In response to “Dear Fr. Jenkins”
Letter to the Editor | Friday, November 10, 2017
In a recent Viewpoint titled, “Dear Fr. Jenkins,” two students called for clarity with respect to several University policies related to sexual violence, in part due to changing guidance from the federal government.
Specifically, the authors asked the University to address the following four items. One: commit to using the preponderance of the evidence standard in cases of sexual misconduct; Two: uphold a 60-day timeline of addressing Title IX cases; three: clarify the new alternative resolution policy and disallow mediation in cases of sexual misconduct; and four: create and publicize waivers from the six-semester housing requirement for survivors of sexual misconduct, violence, or any other forms of discrimination.
These areas are of such importance to our campus community that I write this open response to clarify our policies. As I do so, let me reiterate Notre Dame’s unwavering commitment to preventing sexual violence, providing survivors with support and administering a compassionate, fair and timely resolution process.
The first two items are already codified in University policy. While we thoughtfully incorporate federal standards and carefully review our policies every summer, we have no plans to change University policy related to those items. Our first priority in making University policy decisions is and will remain the safety of our students and the welfare of our campus community. The preponderance of the evidence standard is used in all student conduct cases, including any reports related to sexual harassment or sexual misconduct. Our policy also articulates our goal to resolve reports within 60 days whenever feasible. We are committed to resolving complaints as expeditiously as possible and have added staff resources each of the last two years to support this objective.
The letter’s third point related to alternative resolution is an area where I welcome the opportunity to provide further information about the options it provides to students. By policy, mediation is not available for cases involving sexual assault. Mediation is available for other types of sexual misconduct (e.g., non-consensual sexual contact, dating or domestic violence, stalking) or hostile environment cases only when all parties agree to proceed in that manner. Mediation is also only one form of alternative resolution — other examples could include education or continuation of interim measures. The alternative resolution process was implemented this summer (prior to the revised federal guidance) based on the feedback of complainants who asked for a broader range of options for resolution of their reports. Participation in alternative resolution is voluntary for both complainants and respondents, and a complainant or respondent can opt to instead pursue an administrative resolution (with a possible disciplinary outcome) at any point prior to the case’s conclusion. The University would never coerce any students into mediation or any other method of alternative resolution.
The fourth point related to the new residency requirement remains in process, since the new policy will affect first-year students matriculating in fall 2018. I am grateful for the thoughtful student feedback already offered on this topic and look forward to further conversation. We want our residential communities to provide safe, welcoming and inclusive environments. The exception policy will carefully consider the individual needs of each student, including whether the student has experienced an incident of sexual violence or discriminatory harassment that would make another campus community or an off-campus alternative preferable to her or him.
I welcome additional student engagement on how to prevent sexual violence in our community and offer support to those students impacted by these incidents. Students, staff and faculty from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College serve on the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention, which regularly offers advice and guidance to the Office of Student Affairs on how to assist and support victims of sexual assault. The Oct. 11 Student Senate meeting also provided an opportunity to share further information about the University’s policies and support resources, and Title IX Lunch and Learn meetings held in August, September and October (with another session scheduled Nov. 30) are intended to help students better understand recent additions to the Title IX Reporting Process.
Notre Dame is deeply committed to our students’ safety as we strive to become a community free from sexual violence. We are grateful for the efforts of so many students, faculty and staff who work to improve prevention programs, offer support resources and address reports in an equitable and timely manner. Together, we can accomplish these goals and honor the human dignity of each member of our community.
Erin Hoffmann Harding
vice president for Student Affairs
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.