The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Sexual misconduct policy updated to include additional protections


Among the revisions are the classification as “outing” someone as sexual exploitation and a refined definition of retaliation

Last week, the Dean of Students Office announced updates to the Sexual Misconduct Policy, adding protections and clarifying existing terms. Dean of Students Mark Bandas communicated the revisions to the policy via an email sent to the entire student body August 16.   

The Sexual Misconduct and Intimate Partner Violence policy, which can be found in Chapter 7 of the Student Handbook, is the document which addresses Vanderbilt’s obligations under Title IX, the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. The policy is updated each academic year to reflect feedback from the campus community amalgamated by the Project Safe Center, Title IX Office and Student Accountability as well as elements of peer institutions’ policies and input from the Vanderbilt Sexual Assault Prevention committee of VSG, said Cara Tuttle Bell, the director of the Project Safe Center.

“I always hope we can take the policy language and make it clear and accessible to students, so I’m glad that this year’s updates are getting some attention,” Tuttle Bell said.

The Vanderbilt Sexual Assault Prevention committee, VSAP, maintains an open dialogue with Project Safe and the Title IX Office to suggest changes to the policy each year. Before the policy was finalized and published, the leaders of VSAP had the opportunity to make line-by-line edits and provide suggestions, said senior Farah Arif, VSAP’s chair.

Many of the revisions that Arif suggested to the policy were regarding the language and structure, mainly re-ordering information and analyzing the placement of sections in relation to each other.

Among the changes to the policy was the addition of “intentionally disclosing or threatening to disclose the sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression of another if the person has kept, or sought to keep, their status private from the person(s) to whom it is disclosed” as a specified form of sexual exploitation. Molly Zlock, the Director of Title IX and Title IX Coordinator, clarified that sexual exploitation is defined as “non-consensual abuse or exploitation of another person’s sexuality for the purpose of sexual gratification, financial gain, personal benefit or advantage, or any other improper purpose.”

The Office of LGBTQI Life was not directly involved in the process of adding this protection to the policy, said its director, Chris Purcell.

“While I was not involved in the advocacy for this policy, I support the intent, which is to make sure LGBTQI students can focus on their academic and co-curricular life without fear of being outed intentionally,” Purcell said.

This addition to the policy has been in the pipeline for many years, according to Kayleigh Verboncoeur, president of the Vanderbilt Lambda Association, the gender and sexuality alliance.

“These protections, intended to guard students against those types of dangerous forced outings or exploitation under threat of outing, have been long-anticipated by many within our community at Vanderbilt,” Verboncoeur said. “I am not sure that the push for its inclusion can be traced to any one individual as it has been a recognized community need and general talking point for years.”

The serious consequences of being outed for many students make the addition of this particular act of exploitation to the policy an important one for the campus LGBTQI community, which Verboncoeur pointed out is statistically more likely to face abuse, violence and coercion at the hands of an intimate partner and runs the risk of being blackmailed due to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

“These protections are important but often overlooked,” Verboncoeur said. “Many people do not realize the very real danger being forcibly outed carries for many individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. An individual may face such consequences as being disowned from their family, denied housing, denied healthcare, being fired from their job, or in other ways having their safety jeopardized.”

Beyond the protections surrounding gender and sexuality, the updated policy goes into additional detail about retaliation as it relates to sexual assault and those who are accused of being perpetrators.

“Retaliation is any adverse action threatened or taken, whether directly or through a third party, against another person because they have complained about, reported, or participated in the investigation or disposition of alleged sexual misconduct,” the policy reads. “Retaliation in an effort to discourage a person from reporting sexual misconduct or participating in a sexual misconduct investigation, or to punish a person for doing so, is also prohibited.”   

Furthermore, the policy goes on to say that individuals who are involved in Title IX investigations are not prohibited from sharing information about the investigation with those who may support them, they are advised to exercise discretion in order to “safeguard the integrity of the process and to avoid the appearance of retaliation.”

Senior Télyse Masaoay, Arif’s co-chair on VSAP, believes the most influential change to the policy this year is the opportunity for students who are mandatory reporters such as VUceptors and RAs to attend Rooted in Resilience, a weekly support group designed for students who have been impacted by interpersonal violence. Because mandatory reporters are required to report possible violations of the sexual misconduct policy to the Title IX Office staff, including all known details about the alleged incident, they were previously not allowed to attend support group meetings as they would be required to report incidents that attendees may not want to be brought to the attention of the Title IX Office.  

This year, however, Bandas announced in his email that students who are mandatory reporters may attend Rooted in Resilience without triggering their reporting obligations.

“Before this new policy came out, we didn’t have support groups that were accessible to us because we would have been required to report,” said Masaoay, who is also an RA in Warren and Moore. “That was something we were pushing for–more support for campus caregivers.”

This year’s policy also clarifies that it applies not only to individual students, but to student organizations and their activities both on and off campus, including “conduct in connection with University programs or activities or that otherwise interferes with or limits the ability of a member of the community to participate in or to receive benefits, services or opportunities from the University’s programs or activities, regardless of whether the victim is an affiliate of the University.”

The section of the policy focused on forensic examinations was updated to reflect the recent offering of Sexual Assault Forensic Examinations at the Student Health Center as well as in-house at the Emergency Department of the Medical Center.

While these changes are steps in the right direction in the eyes of many campus stakeholders, leaders have their sights set on additional changes down the road.

“I’d like to see the university reach out more directly to marginalized groups on campus to make individuals aware of what constitutes abuse or exploitation, and what avenues they may have to either report offenses or seek support,” Verboncoeur said.

Arif plans on organizing VSAP events that touch every portion of the Vanderbilt community throughout the year as part of her goal to make sexual assault a true campus-wide issue. Instead of holding all programming in traditional venues such as the Women’s Center and Project Safe, she plans on organizing events throughout campus, at places such as the KCPC or the BCC, in order to physically bring the content to where people are and help VSAP better understand the unique concerns and needs of underrepresented communities, she said.

“The overarching goal is to bring in campus partners that are not traditionally part of our organization so that it isn’t just a small group of students that are really passionate about this issue,” Masaoay said.

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Sarah Friedman, Former Editor in Chief

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