Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a comprehensive new sexual assault policy for New York State on July 7. According to an article in the Democrat and Chronicle, all public and private colleges in New York must conform to the policy. According to Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert A. Bonfiglio, the new policy is just a “fine tuning” of the SUNY Policies of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response that were released on Dec. 1. The sexual assault prevention legislation created uniform policy for all state-funded campuses, but Cuomo announced his goal of creating a cohesive policy for every college campus in the state in January .
“In my mind, it’s just a continuation of an ongoing process that we’ve been involved in at Geneseo for a number of years now,” Bonfiglio said. The new state policy consists mainly of minor revisions at the request of private colleges.
Among these revisions is the requirement of a panel composed of faculty and students when a sexual assault case is appealed. If either party wishes to challenge the ruling, it must testify before the panel. In the past, the appeal was made to an individual member of the school’s administration.
In many sections of the policy, the word “victim” was replaced with “student” or “reporting individual.” In addition, the phrase “sexual assault” was replaced with “domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, so they are a little more inclusive in their terminology,” Bonfiglio said.
The new policy also includes a larger database of links and resources for victims of sexual violence.
The updated policy has had a strong impact on freshman orientation. Students must participate in a two-hour online learning session about sexual assault and peer training in Mentoring Violence Prevention. Greek organizations also undergo training in preventing and recognizing sexual assault.
In addition, Geneseo has hired a director of student care services Title IX coordinator Tamara Kenney. Kenney will have office space and hours on campus to speak to students confidentially and to provide counseling and other information regarding sexual assault.
“Having the policies in place [is] important, but having the person who’s going to help educate the rest of us on the policy, support people in need and also have support from the county on campus will be the big changes,” Bonfiglio said.
“If any student was in need of confidential help, this would be the place to come,” Kenney said. “I’m strictly an advocate for students.”
She emphasized that she will assist students affected by sexual violence in whatever path they take, whether they choose to report or not. “The student is the driver in this case,” she said.
The policy implementation and resulting climate on campus will be monitored through a variety of statistics. While services will remain confidential, the administration will track the number of students that utilize Kenney’s office, as well as the services provided by RESTORE Sexual Assault Services.
According to Bonfiglio, another measure of the new initiative’s success will be if reports of sexual assault on campus increase. “The reality would be that there were not more incidents, but that people would feel more comfortable reporting the incidents,” he said.
Senior Mary Auld expressed positive feelings toward the policy change. “While I’ve always felt pretty safe on campus, I am sure that incidences of sexual violence do occur, even in Geneseo,” she said. “To me, any effort from the administration to prevent this and to make resources for those who are victims of sexual violence more easily accessible is really reassuring and makes me feel more comfortable as a student.”
“The administration surpassing the minimum requirements is creating an even safer environment for most people on this campus,” junior Lacey Collins added.
Bonfiglio also added that he encourages peer advocacy. Kenney is currently organizing a Sexual Violence Prevention Committee in which students can participate.
“We feel that peer education and peer outreach is a very effective method of educating and supporting students that may have been victims of violence,” Bonfiglio said. “So we would love to see our students step forward.”