College gathers survey responses, considers adjustments to sexual misconduct policy

Ana López, Staff Writer

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As part of a national trend at colleges and universities, the Luther College entities responsible for sexual assault policies have conducted the Sexual Assault Climate Survey. The results of the survey will be used to assess, and possibly alter, the current sexual assault and sexual misconduct policies at Luther.

Vice President and Dean for Student Life Corey Landstrom has been in charge of conducting the voluntary and anonymous survey over the past month. The survey asks for respondents’ viewpoints on sexual assault on campus, the overall climate of the institution, the effectiveness of Luther staff’s response when dealing with a crisis, and the college’s overall demographics. The survey accommodated all students regardless of whether they have experienced any type of unwanted sexual contact.

Luther has been working with the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS), a group of “private colleges and universities that collaboratively share, analyze, and use data of all kinds to advance their institutional missions,” according to the HEDS webpage.

Associate Director of Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator Matthew Bills said that Luther is currently analyzing survey responses, which it will use to shape Luther’s sexual assault and misconduct policies.

“We didn’t go in with specific goals or areas we are targeting, but we think it is a good idea to periodically take a step back,” Bills said. “[We want to] look at our policies and ask our students how the policies are serving them.”

According to Landstrom, Luther’s Institutional Assessment and Research — a department that  gathers, interprets, and shares data — will analyze the survey responses and then relay them to Bills and the Student Life Office for review. Landstrom said that Student Senate, the Diversity Council, the Campus Life Committee, and the College Assessment Committee will also receive the results.

As stated in the student handbook, the current sexual misconduct policy is zero-tolerance. According to Bills, the Student Life Office designs and frequently drafts the sexual misconduct policies, which it will modify based on the survey results. Bills added that the policies are constantly subject to minor changes based on feedback.

“Every number of years we have done a complete and thorough rewrite of the policies,” Bills said. “[This most recently occurred in] 2012 or 2013 under the leadership of Landstrom.”

The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) ensures that these laws are enforced and have created a list of “best practices” for colleges to follow, in which the sexual assault policy survey is included for colleges and universities nationwide. Under the supervision of Landstrom and Bills, the Student Life Office will incorporate any approved changes to these policies, which Bills said will most likely occur during the summer of 2017.

Norse Against Sexual Assault (NASA) member Brigid Burke (‘18) said that it is difficult to standardize conceptions of sexual misconduct.

“I think it is hard because people define sexual assault differently,” Burke said. “It is really hard to get genuine answers because we are not laying out a groundwork of how we are defining each thing.”

Burke also explained that NASA and the administration often work together to address the needs of the student body regarding sexual misconduct on campus and will continue to do so after the survey results are collected.

Bills emphasized the importance of student engagement and input in these processes.

“If students have questions or concerns, [they should] come talk to us,” Bills said. “We love to hear from students any time — my door is always open.”

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