by Mariah Parker, Multimedia Editor
In April 2011, Joe Biden, as head of the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges and schools across the country. The letter clarified specific ways that sexual violence should be addressed under Title IX, a 1972 gender-equity law governing educational institutions that receive federal funds.
“Colleges were scared out of their wits when Joe Biden got up and said that colleges weren’t doing their jobs around sexual misconduct,” said E.W. Quimbaya-Winship, RISE Project Director. “Some colleges, and not necessarily here, haven’t been good at following through with what Title IX protects for.”
In response to a new federal mandate, the RISE project instated their emergency hotline last fall. This spring, their efforts continue as RISE begins revising the College’s sexual harassment policies.
While RISE stringently advocates thorough sexual harassment investigation, the current policy, nearing five years in age, risks becoming outdated. “It’s standard to revisit policy every five years,” said Quimbaya-Winship. “We’re just making sure if our policy is keeping up with law as it’s changing.”
Since his arrival in August, Quimbaya-Winship has reviewed other organizations and institutions’ policies, including the model policy issued by California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Center for Victims of Crime. “We’re compiling what works and what sounds effective,” says Quimbaya-Winship. The RISE Director has also brought on Saundra Schuster, a partner with the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM), to advise the College during the revision.
RISE hopes to clarify language and amend criteria of the current policy to adhere to new standards and make the text more accessible. “We need to have a policy that defines consent and things in specific, consistent ways,” says Quimbaya-Winship. “When a student files a complaint, they should understand the definitions of terms. They shouldn’t have to hunt for stuff.”
In some instances, the policy requires minor adjustments of language, negotiating the use of words like “intoxicated,” “under the influence,” and “incapacitated.” In others, the revision will add whole new criteria, as with the current stalking policy.
A 2009 Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report estimates that 3.4 million people were stalked over the course of a year, and persons ages 18-24 experienced the highest rates of stalking.
“When stalking is concerned, it usually escalates. Showing up to your door is the first thing and something else usually will follow. It’s a scary thing and it’s an equal-opportunity crime, too.”
Despite these realities, the conversation surrounding stalking on campus is surprisingly limited. “The discussion around consent on this campus is way ahead of the game, but stalking is an issue we’re not well-educated on,” says Quimbaya-Winship.
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Center for Victims of Crime extends the definition of what stalking is and gives specific examples of what is included when talking about stalking. RISE hopes to enact similar changes in the College’s policy, which is currently contained in a single line of text.
“We know much more about stalking now than we did 10-15 years ago,” says Quimbaya-Winship. “As we learn more, our policies should continue to shift and grow.”
Quimbaya-Winship began work on hard copy drafts of the new policy in November. On Tuesday, January 24, the RISE director brought his proposal before Caucus for approval.
“We just wanted to show students where RISE is at [with the revision],” he said.
In the next six weeks, RISE hopes to assemble a formal draft that may be reviewed by Caucus, Staff Forum, Student Affairs and other governance bodies.
“I would love if it were done by the end of the semester,” Quimbaya-Winship said.
During the month of January, RISE hung Stalking Awareness Month posters and distributed table tents in the hopes of creating conversation around the issue. Once the policy revisions receive approval, RISE intends to hit hard with community education.
“We want to keep everyone on the same page,” Quimbaya-Winship said.