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ND strengthens sexual discrimination policy

Eileen Duffy | Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Addressing weaknesses in its sexual discrimination policies, the University drew up a Title IX Grievance Procedure and a 30-day timeline for sexual harassment cases, both now included in the 2006 duLac: A Guide to Student Life and the Faculty Handbook.

The Grievance Procedure is a three-step process for a victim of sexual discrimination to voice a complaint: an informal discussion with the accused individual, a formal complaint sent to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and, finally, the opportunity for the victim to appeal the OIE’s decision.

“Previously, students may have thought, ‘Well, I don’t know if this is harassment, so where do I go with it?'” said Jill Bodensteiner, associate vice president and counsel for the Office of General Counsel. “We wanted to give them a clear point of contact and a clear indication of how it will be handled by the University.”

Probably best known for its application to athletics, Title IX (part of the 1972 Higher Education Act) prohibits all discrimination based on sex – like sponsoring more men’s than women’s athletic teams. Under its fairly loose guidelines, Notre Dame had established an Equity in Athletics committee and a sexual harassment policy, Bodensteiner said. But before the new Grievance Procedure was put in place, no University guidelines existed for registering other cases of sexual discrimination.

“Complaints by a man or a woman in admissions, for example, or maybe a program or activity – a student club open to just women or just men,” Bodensteiner said. “We’ve had informal and formal policies, but this was a gap … an area we needed to beef up.”

Bodensteiner said Notre Dame has worked closely with the Office for Civil Rights, the branch of the U.S. Department of Education that enforces Title IX.

“We have consulted with them on our policies. They are very much in approval with the way we’re handling things now,” she said.

The new language added to the sexual harassment policy specifies that “[in] response to most reports of sexual harassment, the University will complete the disciplinary procedure in 30 business days.” According to Bodensteiner, that plan should smooth some kinks for all involved parties.

“We didn’t like the fact that the investigation was open-ended. Now, it gives the victim and the alleged harasser an indication of when they can expect a response,” she said. “It’s also a good means for us to hold ourselves to a timeline internally, when we’re doing an investigation.”

Reporting cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape has been complicated by the Office of General Counsel, and duLac provides the best forum to convey the new information to students, said Lori Maurer, associate director of Office of Residence Life and Housing. She hopes such additions will help students see duLac as a resource, and not just as a rule book.

“There’s a lot of great information in [duLac],” Maurer said. “We’re trying to change the negative connotation.”

It’s the negative, punitive connotations students associate with duLac and ORLH that can often plague victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, Maurer said – which is why clarifying language was previously added to duLac.

“Several years ago, we were concerned because we’d heard students didn’t want to report a case because they’d been drinking or they were breaking parietals,” Maurer said.

Now, duLac says “student victims will not be subject to disciplinary action in connection with their reporting of sexual assault or misconduct.”

ORLH formally announced the most recent duLac amendments in an Oct. 13 e-mail to all Notre Dame students. The e-mail was delayed to coincide with the Oct. 15 release of the Faculty Handbook, Bodensteiner said.

Maurer said ORLH follows a different, specific process to announce duLac changes that affect students’ lives more significantly, such as the new alcohol policy in 2002.