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Friday, May 6, 2016

BVU policy protest

Thursday, November 1, 2001

Sexual misconduct policy comes under scrutiny.

A vocal group of students at Buena Vista University are pushing for the school to re-examine its recently implemented sexual misconduct policy.

About one hundred students gathered on the office steps of BVU President Fred Moore Tuesday morning to urge the university to re-examine the policy.

Concern regarding the policy started earlier this year when a BVU student was accused of assaulting a female student on the campus. Those who organized this week's rally say the policy is unfair for the accused student.

"The new sexual misconduct policy at Buena Vista University states that it is the right of the accused to be presumed innocent, however, this statement is clearly contradicted by the steps of prosecution outlined by the policy," reads flyers a group has been circulating.

"The accused must prove not only that consent was given, but also that the complainant had the capacity to give consent... There must be a change before another life is destroyed," the flier continues.

Jason Cole, who is organizing efforts to re-examine the policy, said he has witnessed a lot of student support for it. Cole said the current policy allows for the expulsion of students on a "preponderance of evidence" and not "clear and convincing evidence."

"That sets as a precedence for expelling students and turning their lives completely upside down - I don't think that is fair," he said.

Cole said many of the students have been energized to call for a referendum because of the public manner the accused was named in the last case. The accused attacker from this incidence is currently appealing a ruling which would keep him off campus until next fall.

"I think it is unfair for any person accused of any crime to have the burden of proof lie up them," Cole said. "I know this is a very, very sensitive issue on many fronts, but it is not the American way to be accused of something and have to prove your innocence."

David Laudner, who sits on the BVU Student Senate, said he has heard many people come to his door and complain. A petition drive began to gather signatures for a referendum - which was successful in getting the necessary 25 percent of the student body in 36 hours.

Laudner said other universities require more than just a preponderance of evidence. "We feel it is important to have a clear standard," Laudner said.

Laudner said "rumors and misinformation" have been a problem amongst the student population since the new policy took effect last year.

Laudner steadfastly agrees rape is a terrible thing.

"I feel terribly about those things that happen, but in the same hand having a policy that's unfair is just as much a problem," he said. "We need to find a way the policy can be more fair and doesn't make the accused prove their innocence.

"This goes for a lot of university policies - the cards are stacked against the students before they're given a chance," he said.

Not all students agree. A small group of students and faculty stood outside BVU's president's office during the Tuesday morning rally holding signs like "Educate Yourself," "Iowa Law = BVU Policy," and "Dear President Moore, Please Keep Me Safe on this Campus - Support the Policy."

BVU student Adam Schenck was one holding the signs. He is opposed to making changes in the policy that would weaken it in favor of the accused.

"The reason that I am saddened by what has happened on this issue is the way that so many people seem to support accused assaulters instead of supporting victims," he said. "If a mass of people would come forward in support of victims, then maybe more victims would have confidence to come forward.

"If the opposite effect occurs - a mass of students supporting the accused and in effect deriding the accuser or victim - then the outcome of this issue with the sexual misconduct policy will be all-around bad."

Schenck said it is hard enough for a sexual assault victim to step forward in the first place - anything that would appear to be a rally around an accused attacker would add more fear, he feels.

Schenck said the current policy gives victims the confidence they need to report a sexual assault. "This is what is good about the policy as it is right now, it hopefully gives victims a little confidence to come forward," he said. "That little bit of assurance is of utmost importance."

Julia Keehner, vice president for student services at BVU, said the sexual misconduct policy in question now is a vast improvement over the previous one. The current policy was just approved last spring, and is "inclusive and comprehensive to the whole (BVU) community," she said.

The committee which formed the current policy worked on it for over a year, and the policy was approved by the appropriate student and faculty governmental bodies at the university.

Keehner said those on that committee did an excellent job at researching policies at other colleges and making sure input was gathered from BVU students.

"However a case in the first two weeks of school (this year) tried that policy," Keehner said. "No matter how beautifully written a policy is, some cases can lead to questions about certain policies."

BVU Student Services is planning on holding educational programs on the policy, according to Dean of Students Anne Wright. The training sessions were planned before the current campus situation started, but could not be implemented in time.

Both Wright and Keehner feel those educational program can help students as debate continues on the policy. "That way students are educated on the policy when they are voting," Keehner said.

Some of the problem involving the case from earlier this year is the confidentiality built into BVU's discipline and judicial system. While a ruling may upset many students, they do not know the full story.

"As you know, people have differences of views on the same situation," Wright said, adding the current debate may not be about the policy as much as a particular case.

"I think the policy is excellent and comprehensive, which bears in mind the rights of the complainants and the accused. That isn't the case in most school policies," she said. "We want it to be fair and don't want it to be one-sided."

Keehner said some problem lies in the strict confidentially where students do not know the full truth. "They're making their judgment and criticism often times on part of the truth," she said.

Schenck would argue that the current sexual misconduct policy provides "concrete guidelines" for the rights of both the complainant and accused.

"The way the policy is right now strikes the best possible balance between complainant and accused rights," he said.

"The goal is to stop rape by bringing rapists to justice or getting them kicked out of school, while considering that the accused is innocent until proven guilty by a preponderance of evidence," Schenck said. "We need a college community where victims can feel secure coming forward. Anything that gets in the way of this is bad for all students."

While Laudner is uncertain of what will happen as students move toward the referendum, he does know students are energized. "There were 100 kids standing in the rain at President Moore's office - that shows a lot of people are really supporting of changing it or at least having it looked at," he said.

"I think this sends a good message that people are willing to stand up for what they think is right," he said.

Much of the debate on campus has only developed in the last few days.

"Whether it's a good or bad, we're getting a lot of discussion," Laudner said. "Discussion is the key, and one of the things we're trying to work for is getting a lot of people talking about it. It's healthy for people to understand things and for people to have opinions."

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