The issues of sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and sexual violence on college campuses have commanded national attention this past year. We at CUNY recognize that these issues, including rape, sexual assault, stalking and intimate partner/domestic violence, can affect anyone, of any age, gender or background. We are deeply committed to preventing sexual misconduct and providing a safe and respectful learning and working environment for all students, employees and visitors.
On December 1, 2014, the Board of Trustees adopted a new University-wide CUNY Policy on Sexual Misconduct. The policy applies to all members of the CUNY community, including visitors, and is a comprehensive document that details the rights of accusers and accused, clarifies procedures for reporting and investigation of complaints, and specifies training procedures for employees across all campuses and offices. College Title IX coordinators will train employees who are required to report sexual or gender-based harassment or sexual violence, and ensure that appropriate educational programming be provided to students. Student complainants have the right to receive appropriate support for their medical, emotional and academic needs.
The concept of consent, central to many sexual misconduct complaints, is defined by the policy as “an informed voluntary and mutual decision to engage in agreed upon sexual activity.” Consent can be given by words or actions as long as they create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) the sexual activity. Silence or failure to resist does not, in and of itself, demonstrate consent.
Revised student disciplinary procedures are sensitive to accusers while safeguarding the rights of the accused. Students have the right to file a criminal complaint and seek an Order of Protection with college assistance; and to make a formal complaint on campus, and have it investigated promptly, impartially and thoroughly by appropriately trained individuals. A complainant also has the same opportunity as the accused to participate in a disciplinary hearing before a faculty-student disciplinary committee. Both complainant and accused have the right to receive notice of charges, be represented by a person of their choice including an attorney; present evidence; call and cross-examine witnesses, receive notice of the hearing’s outcome, and appeal.
Student complainants also have the right to report sexual harassment or violence they experienced while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, without being disciplined for the alcohol or drug use, subject to certain conditions. Student Complainants’ Bill of Rights.
I would like to commend the working group, which included members of three CUNY departments—the Office of the General Counsel, the Office of Student Affairs and Office of Human Resources Management—for their diligence and teamwork in revising CUNY’s policy. Thank you also to the CUNY community members who commented on the revisions, suggesting valuable improvements. As the policy states, “Every member of the CUNY community, including students, employees and visitors, deserves the opportunity to live, learn and work free from sexual harassment, gender-based harassment and sexual violence.”
James B. Milliken