At first glance, the Augustana student handbook looks the same this year as it always does, but reading a little more closely, the changes become clear.
The biggest changes occurred in the sexual misconduct policy, a subsection of the college’s code of conduct.
“We added a lot definition-wise … so students, faculty and staff know what exactly we mean when we say sexual harassment,” said Beth Torkelson, Title IX coordinator and assistant dean of students.
Torkelson leads the committee that works on making sure the college’s policy regarding Title IX, a 1972 law requiring gender equality in educational programs. Title IX encompasses the larger issue of sexual violence or misconduct on campus as well.
Other federal programs the college must adhere to include the Campus Save Act and the Clery Act, which relate to how sexual misconduct crimes are reported.
According to director of Campus Safety, Rick Tupper, the changes to the handbook do not affect how campus officers are trained in handling sexual misconduct cases.
Tupper said since 2011, when the emphasis on revisions to the sexual misconduct policy began, he has not seen an increase in the number of reports to Campus Safety.
“Even with the information out there, the challenge is really getting the people who’ve experienced this to come forward and getting them to talk about it and know that there’s a safe place to talk about it,” Tupper said.
Dean of students Jim Bies said that even though there is much talk nationwide about government mandates, the topic of sexual misconduct is important because of its impact on the community.
“We need to be doing this not because the government is telling us to do it,” he said. “We need to be doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
In addition to expanding and clarifying the code of conduct’s definition of sexual misconduct, the handbook now includes a footnote defining consent.
According to the handbook, consent is “knowing, voluntary and clear permission by word or action, to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity.”
The footnote goes on to explain that it is the responsibility of each party to “make certain that the other has consented before engaging in the activity,” and presents a list of situations in which a person is unable to give consent.
Past iterations of the code of conduct did not include a description of consent. Also new to this year’s handbook are further-defined policies on stalking, bullying and cyber-bullying.
Changes to the handbook went hand-in-hand with training students, faculty and staff on the new policies.
Torkelson said all of the campus life staff and viking guides were trained on the changes.
“It’s kind of on our shoulders to just be as approachable and available as possible,” junior peer advisor (PA) Kat Van Gerpen said.
Van Gerpen served as a PA last year in Solberg and returned this year to Bergsaker.
In addition to residence life training, all freshmen went through programs called “Sex Signals” and “Bystander Training” within 48 hours of arriving on campus. These programs present various “what if” scenarios in order to foster discussion on topics including sexual misconduct. According to Torkelson, these seminars also included a briefing on Title IX this year.
Student leaders, athletes and freshmen also received online training. A 40-45 minute online course was sent out to 875 students at the beginning of the school year, Bies said.
Bies added that the goal of the additional training and added description in the handbook was to make sure the language is “clear, easily understood and [is] encouraging victims to come forward.”
“There’s a real disconnect between the number of reported complaints and the number of victims, so we know it’s under-reported,” Bies said.