SUNY schools adopt uniform policy to combat sexual violence
By Madeline St. Amour
Asst. News Editor
Jan 27, 2015
All State Universities of New York adopted a uniform sexual assault policy before winter break, two months after Gov. Cuomo brought the issue forward to the SUNY Board of Trustees. The policy was signed by Gov. Cuomo on Dec. 2 and includes a multi-pronged approach to combating sexual violence on college campuses.
Nancy Zimpher, the chancellor of SUNY schools, created a Working Group that met multiple times to formulate the new policy, according to Karl Luntta, spokesperson for the University at Albany. UAlbany’s Carol Stenger, the director of the Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence, was a part of the team that wrote the policy.
The working group consisted of 34 members of SUNY administration from campuses across the state. They met for two full days and had various other meetings via webinars.
The policy that they developed is a combination of seven smaller policies related to sexual violence. The policies can be found on SUNY’s website in the document that was written by the Working Group. They include a definition of affirmative consent, an amnesty policy, a policy for assessing a campus’ climate of sexual violence, a Victim’s Bill of Rights, a response policy, ways for students to report violence confidentially, and an onboarding and education guide to be implemented for SUNY students.
“I love the policy,” Stenger says.
She also says that many campuses had policies similar to these in place already.
“[UAlbany’s] policies were very similar to what they are now, to the new policies” she said.
UAlbany had already had a definition of active consent as well as a “Good Samaritan” policy, which is now known as the amnesty policy, as well as many of the other policies that have now been adopted by all 64 SUNY schools.
“The policy just goes further than our existing policy in that it leaves nothing to the imagination . . . I see the spirit of [the policies] as being the exact same as what we’ve had, but the language is tweaking it to make it clearer,” said Stenger.
The resolution was put forth by Cuomo on Oct. 2 to create a “comprehensive, system-wide, uniform set of sexual assault prevention and response practices at SUNY campuses” by Dec. 1, according to a memorandum sent from Zimpher to the SUNY Board of Trustees.
A uniform set of policies and surveying methods will make it easier to assess how well each SUNY campus is preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus, said Stenger.
“If [all campuses] are using the same survey, then you’re comparing apples to apples,” she said.
While the Clery Act makes it mandatory for the police at schools to record and report crimes on campus, including sexual assault crimes, it is not always an accurate number, according to Stenger.
One of the policies adopted on Dec. 2 that has had some backlash is the clear definition of active consent. UAlbany already had a policy concerning consent in place, says Stenger, so this definition is not new, but it does draw clearer lines. For example, it specifically says that “the definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” making the policy more definitively inclusive.
A recent Times Union article titled “For students, silence is not an option,” quoted multiple UAlbany students who found the idea of explicitly asking for sexual consent unrealistic. However, Stenger sees consent as an obvious requirement before sexual activity.
“I say to students, you ask for consent all day long . . . I wouldn’t grab your phone and start making a phone call. I would say, ‘Can I use your phone?’ So why are these objects more important than your body?” she said. “I don’t mean [you have to ask] ‘can I now put my right hand on your left breast?’ . . . We’re not being ridiculous about it, but if you do something to someone by inserting a body part . . . or something else somewhere that they don’t want it, that’s problematic.”
Other aspects of the definition of consent have been around for some time under New York State law. Under both the law and the new policy, someone that is intoxicated is unable to give consent, as well as someone that is underage.
SUNY has also launched a new website to track information from all campuses regarding crimes and sexual violence. The site, campuscrime.ny.gov, allows you to check the data from different schools over five years to see how often certain crimes occur. It also lists resources for students to learn more about sexual violence and see what the SUNY system is doing in response. So far the site uses data collected by the United States Department of Education, which currently relies on the self-reported data given under the Clery Act.
Stenger also mentioned that an app may be created in the future to make the information even more readily accessible to current and potential students, as well as parents, who would like to know more about a campus’ crime statistics.