Sexual harassment policy updated


Tom Benton

Dave Bergh

Policy 311, the Vermont State Colleges’ harassment policy, has existed for years. Now it has a counterpart: Policy 311-A, which concerns “sexual misconduct, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.”

“It’s not that we weren’t supposed to deal with those things already,” said Dean of Students Dave Bergh. “It’s just that responding to those things was too big a task and too important to roll into one existing policy.”

Bergh would qualify as an RCA under the new policy, which stands for “Responsible College Administrator,” an individual who would work with the complaintant “to determine whether alternative academic, transportation, working and/or living situations are available and reasonably necessary to ensure an individual’s safety and well-being.”

In contrast to Policy 311-A, Policy 311 concerns “non-discrimination and prevention of harassment and related unprofessional conduct.”

This new policy was created to comply with federal mandates. According to Bergh, the change is mostly one of language.
For example, the individual who files the Policy 311-A complaint is referred to as the “complaintant.” The individual against whom the complaint was filed is called the “respondent.”

Title IX is a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any federally funded educational program or activity; it protects both students and employees. Title IX is primarily enforced by the Office of Civil Rights, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

The Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter on Title IX and sexual violence in April 2011, followed by another letter,

“Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,” this past April. The Department of Education considers these letters “significant guidance documents” – although they are not law, they are statements of the Office of Civil Rights’ enforcement policies.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was signed into law in March 2013. Section 304 of the act imposed new reporting requirements, new student discipline requirements and new requirements to train and educate students and employees on sexual violence.

Bergh said, “What I feel good about, regardless of what we call it, we’ve already these things seriously and worked hard to create an environment where people do feel comfortable coming forward about these issues.”

Bergh said Policy 311-A imposes a specific process and procedure for dealing with victims of sexual and domestic violence.
One of the changes Policy 311-A brings is the ability for both parties to appeal the final legal decision. If the complaintant feels the college’s actions were inefficient, the complaintant can file an appeal.

Bergh said he forsees unintended consequences.

“Clearly this was all designed with the best of intentions,” he said, “but what we anticipate is that… the more you make it look like a legal system, the more lawyers get involved, the more time-intensive the process gets… these issues take longer to resolve, which can be damaging to both parties involved.”