By Manny Vasquez, Reporter
Shenandoah University will not alter the way sexual misconduct investigations are conducted, even if the federal law governing university procedures is changed.
“None of those things will change how we do it at Shenandoah,” Rhonda VanDyke, vice president of student life, said in an interview. “Our momentum is not coming from the federal government.”
The law, dubbed Title IX, outlines procedures for investigations and reporting of sexual assault on campuses across the U.S. During the Obama administration in April 2011, a letter was providing guidance on how to best handle sexual assaults. Universities that did not comply were threatened with the loss of federal funding.
Betsy DeVos, education secretary in the new Trump administration, has sidestepped questions about enforcing Title IX, and some in the administration have indicated its requirements could be weakened. Opponents have complained that it amounts to “overreach” of the federal government and threatens due process.
Proponents of the law say it’s needed to curb campus assaults. During the academic year of 2015-2016, four sexual assaults were reported on the Shenandoah University campus: two of which were non-consensual intercourse, while the other two were non-consensual sexual contact, according to VanDyke.
In addition to the four assaults, there were also five reported cases of sexual harassment, one of domestic violence, one of dating violence, one of stalking and one of sexual exploitation. In nearly all 13 cases, the reporter only wanted to file a report, not initiate an investigation, VanDyke said. The university holds the right to pursue a case despite those wishes if it believes a student is an ongoing risk.
VanDyke states that while this number may appear small, she cautions celebration. “One incident is one too many.”
“While on the surface low numbers seem like a good thing, I am always concerned about the instances that go unreported,” she said.
“We want people to report,” she continued. “Even if they do not wish to move toward an investigative process, when they report it lets Shenandoah make sure they have access to resources and support to heal. Having a report on file would help the university identify someone who was repeatedly harming others.”
But regardless of whether the federal government weakens reporting requirements, VanDyke said that Shenandoah’s policies won’t change.
“We do it because we want to, not because we have to,” she said.