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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Board of regents approves new sexual misconduct policy

Article Originally Published by Natalie Ochoa on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Natalie Ochoa on North Texas Daily

The university’s board of regents has passed a new policy regarding sexual harassment, which will be known as the Prohibition Against Sexual Misconduct and Retaliation.

The new policy, labeled number 16.005, creates a more user-friendly experience for staff, individuals wishing to report sexual misconduct and parties participating in investigations. It outlines employees’ duty to report, protection against retaliation, confidentiality and the rights of victims of alleged sexual misconduct. 16.005 will eliminate the current policy, labeled number 16.007 and called Title IX Sexual Harassment.

“Under our current two policy frameworks, if a student alleges sexual assault against another student, that case could be handled under 16.005 or 16.007 depending on circumstances such as when and where the alleged sexual assaults occurred,” Director of Equal Opportunity Eve Shatteen Bell said. “Reporting sexual misconduct or defending oneself against an allegation is a particularly trying experience. It is our goal to streamline the procedural aspects of this investigative process.”

The discussion about updating the former sexual misconduct policy was held at the board of regents meeting on May 13. The significance of sexual misconduct policies was brought into the conversation by Division of Institutional Equity and Diversity Vice President Joanne Woodward and Bell.

“Each time the legislature has met on the odd-numbered years, we in the even-numbered years have made the requisite updates to policy regarding sexual misconduct,” Woodward said. “[We approach making updates] with an eye toward trying to make those policies as clear as possible and reducing the number of policies we may have about a particular topic—in this case, sexual misconduct.”

Woodward said the updated policies have been in the works since last year and must follow the Texas legislature’s requirement of gaining board approval in order to move forward.

The past year has seen multiple changes to university sexual misconduct policy. Modifications were needed after the new Department of Education Title IX regulations went into effect on August 14, 2020, making the university adopt Policy 16.007.

Other changes went into effect as a result of the Walsh v. Hodge case on Sept. 15, 2020. This case created more needed adjustments to the investigative procedures and policies regarding sexual misconduct.

“There was a fifth circuit discussion in the case Walsh v. Hodge and clarified the fact that we are required to hold a live hearing, allowing the respondent the right to cross-examine their accuser if they are facing expulsion as a student or termination as a faculty member as a result of a sexual misconduct complaint,” Bell said.

More changes towards the university’s sexual misconduct investigative procedures and policies went into effect Jan. 1 of this year. All investigations of sexual misconduct cases were moved from the Dean of Students Office within the Division of Student Affairs to the Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX.

“I want to be clear that while we are requesting approval of a new policy, this is not a new policy,” Bell said. “In a sense that it will eliminate one policy by combining all state and federal requirements, as well as requirements from case law, into one sexual misconduct policy.”

The UNT Administration Building on May 29, 2021. Image by John Anderson

Source: North Texas Daily

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