The University of Michigan has updated its sexual misconduct policy to expand the school’s definition of unwanted sexual conduct and actions.
The policy will go into effect starting June 1.
“The final policy that we deliver to you today is much stronger because of the significant engagement of faculty, staff, and students,” said U-M Vice President of Student Life E. Royster Harper in an e-mail to students.
Harper said the new policy was created through in-person feedback sessions and a university-wide online survey.
The updated sexual misconduct policy will:
1. Force the university to investigate a larger variety of sexual misconduct cases
The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) will now be tasked with investigating reported sexual misconduct cases as well as incidents of reported stalking, intimate partner violence, and gender-based harassment. The policy specifically outlines what the university perceives as conduct that constitutes sexual or gender-based harassment.
2. Include a refined definition of consent and what it means
A more comprehensive definition of consent is provided by the new policy, which defines consent as “a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed outwardly through mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity.”
The policy also includes that consent is “not to be inferred from silence, passivity, or a lack of resistance, and relying on non-verbal communication alone may not be sufficient to ascertain consent.”
A report by Riyah Basha and Camy Metwally of the Michigan Daily compared the previous definition of consent against the new one:
“While the current policy already says consent cannot be obtained through force, the new definition also specifically bars individuals from initiating sexual activity through coercion, or triggering fear in another person.”
3. Increased public information on witness identities and sexual history
The new policy allows for more information to be collected in investigations of sexual misconduct. It includes two new clauses titled “Prior or Subsequent Conduct of the Respondent” and “Prior Sexual Contact Between Claimant and Respondent.”
The “Prior or Subsequent Conduct of the Respondent” clause is information that can be used in an investigation to determine “pattern, knowledge, intent, or the respondent’s reasons for taking the action.”
The information derived from the “Prior Sexual Contact Between Claimant and Respondent” will only be used in determining whether or not consent was “sought and given during the incident in question” because it could help investigators understand the manner and nature of sexual communication between the two persons.
4. Reconstruction of the current sanctions and appeals process
Under the current policy, a representative from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) determines sanctions that they believe will eliminate prohibited conduct and the resulting negative effects. The new policy will continue to use OSCR, but its role will change. There will now be a separate sanctioning board composed of two faculty or staff representatives and one student selected by the university’s Central Student Government.
The new policy also allows the respondent or claimant to appeal to a third-party reviewer if they disagree with the sanction or findings that result from an investigation by OSCR.