UMass administrators discuss how the University handles sexual assault cases

By Stuart Foster

Collegian File Photo
(Collegian File Photo)

Administrators at the University of Massachusetts say they are attempting to comply with Title IX regulations by providing survivors of sexual assault with a variety of resources and options.

Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor of student affairs and campus life, and Becky Lockwood, Center for Women and Community associate director, said UMass, which is currently the subject of two open Title IX investigations, emphasizes the confidentiality of victims and the reporting of sexual violence when dealing with these incidents.

“The intention is to create more and more a seamless approach,” said Gelaye in a late September interview with the Daily Collegian. “Beyond what the federal or state governments are telling us to do we want to make sure that our approaches are resonating.”

Lockwood said the UMass Title IX Office works closely with the Dean of Students Office, which she said will often inform students reporting sexual violence about the options available to them.

While students can pursue a criminal or conduct report through the University, Lockwood said it was optional to do so for survivors of sexual assault at UMass.

“There’s two different kinds of reports,” she said. “Someone who has been the victim of sexual assault can get resources without going through a conduct process or a legal process. We’re really focused on the survivors of violence.”

Gelaye agreed, adding that UMass has a responsibility to inform a survivor reporting to the University about all of the options available to them.

The privacy of survivors reporting to UMass is also of significant importance, according to Gelaye, so much so that it influences the way in which the University updates its students and community about recent acts of sexual violence.

“Anything we send out that could identify the victim-survivor is highly confidential,” she said. “It could send a message that you may not want to report because the University may send out a community notice that will allow others to hone in on your identity.”

Lockwood added that sending out too many email updates about sexual assaults at UMass could have a saturating effect and cause students to stop looking at them, in addition to risking triggering survivors.

Gelaye said the University still reported each incident of sexual violence it heard of, and that the information for them can be found in the annual Clery reports and on the UMass Police Department website.

UMass currently uses MyStudentBody, an online program, to teach incoming freshmen and transfer students about sexual violence and consent.

In addition, Lockwood said the University would begin implementing an interactive online class about active bystander training on Moodle in the summer of 2016, which will supplement MyStudentBody as a unique, UMass-specific program.

“It kind of uses a graphic novel format,” Lockwood said. “The development was tested over with groups of students so the nice thing in developing a course on campus is that it reflects the campus community.

“There’s assessment built into it, so we hope we can use that data and change the course if it’s needed,” she added.

Gelaye said the way the University handles these cases when there are two conflicting narratives by the accuser and the accused is handled by due process standards, as is necessitated by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

UMass students accused of sexual assault can review evidence, know what they are being charged for and can bring a lawyer or an advocate to the process as part of the due process, Gelaye said.

Lockwood said the individuals trained to review these conduct cases are highly trained and prepared to address these cases.

“Maybe there are schools that are making it up as they go along but that’s not the case here,” she said. “As an 18 or 19-year-old you could get summonsed for jury duty and not have any training. Our conduct board goes through extensive training.”

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster. Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected].