UC to revise sexual violence, sexual harassment policy

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The UC Office of the President, or UCOP, is asking for student feedback on proposed changes to the UC’s sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH, policy.

Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell sent a survey out to UC Berkeley students asking for “comments on the proposed revisions” in a campuswide message Monday evening.

The new policy, if approved, would amend definitions for conduct violations such as sexual assault, domestic violence and retaliation. Among the changes, physical violence would be redefined as conduct that “threatens the health and safety of the recipient,” as opposed to how it is currently worded — “causing bodily injury to the complainant.” The frequently asked questions section would include a more detailed description of the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The changes also include more detailed descriptions for different processes, such as the reporting of prohibited conduct. These processes will vary based on the identity of the respondent or the person accused of misconduct. The report also explains the procedure if the respondent is not known to be a student, faculty member or academic employee.

Sharon Inkelas, special faculty adviser to the chancellor on sexual violence and sexual harassment and a linguistics professor at UC Berkeley, said in an email that the current proposed revisions were motivated by the feedback of more than 500 comments from faculty, staff and students across the UC system, as well as changes required by an agreement made with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Inkelas added that the last revisions to the policy were made in 2016.

Recommendations made by the California state auditor in a report published in June 2018 also influenced the policy’s changes. The report, which investigated the UC system’s response to SVSH complaints, stated that in addressing sexual harassment, UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UCLA “often imposed inconsistent discipline on faculty who were the subject of multiple sexual harassment complaints” and that many respondents “went on to repeat sexual harassment behavior.”

The report also states that the Berkeley and LA campuses often did not follow the requirements of the formal Title IX process, which requires that investigations be completed within 60 business days.

The proposed changes specify that the time for investigation must be completed between 30 and 60 days unless there is an extension “for good cause,” according to the provisions.

Further changes will be made to the resolution process, which includes formal investigation and the informal process, known as alternative resolution. According to the proposed changes, these resolutions are to be made if the reports are not closed after initial assessment by the Title IX office.

According to the email from Greenwell, the alternative resolution process is described in further detail in the revisions. The changes specify that the complainant and respondent must both be willing to participate in an informal investigation. Once both parties agree to alternative resolution, the university will not conduct a formal investigation.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay said she thinks that it is very important for students to provide their thoughts regarding the policy changes.

“While UC policy strives to be inclusive and survivor-centric, there are always improvements that can be made, and diverse students’ input helps reach those goals,” Khalfay said.

Isabella Sabri is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @isabella_sabri.