Changes to code of conduct in effect, new policies on sexual misconduct

Changes to the Geneseo Student Code of Conduct regarding the definition and treatment of sexual misconduct on campus, approved by the college council in December, have gone into effect.

The aims of these changes include expanding the rights of victims and providing more clear definitions of sexual misconduct.

The new policy was written by Robert Bonfiglio, vice president of student and campus life. Bonfiglio received feedback from various entities on campus in order to compose the policy, including the Advisory Committee on Campus Security.

As reported in The Lamron in October, the changes to the code of conduct were primarily the result of a letter from the Office of Civil Rights sent to institutions of higher education nationwide. According to Jennifer Katz, associate professor of psychology and co-chair of the advisory committee, attitudes and misunderstandings regarding sexual misconduct did make the change necessary.

“I think the Sexual Assault Teach-In [last year] showed us that we needed this policy,” Katz said. “There were questions about very specific situations and we weren’t equipped to answer them.”

Senior Catherine Herman, a member of the committee, said she agreed that clarifying definitions of terms such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, mutual consent and rape is beneficial to both students and the school as a whole. 

“It’s important to have things written out,” she explained. “Now, if something were to happen, it’s easy to determine how the school defines it and is going to act upon it.”

 The biggest changes in terms of rights are those related to the appeals process. Complainants now have the right to appeal decisions, whereas before this right was reserved to the alleged party.

 Tamara Kenney, the assistant dean of students for student conduct and community standards, said that she was hopeful that students would be proactive in knowing their rights and would be able to use the options available to them.

 “We strongly encourage students to report to whomever they’re most comfortable, whether that’s a professor, RA, counselor or coach,” she said.

 Students now have the option to report sexual misconduct cases confidentially and have a variety of options for having their needs met. Educational materials, including informational cards given to new students and stickers to be posted in residential buildings, are intended to increase awareness of these options.

According to the advisory council, Geneseo’s sexual misconduct statistics are in line with national averages. “I feel safe on campus the same way I feel safe in the world as a whole … but it is important to recognize that bad things happen, and you need to openly talk about what to do when they do,” Herman said. 

Katz said that the committee is very pleased with the changes, noting that she “think[s] the policy is beautiful. It draws from expert consensus in the field. The room for improvement lies in our practices, how we deal with the issues.”

She said that training more staff to deal with sexual misconduct and providing the necessary transportation for victims of assault would be highly beneficial to the Geneseo campus. “At the moment, these are issues of staffing and funding,” she said.

Katz, Kenney and Herman all emphasized that students need to educate themselves on pertinent issues. 

“I hope students will be empowered,” Kenney said.