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Senate discusses sexual assault, recognition of Native American history

| Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Notre Dame student senators focused on social justice issues during their meeting Monday evening, addressing the University’s policies regarding the treatment of sexual assault survivors and Native Americans.

Over the past several weeks, the student senate discussed the Trump administration’s changes to Title IX, the federal civil rights law that regulates how colleges handle sexual assault allegations. Many student leaders have expressed concerns that Notre Dame will be less responsive to victims’ needs in the wake of these new changes.

Student Title IX services manager Amber Monroe spoke to the senate about the University’s sexual assault resolution process and addressed concerns about new Title IX revisions.

“A lot of these [changes] are not mandates. … We’re going to be given a lot of time to figure out what [the changes] look like for Notre Dame,” Monroe said. “What I can say is we will always be Notre Dame in the sense of caring for our students.”

The proposed changes to Title IX allow colleges to resolve sexual assault allegations through mediation, a process in which victims and perpetrators discuss the allegations face-to-face. Monroe clarified that Notre Dame does not plan on using this kind of face-to-face mediation for sexual assault cases.

But the University does offer other “alternative resolution” processes for sexual assault cases on a voluntary basis, she said. Victims can agree to engage in these processes, which are supposed to be forms of restorative justice — a way to help victims and perpetrators heal together.

“I think that we forget sometimes that these are people,” Monroe said. “Emotions, behaviors and choices affect how these processes can metastasize and what they can look like for each individual.”

Monroe explained that the University developed these alternative resolution strategies in response to student feedback. Many students noted in the 2016 Campus Climate Survey that they felt their options for resolving incidents of assault were too limited.

Notably, these alternative resolution processes — unlike traditional administrative resolution processes — are non-disciplinary, meaning perpetrators cannot face disciplinary action after an alternative resolution is completed.

Junior and Welsh Family Hall senator Lindsay McCray said a non-disciplinary resolution could endanger students.

“There have been studies that indicate that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by repeat offenders,” she said. “So, in allowing [an] alternative resolution to occur in sexual assault cases, even if it’s not mediation, how does that protect the student body at all from rapists?”

Monroe said the University considers each case individually and does not allow alternative resolutions for perpetrators who could pose serious threats to other students.

After concluding the discussion of Title IX, senators shifted the conversation to Native American history and culture.

Senators approved a resolution calling the University administration to recognize that Notre Dame’s campus sits on land that once belonged to the Potawatomi people. The resolution encouraged a statement acknowledging this history be featured at Welcome Weekend, graduation and the Walk the Walk Week luncheon.

Additionally, the senate approved a resolution calling for a Native Studies minor in the College of Arts and Letters, drawing on the example of many other universities.

“This … shows the people who are Native descendants that we respect you, we affirm you,” said Marcus Winchester-Jones, sophomore and president of the Native American Student Association of Notre Dame. “It … makes it so it’s a more welcoming community for everybody.”

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