Student Panel Raises Concerns About Sexual Assault

Student Panel Raises Concerns About Sexual Assault

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A film titled “The Hunting Ground” prompted not only a student panel discussion, but an emotional reaction from the audience in Jones Auditorium on April 29.

The film was “a startling expose’ of sexual assault on U.S. campuses, institutional cover-ups, and the brutal social toll on victims,” according to the mass e-mail students received.

In the film, a number of facts were presented: 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women are raped, 88 percent of women raped don’t report it, and more than 95 college campuses are under investigation for their handling of sexual assault.

Some of the college campuses under investigation included Harvard, Dartmouth, and the University of California, Berkeley.

“We wanted the panel to be informative and re-hit some of the points mentioned in the documentary and to apply it to why it should matter here,” said student panelist Joy Barrientes, senior English and political science double major.

The film was scheduled to be played at many universities nationwide, and because of a collaboration between the Social Justice and Advocacy Committee, the Coalition for Political and Social Justice, Pi Sigma Alpha, UNITY and the Philosophy & Professional Ethics Society, TAMUK students were able to see it, said student panelist Jaime Chapa, psychology major.

The film would’ve cost the student groups $400, but Dr. Brooke Mascagni, assistant professor of political science at TAMUK, was able to lower the rate to about $200, Chapa said.

“After watching the film I hope that, at the very least, students would walk away feeling perplexed and a little driven to ask questions regarding policies here on our campus and acquire knowledge regarding their rights as outlined in Title IX,” Chapa said.

Many students, including the panelists, voiced their concerns to the audience that the administration wasn’t doing enough for sexual assault victims.

“The lack of sufficient grievance and adjudication policies/procedures on campus and the lack of adequate funding for the departments that are responsible for the handling of these sensitive issues suggests a lack of appropriate attention from the administration,” said student panelist John Angulo, senior psychology major.

Other students said the administration was covering up sexual assaults, prompting a response from Police Chief Felipe Garza on how the Clery Act works.

“We have orders from the chancellor, John Sharp. Any university that messes up Clery is answerable to him. We’re a family here, and I want this to be a safe campus for them and everyone here,” Garza said to the audience.

Prior to the night of the film, a mass e-mail titled, “Hold TAMUK Administration Accountable” circulated campus with several prominent administrators’ names on it.

Some of the mentioned administrators were present at the event, like Garza and Director of Compliance Karen Royal. Others, like Vice President for Student Affairs Terisa Riley, were at a Board of Regents meeting that night.

The administrator response was sufficient for the time given, but not satisfying, Chapa said.

“This is a sensitive issue and sometimes the answers needed aren’t answers at all, but actual change, which isn’t made in a 45-minute discussion. All we can hope for is that views and attitude on this issue were changed for the better,” Chapa said.

Riley said she was never personally contacted about the event, but she knew of it the Friday before the discussion. She also received the mass e-mail on Monday.

“I would think they would communicate with us and say, ‘Hey, this is critical to the success of the event,’” Riley said.

Still, she said it was great the students showed the movie.

“This is the kind of stuff campuses shouldn’t shy away from. I was disappointed I was going to miss it,” she said.

Another concern raised by the student panelists was a lack of health counselors on campus, something the administration has actively been trying to rectify, Riley said.

“We’ve had an incredibly difficult time attracting quality counselors…the president didn’t freeze the hiring of that position. He sees how important it is,” Riley said.

Riley said the administration hopes to hire four additional counselors, who would be on call anytime an emergency happens.

Barrientes said another concern she and other students had was that cases take a long time to resolve, and that there is a problem with following up.

“I think what they could do is to have the courtesy to maybe reach out to these people first, so they aren’t asking, ‘Where are we on this? Why aren’t we taking so long?’ …Phone the victims saying, ‘I know it’s been a month, but this is where we are,’” she said.

Royal said this academic year, 11 reports of sexual misconduct were filed, not including the recent allegation that occurred May 3.Of those 11 cases, two took longer than 60 days to handle. One took the entirety of the winter break to handle, and the other is just now passing the 60 days and the investigation is complete.

Reasons that a case can take longer than 60 days include scheduling conflicts with the victim, the investigators, the respondents, and additional witnesses, and that investigators are sent back to gather more information, Royal said.

Royal said that just because there is a university rule up for review regarding sexual misconduct policy, doesn’t mean TAMUK doesn’t have a policy.

“There is a big policy, a big picture, we have to abide by. It’s 08.01.Civil Rights Compliance. Then there’s a regulation underneath that: 08.01.01. Those are the system level guidelines for handling complaints,” Royal said. “The reason sexual misconduct falls under that is because it’s considered gender discrimination. We have a university rule: 08.01.01.K1 and that addresses our implementation of the policy and regulation. We have revised it to more specifically include sexual misconduct. That is what has been sitting at system level for several months.”

The reason for the delay is that the system policy is under review by the Office of Civil Rights. Once the system policy is revised, they will look at the campus policies, Royal said.

“What the panel made very clear to me was that we need to give students an opportunity to tell us, ‘here’s what we feel we’re not getting.’ We would like the chance in a cooperative way to clear up the misinformation and say, ‘Here’s what’s required by the Dear Colleague letter, here’s what we’re already doing, here’s what we want to do going forward, let’s talk about how we can all work together to accomplish those goals,” Royal said.

Frank Garza