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Originally published: 2013-07-03 18:31:57
Last modified: 2013-07-03 18:34:15

App State task force finalizing proposals

by Anna Oakes

Appalachian State University is moving forward with an extensive evaluation of its programs and policies related to interpersonal violence, and a task force's final report and recommendations are expected this summer.

ASU Dean of Students J.J. Brown, the co-chairman of ASU's Interpersonal Violence Task Force, provided updates on the group's work to the ASU board of trustees June 28, including the results of a campus climate survey conducted earlier this year.

"We're never really complete in this work," Brown told the board's Student Development Committee. "It's too important to our campus community."

The task force and survey were among actions required by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights after a complaint to OCR by a female student last year about ASU's handling of an alleged sexual assault case in 2011 and 2012. OCR's resolution agreement required ASU to evaluate its current and potential policies and programs for preventing sex-based harassment and submit a report to the federal department by April 2013.

Brown said approximately 23 percent of the campus community took the survey, which indicated, among other findings, that 80 percent of respondents are unaware of ASU's Sexual Assault Prevention Office and about half of respondents are unfamiliar with how to report incidents of sex-based discrimination and sexual misconduct.

The raw survey data is available at http://ipvtf.appstate.edu/pagesmith/1.

Brown said OCR initially asked ASU to conduct the survey on a yearly basis, but that ASU has now agreed to conduct the survey every other year.

"That'll really help guide us and see if we are truly moving forward," he said.

The Interpersonal Violence Task Force was formed in June 2012 and met monthly from September 2012 to April 2013, Brown said. It included subcommittees on the climate survey, programming, support and outreach and policy.

The Watauga Democrat on May 31 requested a copy of the report submitted to OCR from ASU in April, but the task force did not grant the request; Brown said the task force's work was not yet complete and that the report "was not intended to be a public document."

The newspaper obtained the report from the OCR on Tuesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted June 3.

An April 15 email to Martha Russo of OCR described the documents sent as the "final reports" of the task force committees. (The sender's name was redacted by OCR, which cited a FOIA provision that protects from disclosure records that constitute an "unwarranted invasion of privacy").

Included among the programming subcommittee's recommendations are the creation of a interpersonal violence programming staff position, who would report to the dean of students.

The subcommittee recommends that all programming efforts be coordinated by this staff member and by a review body.

The subcommittee found that ASU in the past has focused on large-scale, single events to educate students about interpersonal violence issues, which "are effective for first-year groups in bringing initial awareness to a topic" but that should "serve as a first step, not an only step.

"Programming should be comprehensive, ongoing and multilayered," the report stated.

In addition, the subcommittee recommends that primary prevention programming should make up the majority of interpersonal violence programming on campus, noting that current programs emphasize victim support.

The support and outreach subcommittee said it worked to reorganize and update campus Web content and printed materials on sexual assault services and support, and it recommended that a "if you have been assaulted" icon be used on a variety of ASU Web pages.

It also recommends that a checklist for first responders be created to ensure that all available options are given to students. The subcommittee recommends mandatory training for all faculty, staff and students and recommends a full-time staff member to provide sexual assault support and response (separate from the programming coordinator recommended by the programming subcommittee).

"We currently have not dedicated staff to provide sexual assault or prevention," the subcommittee's report stated. It also recommends funding for a specially trained University Police officer who can interview and assist complainants and provide campus trainings.

The policy subcommittee worked to review a 29-page addendum to the Code of Student Conduct addressing sexual misconduct that was approved in August 2012. The subcommittee held focus groups on the policies and is working to modify the addendum accordingly, including a more user-friendly presentation.

The April 15 email to Russo stated, "I trust that the information provided fulfills the university's final obligation under the resolution agreement." But a U.S. Department of Education spokesman said June 4 that the resolution agreement is still an open case, adding that OCR will continue to monitor ASU's implementation of the agreement.

Brown said last week that OCR had requested supplemental information, which will be provided by ASU later this summer.