New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement introducing a statewide policy to combat sexual assault on State University of New York campuses on Oct. 2. SUNY administrators will develop these policies over the next two months before being approved by Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and a board of trustees in December. Cuomo’s initiative came as a response to an audit of SUNY’s Cleary reports, in which multiple errors were found regarding policy statements and reporting requirements of the Cleary Act.
“The discovery of these errors on certain campuses gave a push for the centralization of sexual assault policies,” Vice President for Student and Campus Life at Geneseo Robert Bonfiglio said. “We were happy to find that Geneseo had zero errors within this report.”
Bonfiglio serves as a Geneseo representative in the SUNY working group for continual improvement on sexual violence policies. This is the group of administrators discussing the development and implementation of Cuomo’s policy initiative.
The group has its first meeting Monday Oct. 27 and will cover areas including a revised amnesty policy, statewide training for campus police and administrators, an awareness campaign, a uniform sexual assault victim’s bill of rights, confidentiality and reporting protocol and campus climate assessments. Each of these is expected to be complied across all SUNY campuses.
In addition to these areas, Cuomo has created a new definition of consent that will apply to all SUNY campuses.
According to Cuomo, “Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary. Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) sexual activity. Previous relationships or prior consent cannot imply consent to future sexual acts.”
Geneseo has addressed many of these concerns already, with a definition of consent akin to the new mandate and polices similar to those issued by Cuomo.
“We believe Geneseo is ahead when it comes to resources and awareness,” Dean of Students Leonard Sancilio said. “We have programs in place like ‘When A Kiss Is Not Just A Kiss’ that keep students alert about these issues.”
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Assistant Dean of Students Tamara Kenney––who works with Student Conduct and Community Standards––has worked on these policies under guidance from SUNY long before this imitative was released.
Along with Administrator of Student Health and Counseling Melinda Dubois and Title IX Coordinator and assistant to the President for Diversity & Equity/Director of Affirmative Action Adrienne Collier, Kenney has been developing a Bill of Rights in regard to sexual assault specifically for Geneseo since the summer. They have also addressed reforms to federal legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act, revising the sexual misconduct policy to include additional rights to student victims of violence on college campuses.
“Things have recently come to a halt because of the governor’s new initiative,” Kenney said. “We are waiting for the ‘meat and potatoes’ behind these policies so we can compare them to what we have and make sure our procedures apply.”
After Cuomo’s plan to combat sexual assault is approved, SUNY college campuses will have until March 31 to comply with the new set of policies.
“Ultimately, Governor Cuomo wants consistency from college to college,” Bonfiglio said. “Our policies were not deficient, but there needs to be clarity on these issues between all SUNY schools. Enhancement of safety is always a good thing.”
Kenney agrees with these sentiments.
“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “But student safety is our number one priority.”