Student safety has become an issue of primary concern for institutions of higher education throughout the country, in particular regarding sex discrimination, sexual violence and harassment under Title IX. Although all Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) institutions have in place several policies and practices that address student safety, every student, regardless of the institution they attend, should have a uniformly safe environment in which to learn, study and excel.
At the recent January 20 meeting, the Board of Regents adopted a new policy, R262 Student Safety, to ensure consistency at all USHE campuses as well as strong collaboration. The policy standardizes and strengthens how the state’s colleges and universities address campus sexual assault, requiring stepped-up training, information-sharing about transfer students who’ve committed sexual violence, and regular climate surveys.
USHE institutions have always made student safety a top priority. Recent events and research, however, have increased the scrutiny of higher education institutions and how they address incidents related to student sexual assault, harassment and discrimination on and off campuses across the country. In the past several years, the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance to institutions indicating that under Title IX, all schools are obligated to address instances of sexual misconduct and discrimination by investigating allegations, taking disciplinary action when warranted, and instituting practices, training and prevention strategies to reduce or eliminate sexual misconduct or discrimination and to, thereby, provide a safe educational environment for students.
Along with this guidance, the Department’s Office of Civil Rights has aggressively investigated schools for failing to implement policies or practices not meeting the standards defined in Title IX guidance and for alleged mishandling instances of sexual misconduct or discrimination. Schools throughout the country have attempted to identify and adopt best practices that foster safer environments for students, ensure appropriate due process, and comply with federal and state law. In Utah, in addition to adhering to the Department’s guidance, USHE institutions have committed significant resources to ensure safe campuses through institutional policies, training and prevention strategies.
The Regents have not yet addressed student safety and Title IX on a system-wide level. The heightened attention presents an opportunity for the Regents to:
- foster collaboration among the institutions for sharing best practices and model policies.
- help each institution ensure they are in full compliance with the law.
- provide training opportunities that will create consistent practices within all institutions.
- conduct campus climate surveys that will assess each institution’s success at creating a safe environment and also assess the system as a whole.
- encourage better cooperation with local law enforcement.
The Commissioner’s staff has worked closely with institutions on this policy to addresses system-wide improvements while allowing for institutions to adapt to the unique needs of their campuses. The Commissioner’s Office will hold a convening meeting in the coming weeks to implement the policy together with specialists from USHE institutions.