Northwestern administrators answered questions regarding Title IX and sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence policies in a forum tonight in Annenberg Hall.
Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin moderated the forum. Some questions included requests to clarify the process of reporting an assault, who is required to report assaults to the university and the difference between sexual assault and harassment.
The panel of administrators included Dean of Students Todd Adams, CAPS Executive Director John Dunkle , NUPD Police Commander Shaun Johnson, Director of the Women’s Center Renée Redd, Title IX Coordinating Committee Chair Joan Slavin, CARE’s Coordinator of Sexual Health Education and Violence Prevention Laura Stuart and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Sullivan.
Slavin explained that reporting an assault depends on who the assaulter is. If a faculty member assaults a student, Slavin interviews the complainant, the accused and witnesses. After she conducts her investigation, she determines whether the behavior violates the university’s policy and decides the appropriate disciplinary action.
She also said there is no statute of limitations if the accused is a professor, though she encouraged students to step forward as soon as possible. According to Sullivan, if a student assaults another student, the statute of limitations is a year. However, they are looking to change this policy to as long as the accused student is at Northwestern.
Sullivan clarified that administrators at CARE, CAPS and the Women’s Center are not obligated to report assault to the police. Survivors can choose whether they want the incident reported. Slavin said if a student tells his or her story to a TA, the TA is required to report the assault. University policy says Northwestern employees are required to report assaults. Though TAs are not university employees and therefore do not technically fit under the policy, Slavin says this is an ambiguous part of the policy she is trying to have clarified.
Slavin also explained that sexual assault is a crime involving penetration, while harassment is a more general term that covers everything from dirty jokes to sexual assault.
Adams said there are many options for students whose academic performance suffers as a result of sexual assault. For example, students can receive incompletes in their classes and make them up later, or they can choose to go on medical leave. Adams emphasized that students are never forced to go on medical leave; instead it is the student’s choice.
Weinberg junior Kayleen McMonigal, who helped organize the event, said the panel was helpful to clarify the university’s policy on these issues.
“I think it was important that we got questions answered from administrators, because I think that there had been a lot of talk going on,” she said. “I think that there is a little bit sometimes of a discrepancy between the actual policies and what happens … but I’m glad that there will be open forms of communication to answer more questions in the future.”
Weinberg junior Jasmine Stephens, who also helped organize the event, said she thought the panel was a very important first step but wished Northwestern had taken a step further.
“I think it’s very easy to paint the school in a relatively idealistic light,” she said. “I think there comes a point where I … wish sometimes that somebody would just be like, ‘We screwed up. I’m sorry. Something went wrong, students don’t feel safe on campus, we’re going to own that and then take a next step forward.’”
Looking ahead, Stephens said she hopes the university will examine where their policies failed and how they can make students feel safer on campus.
She said, “While it’s one thing to learn about what processes we do have, it’s also like, okay, where is it failing? Why is it failing? Is it because the process itself is messed up, or is it … not being carried out the way it was designed, or what exactly is going wrong?”