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University of Michigan changes its sexual misconduct policies

The University of Michigan Union
Wikimedia Commons
University of Michigan student union

The University of Michigan is updating its policies on student sexual assault and misconduct, following a campus survey last summer in which 20% of female students say they had a "nonconsensual sexual experience."

Over the last year, University officials say they've been hearing from students about the school’s policies – what they’re concerned about, which rules confuse them, and what changes they’d like to see.

Here's what the University is saying so far about the changes, which will be released April 6th and go into effect in July.

The new sexual misconduct policies will:

1)      Prohibit "gender-based harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking."

To be clear, these behaviors were always banned by the University, but officials says they were listed under different guidelines. Stalking, for example, was under the school’s sexual harassment policies. Now, University officials says putting them all under the sexual misconduct policy makes it clearer for students, and shows how seriously the University takes these issues.

2)      A "clearer picture surrounding consent" and incapacitation.

There’s been a lot of debate about this on campus, with some students saying they feel like the school offers conflicting definitions of what exactly constitutes consent.

And the new policies will also try to clear up what constitutes "incapacitation," says Holly Rider-Milkovich, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, or SAPAC.  

“Students told us that, sometimes, they’re confused,” she says. “[For example:] ‘Can I give consent when I have one drink? 2 drinks?’ We need to make it clear that [incapacitation] is a state beyond mere intoxication, and that a person is not necessarily incapacitated merely as a state of drinking or using drugs.”

She says it’s also important that students hear from the University that when there’s alcohol involved, “the best response is to forego sexual activity.”

Rider-Milkovich says the new policies will also offer more guidance about what constitutes coercion when it comes to sexual activity.

“Coercion as related to verbal pressure is a significant factor [in sexual assault on campus,] as we found out in the campus climate survey,” she says.

3)      Require "most employees serving in leadership positions" to report suspected sexual misconduct to the university

This also goes for all employees working in the Student Life Division, Intercollegiate Athletics and several other departments. Employees who work "in positions offering confidential services" aren't required to report.  

4)       All witnesses will have to be identified to both the accuser and the accused.

Under the current policy, witnesses aren't identified "to the parties or named in the...investigative reports."

5)      Changing the sanctions and appeals process

The University is trying to streamline its sanctions and appeals process, by creating a sanctions board made up of faculty, staff and students to assign sanctions, and by getting rid of an “appeals board” (which is also made up faculty, staff and students) and replacing it with an “external reviewer.”

That reviewer will be an “impartial, unbiased…expert (usually an attorney) from outside the university.” 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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