Sexual assault investigation spurs policy and social changes

On May 1, under Title IX’s gender equality provision, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a list of 55 universities—which has now expanded to 76 universities including Guilford College — under investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases. Since then, Guilford has made several changes to its sexual assault policy.

“Guilford has always taken sexual misconduct very seriously and has investigated promptly and thoroughly any case we became aware of, except in instances where the student requested that no further action be taken,” said Jen Agor, interim vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

Guilford has run many programs aimed at reducing sexual assault, including the “Keep it Consensual” campaign during the 2013–14 school year, which aimed at increasing awareness of the meaning and importance of consent.

“They promoted it in a lot of different venues all around campus in different events but also at parties,” said junior Ben Evans. “Actually, just this past weekend, we had a consent party which was promoting very direct and very forward conversations about anything sort of sexual in that manner.”

Previously, Guilford faced a problem involving under-reporting sexual assault statistics.

Taking that into account, Guilford has fixed problems associated with its online anonymous reporting form. Before, complaints rose over its being hard to find and having technical difficulties. The form can now be found on the Buzz, the school’s website and in the student handbook.

That, however, is not the only change Guilford has made.

Recently, Guilford College created a category of position titled “Campus Security Authority” that includes 120 people. Their job is to report criminal offenses including sexual violence, hate crimes and arrests. Guilford has also created a mandatory online course for staff members titled “Faculty and Staff Training on Preventing Discrimination & Sexual Violence.”

“It wasn’t perfect, but it was a very good effort and it gave staff a lot of information,” said Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dani Moran.

In its new policies, Guilford has also given clearer definitions of sexual misconduct, domestic violence and stalking, as well as clarified and improved their consent policy. In addition, statistics of domestic violence and stalking have been added to its Annual Security Report.

A flyer containing information on reporting sexual assault, accessing medical help, gathering evidence and the next steps in the judicial process has been created and widely circulated.

Guilford has also added wellness programming to Community Director Kristie Wyatt’s position, which allows her to focus on training and education about consent, bystander intervention, safe sex and other important wellness topics.

Students and staff have had varying views on Guilford’s sexual assault policies in the past.

“I believe that they discouraged me from seeking justice and did not provide any care for me or the other person that was a victim in my particular instance,” said junior Cara Messina about her experience of reporting sexual assault at Guilford. “I have had others tell me about their particular experiences, and they too felt that the process was lacking.

“To me and other victims I have talked to, Guilford seems to be more interested in protecting its own reputation. I have met with people in Campus Life, and I do believe they care about helping victims and seeking justice, but they are understaffed and ill equipped to handle these situations.”

At the beginning of each year, Guilford conducts sexual misconduct training during first-year orientation, with the athletics teams, in FYE labs, in Res Life programming and in other areas.

“Students need comprehensive training throughout all their years at Guilford,” said Julie Winterich, chair and associate professor of sociology & anthropology. “It’s not enough to introduce the concept in FYE orientation or lab and stop the conversation. The conversation needs to be ongoing.”