groups (including victims and complainants, community partners, campus organizations and national experts); studying federal guidelines, relevant literature, Title IX policies and structures from other universities; reading nearly 3,200 comments posted on a BYU feedback website established for this purpose; and then meeting together to discuss what kinds of changes, additions or refinements we would recommend to current policies and practices.
As stated in the university’s mission statement, our focus is “to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life,” with a commitment to “the balanced development of the total person” in an environment “sustained by those moral virtues which characterize the life and teachings of the Son of God.” Such an environment must foster intellectual development as it also safeguards the emotional, physical, social and spiritual welfare of each student. As stated in our report, sexual misconduct of any kind destroys such an environment and violates core doctrines of our Church. Our work as a council centered on the importance of providing a safe and secure campus for all who are here.
NT: Why was there a need for improvement?
JS: Like so many others, we have had to rely on resources that were currently available to us. Each year we have been able to make improvements to our process, including appointing a new Title IX coordinator, hiring two full-time deputy Title IX coordinators, naming additional Title IX personnel, developing a sexual misconduct policy and establishing a compliance committee. There are nearly 300 open cases that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is currently investigating at higher education institutions. It’s evident that handling sexual assault reporting is a complicated and evolving issue. We continue to make improvements that we believe will make a difference in limiting sexual assault here.
NT: Would BYU have made these changes without a U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation?
JS: Yes. President Worthen requested this study and the formation of the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault in May 2016. The Advisory Council carried out the study through the summer and into the fall. BYU was notified of the OCR investigation in August.
NT: What was the Advisory Council’s reasoning for recommending an amnesty statement?
JS: The Advisory Council spent a lot of time considering the recommendation for a possible amnesty statement. We studied the current amnesty statements of almost 80 other universities as well as relevant literature. We spoke with our visiting experts and reviewed suggestions forwarded to council members. Ultimately, two major factors influenced this recommendation: (1) Sexual assault is underreported. We cannot offer help and support to those traumatized by such a crime if we are not aware that such a crime has occurred. (2) National research suggests that as many as 60 percent of all perpetrators are repeat offenders. Our hope is that if we are able to encourage reporting of sexual assault, we may be able to intervene more quickly, thus making our campus safer.
NT: The recommendations include providing amnesty for Honor Code violations occurring at or near the time of the sexual assault. How does amnesty work within the proposed process?
JS: First, to help address both factors previously mentioned and to encourage reporting, the names of victims or witnesses reporting sexual misconduct will not be shared by the Title IX Office with the Honor Code Office, unless at the request and written permission of the reporting student or if the health or safety of others is at risk. In some situations in the past, an Honor Code review could follow the Title IX investigation. This will no longer be the case.
Second, neither a reporting victim, the accused, nor a witness of an incident of sexual misconduct will be subjected to university discipline for an Honor Code violation reported to the Title IX Office occurring at or near the time of the reported incident – unless the health or safety of others is at risk. When a BYU student, who is accused in a sexual-assault case, is found responsible for violating BYU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, the Title IX Office may share information about the accused student with the Honor Code Office for the limited purpose of allowing it to determine disciplinary action; in such cases, the Title IX Office will redact the names of complainants, victims and witnesses from all information before it is shared.
Our goal is to help students. Therefore, the university does reserve the right to initiate interventions, such as counseling or education, for those who have violated the Honor Code, including the reporting victim and witnesses. We found this is a standard practice at other universities as well.
NT: How will you improve collaboration between BYU and community resources?
JS: We hope to build on the relationships we currently have to invite more on-campus training from community resources, participation in Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities and generally to have a stronger campus presence to provide information and support for students. We recommend that representatives from BYU’s Title IX Office actively participate with community organizations such as the Utah County Sexual Assault Response Team. We recognize that BYU’s environment is unique, yet the university can benefit from being connected and from collaborating where possible.
NT: Now that the Advisory Council’s process is complete, what’s the next step?
JS: The efforts of the Advisory Council reinforced for us that this is a complicated issue, and that our efforts to respond compassionately to victims and make our campus safer will be an ongoing process. The President’s Council has accepted our report and will begin to implement five major recommendations immediately, and additional recommendations will be put into effect following our normal procedures.
NT: How has this process left you feeling about the future of this issue at BYU?
JS: I have been impressed with the large number of our faculty, staff and students who so passionately expressed concern and love for anyone who has been abused. A number of excellent campus resources are already in place, and I’m optimistic that we can and will make progress in meeting President Worthen’s charge to work toward the elimination of sexual assault on campus as we find better ways to sensitively and compassionately support victims.