Although Stony Brook University received recent praise and a $270,000 grant in 2012 from the U.S. Department of Justice for its policies on sexual harassment, the university has several possible procedures and departments for dealing with sexual assault and harassment cases. This creates a confusing process, as The Statesman discovered after reviewing each of the university’s policies on the matter.
There is no definite punishment in cases of sexual harassment and assault. According to the university’s Student Conduct Code, the sanction is usually suspension from the university. However, Matty Orlich, the director of University Community Standards, said in an email that the sanctions listed in the “Disciplinary Sanctions” section of the Student Conduct Code apply to all violations of the code and are not specific to sexual harassment or assault. These sanctions include verbal warning, written warning, restitution, special restrictions or loss of privileges, disciplinary probation and expulsion.
Stony Brook has also made several recent changes regarding who handles complaints under Title IX, which protects people from discrimination based on sex under any education program receiving federal funds. The university announced June 5 that Raúl Sánchez, the former senior director for Title IX and Risk Management, will be replaced by Marjolie Leonard, the interim director of Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action (ODAA), after Sánchez was in the position less than a year.
Sánchez’s predecessor as Title IX coordinator was Christina Vargas, who was the director of ODAA for 12 years before becoming the affirmative action officer at Suffolk County Community College a year ago.
Sánchez was out of his office on April 30, May 5, May 13 and May 14 when The Statesman contacted his office requesting information on Title IX. He also did not reply to emails from The Statesman.
“My job is not to investigate or to judiciate,” Leonard said of her new position. “It’s just to oversee the Title IX process and to work with the different departments that handle complaints.”
Furthermore, the university places several limitations on a complainant’s role in the internal procedures. SBU’s Complaint Procedure for Review of Allegations of Unlawful Discrimination/Harassment states that during investigation proceedings, “the parties shall not employ audio or video taping devices,” even though New York state has a “one-party consent law” under which a person can record any conversation in which he or she participates.
The ODAA’s Discrimination Complaint Procedure states that “legal counsel retained by a Complainant or a Respondent may not participate or be present at any meeting convened by ODAA.” The handbook also states: “Although repeated incidents would create a strong claim of discrimination, a serious isolated incident can present sufficient grounds for corrective action.”
However, it does not specify what counts as a “serious isolated incident.”
How the university handles sexual harassment and assault reports
Leonard, the interim senior director for Title IX and Risk Management, said via email that ODAA investigates all incidents “as appropriate.”
She continued, adding that when possible and appropriate, ODAA collaborates with University Community Standards and Employee and Labor Relations “to minimize the amount of time the complainant has to repeat his/her story.”
If the alleged culprit is a student, the complaint is addressed by University Community Standards. Employee and Labor Relations deals with instances in which the alleged culprit is a faculty member or an employee, according to Leonard.
Students and employees of the university also have the right to file sexual assault and harassment complaints with outside enforcement agencies, such as the state Division of Human Rights, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
“A person may opt to file a complaint through the university’s internal procedure and pursue the matter outside the university simultaneously,” Leonard said.
Assistant Chief of Patrol Eric Olsen said when a victim goes directly to the police, University Police Department detectives investigate the report and then consult the complainant about his or her options under Title IX. If the complainant wants to pursue criminal charges, UPD then contacts the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. However, UPD does not make decisions regarding sanctions under SBU’s internal procedure.
“We just collect the facts and forward them to the Title IX coordinator, basically,” Olsen said.
Seventeen forcible sexual offenses were reported on the Stony Brook campus in 2012—four more than in 2011 and 10 more than in 2010, according to UPD’s 2013 Annual Security and Fire Report. According to Olsen, the annual report includes crime reports that have not been already been proven to be unfounded.
Smita Majumdar Das, the assistant director of the Center for Prevention and Outreach, said that more reports do not mean more cases.
“What is happening to these people is not reported, and nationally the rate really sees 5 percent of victims come out and report, leave alone the law enforcement,” she said. “Community rate is 13 percent of cases get reported, so in college reporting is even more depressed, so I would say the better education, more prevention messages, more victims feel that what happened to them—they were not held responsible, more people will start identifying this as a crime that was perpetrated against them and will seek out more services. And part of seeking out more services is reporting what’s going on.”
Majumdar Das said if a student initially goes to CPO after a case of sexual assault, he or she does not have to report it to the Title IX coordinator, as CPO and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provide prevention education and confidential counseling services.
“We do not set policies, and we do not directly report to Title IX either because, being counselors, we are not mandated to report this to Title IX,” she said. “But what we do do is when we are talking about education and doing any programming for students, we talk about Title IX, we talk about our sexual misconduct policy, we talk about how to initiate a report, which office to call and what to do and what the report can look like.”
Victims of sexual assault and harassment can also contact Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk (VIBS) for counseling, and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) at the University Hospital can provide medical forensic examinations after an assault.
What students know
Students who were asked if they know what Title IX is were either unsure of its meaning or knew it involved protection based on sex—no one interviewed by Statesman reporters knew of its protection from discrimination in the forms of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Those interviewed said they thought students should be more educated about how to respond to a case of sexual harassment or sexual assault and provided varied answers about where to go or who to contact.
Some students said they would contact the University Police Department while others suggested they would go to the hospital depending on the situation as well as CAPS and CPO if they felt that they needed psychological support.
Freshman chemistry major Sadqa Jamal said there should be more times in a year in which the university informs students on where to go and what to do.
Ilgon Choi, a freshman business major, said he knew students were informed about sexual assault during orientation, but that he did not remember what was said.
“I feel like people do tell us, we just don’t really listen, because I’ve heard of stuff to help you, but I just never paid attention,” he said.
Alyssa Coiro, a sophomore political science and U.S. history major, said that as an a member of the women’s basketball team, she knows about the sports end of Title IX and that the athletics department has resources to keep athletes informed.
Coiro said she knows “a little bit” about sexual harassment and assault because of the athletics department but added, “if I were a regular student, I don’t think I would know what I just said, which is very little.”
“I think there should be a standard about how to handle these situations,” Coiro said when told how the university responds to cases. “There’s like gray areas, there’s a lot of room for error, I think, so I definitely think there should be a standard.”
PhD student in hispanic languages Coral Rivera said, “It has to happen to you, I guess, for you to understand what kind of harm, any kind of violence happens to you, so if they don’t consider it a big thing, it doesn’t matter how you feel because they’re going to make another decision.”
“There are lots of issues here, but yes, students at [Stony Brook] should certainly have clarity on policies and their reporting options,” Susannah Pasquantonio, Policy Analyst and Community Liaison for the office of New York State Sen. Liz Krueger wrote via email when told of the confusion students face. “And to clarify – the university may have its own set of policies and disciplinary actions, but if a student commits a crime, he/she is not exempt from legal consequences (though we know there is great under-reporting in cases of sexual assault).”
The New York State senate passed Sen. Krueger’s bill to protect interns from sexual harassment and discrimination on June 18.