Northwestern releases new sexual misconduct policy

Ally Mutnick, Campus Editor

Northwestern administrators unveiled Monday a new sexual misconduct policy that offers a more comprehensive definition of consent and a wider-reaching list of what constitutes sexual violence.

Titled “Sexual Conduct, Stalking, and Dating and Domestic Violence,” the policy will comply better with federal regulations, including Title IX which prohibits sex discrimination in education, including sexual assault, officials said. It has students and faculty optimistic the policy will aid in the fight against sexual violence on campus.

(In Focus: Taking back Title IX: Northwestern joins national push to address sexual assault)

This policy applies to all members of the University. Previously, one policy covered students and another applied to faculty and staff, Dean of Students Todd Adams said. 

“I’m almost most proud that we have a uniform policy that says this is what we consider to be sexual violence,” Adams said. “(It’s) how we view that as a community, not just for students but for everyone.”

The policy provides more comprehensive guidelines on consent, noting that consent must be voluntary, is invalid if an individual is incapacitated, does not carry over from one sexual act to another and can be withdrawn at any time. 

It also defines stalking, domestic violence and dating violence and labels each specifically as prohibited conduct — something the former policy did not. 

Laura Stuart, coordinator for sexual health education and violence prevention at the Center for Awareness, Response and Education, said she thinks the detailed policy will help survivors of sexual violence make sense of what happened to them.

“It supports their feelings,” Stuart said. “That’s something that Northwestern says in writing is not acceptable here. I think it hopefully makes it easier for survivors to come forward and get the help they need.”

Announced early Monday in an email to the NU community, the policy has been in the works for several years.

A new policy was recommended shortly after the 2010 founding of the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence, an association of student and administrative groups who assess campus policies on sexual misconduct.

Adams said planning began in earnest last spring. The Division of Student Affairs consulted with different campus groups and departments including CCSV, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators, the Office of the Provost, University Police and CARE.  

The University also released a second policy Monday with detailed guidelines on consensual relationships between members of the NU community. The policy specifies that if consensual sexual or romantic relationships occur between individuals with “unequal positions of power,” no person should have direct or evaluative authority over the other. 

SESP junior Frances Fu said CCSV had reviewed a draft of the sexual misconduct policy and the coalition suggested making the legislation more relevant to college students by adapting language to include both “hookups” and intimate relationships.

Fu, the SHAPE representative on CCSV, said the policy was an improvement but more action is required to fight sexual violence.

“There has to be a lot of education and a lot of measures to reduce the shame and stigma,” Fu said. “Policy change isn’t enough to promote an end to sexual violence.”

Erik Baker, a MARS member who also helped review the policy, said he likes that the definition makes it easier to hold people accountable and to minimize loopholes.

With the new policy set, students and administrators are starting assessments of the adjudication and arbitration system known as Sexual Assault Hearings and Appeals System.

Baker, a Weinberg sophomore, noted aspects of SAHAS may require survivors to confront their assailants, something that makes some survivors uncomfortable.

Student Affairs will gather input from students and evaluate the system’s processes and decide what to alter, in addition to promoting the new sexual misconduct policy on campus.

Adams said he plans to attend CCSV and Associated Student Government meetings in upcoming weeks to explain the policy changes to students.

“This has been a conversation over the last couple years,” Adams said. “What we now need to do is talk about this policy.”

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