CU revisits sexual harassment policy following recent federal guidance

By Sarah Kuta

The University of Colorado is updating its system-wide sexual harassment policy to include other forms of sexual misconduct and to comply with new guidance from the federal government.

The rewritten policy, which is currently being drafted, is expected to go beyond sexual harassment and likely will spell out other prohibited acts such as sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate partner abuse and gender-based stalking.

These types of behaviors have always been prohibited on CU’s four campuses, but were not included in the system-wide policy in the past, said Valerie Simons, Title IX coordinator for the Boulder campus.

Title IX is the federal gender equity law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including acts such as sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“One of the overarching goals of this new policy is to have a sexual misconduct policy that covers more,” said Simons, who directs the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance at CU-Boulder.

Around 20 people working in human resources, student affairs and legal offices, as well as the groups representing faculty and staff, have been discussing revisions to the policy since December.

Simons, who has been working closely with Title IX coordinators in Denver and Colorado Springs, said she expects the new version to go live in July.

The policy was last updated in 2012. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued new guidance about sexual violence, a White House task force released a report on protecting students from sexual assault and the federal Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized.

“In the past several years, we’ve gotten a lot of guidance documents about how universities should write their policies and conduct investigations, so we’re updating our policy to conform with some of the federal guidelines and trying to incorporate best practices in that area of higher education,” said Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the CU system.

Two of CU’s campuses, Boulder and Denver, are under investigation by the U.S. education department for how they handle sexual violence.

The revamped policy is also expected to include confidential resources available to victims on each campus and their rights and options for reporting sexual misconduct. It also clearly defines a CU employee’s responsibility to report sexual misconduct.

A draft version of the updated policy includes information about CU’s investigation processes, prevention and awareness programs and the role of the Title IX coordinators on the campuses.

The draft also includes detailed definitions for terms such as affirmative consent, or consent that is freely given, active, voluntary and understandable. It also defines coercion, threats, intimidation, incapacitation and other terms.

“We need to focus more on transparency and fairness and just a more user-friendly policy that meets the needs of the students and the employees,” said Julia Paris, Title IX coordinator at the Colorado Springs campus.

The policy likely will be accompanied by a user-friendly website that tells students, faculty and staff what they need to know about sexual misconduct, according to the draft.

Simons said though the policy is still a work-in-progress, she hopes the finalized version will be easy for students and employees to understand.

“I would love for everyone on campus to have a better understanding of what sexual misconduct is, what it encompasses, how to report it, how to get resources and help when you need it,” she said. “Those are the goals.