Protecting students is not just an issue for Mercyhurst University, but also a national issue throughout all colleges. Vice President Joseph Biden said, “We know the numbers: one in five of every one of those young women who is dropped off for that first day of school, before they finish school, will be assaulted in her college years.” By contrast, according to the National Institute of Justice, 6.1% of males experience completed or attempted sexual assault while in college.
These numbers are unacceptable.
New legislation is increasing focus on these issues and holding colleges more accountable for reporting and investigating these cases. Meredith Bollheimer, Mercyhurst’s Title IX Coordinator stated, “Increased focus, in my opinion, is driven by a couple factors that have pushed this issue into the news.” First, she mentioned the 2011 Penn State scandal involving defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, and then referred to the increasing problem of sexual assault in the United States military.
Lastly, the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights sent out a letter entitled “Dear Colleague” on April 4, 2011, calling for action. The 2014 changes in policy are an effort to collect more information for the government, universities and students. This information can lead to increased efforts in combating these inexcusable crimes.
“You want to know coming here [Mercyhurst] what the environment is like,” Bollheimer said. She says that the new mandates are a “positive development sure to reduce confusion and misreporting of sexual violence.” In terms of reporting complaints, there are separate categories for sexual assault by an acquaintance and by a stranger. Understanding the crimes is beneficial for finding ways to prevent them.
“Just having a student come into my office saying ‘this is what happened to my roommate’ is enough to trigger an investigation,” Bollheimer explained.
“There’s also no statute of limitations.” Bollheimer stated that students can report crimes when they feel comfortable, however, the sooner the better. “Our concern is not just for the alleged victim, it’s for the rest of the campus as well,” Bollheimer said.
When the school receives a complaint, Bollheimer stressed that federal regulations require university officials investigate and address the issue. Some issues require extensive investigations and severe consequences. While other cases, such as inappropriate drawings on dorm room whiteboards that offend residents, still fall under Title IX, but require less severe consequences.
There are three reports the federal government mandates colleges and universities to submit, Bollheimer explained. Title IX reports focuses on discrimination cases throughout university administrations, as well as crimes of sexual violence. Violence Against Women Act concentrates only on crimes of sexual violence. Clery Reports focus on all crime on campus as well as categories for crimes of sexual violence. New categories have been added to the Clery report, including stalking and domestic violence to create a more complete picture of the culture and safety of a college campus.
All students and employees need to be aware of this important issue. For more information, please visit http://www.mercyhurst.edu/title-ix-policies-and-procedures to learn more regarding how to file a complaint of sexual harassment, discrimination or violence.