SUNY system adopts affirmative consent policy

Includes a 'Bill of Rights' for victims

The State University of New York System (SUNY) announced a sexual assault policy for its 64 campuses that establishes "affirmative consent" as a standard of conduct for students.

Tuesday's announcement by SUNY follows moves by other schools to tighten standards around sexual assault in the wake of mounting criticism that colleges are not doing enough to protect students. The SUNY policy requires "clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement" for sexual activity to be considered consensual.

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In addition, students who report sexual assault—and who also admit to having consumed alcohol underage or taking illegal drugs—will not be disciplined under the new policy. SUNY Board Chairman Carl McCall says the policy is "the most comprehensive, victim-centered set of sexual assault policies at any college campus or system of higher education in the country."

College administrators within the system are praising the new policy, which replaces a patchwork of standards and procedures across the state. Ernie Palmieri, vice president of student affairs for Purchase College, says "the new policies defined by SUNY are sound, consensus-driven, and comprehensive."

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In drafting the guidelines, SUNY administrators worked closely with outside experts—such as those from The Center for Safety and Change, in New York City. Kiera Pollock, the organization's deputy director for programs and services, says "we believe the new policies that SUNY has begun to implement will be a national model for other colleges and universities looking to develop affirmative consent guidelines for students."

SUNY's new policy seeks to better protect victims and streamline the process of reporting—and investigating—campus sexual assaults. It includes a "Bill of Rights" for victims that allows them to decide, for instance, whether or to report an assault to police, and protects them from having to "unnecessarily repeat a description of the incident."

A response to federal pressure

The changes at SUNY and elsewhere are in part a response to renewed pressure from the federal government to deal with the issue of campus sexual violence. According to a White House task force, one in five college women are assaulted—but just 12% of incidents are reported to school officials.

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights this year published 46 pages clarifying how schools must deal with sexual violence cases. Each school receiving federal funding must target and abolish sexual harassment and violence on campus, according to Title IX.

Currently, 76 schools are under investigation by DOE over concerns about their response to sexual misconduct (Cuomo, "Capitol Confidential," Times Union, 12/2; Campbell, Journal News, 12/2).

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