Graphic by Ashley Mowreader
A graphic depicting a search into the Pepperdine Student Code of Conduct.
On Aug. 21, Dean of Students Mark Davis announced the changes as a follow-up to President Jim Gash’s statements at the Aug. 17 President’s Briefing, reflecting the University’s theme of “Belonging” for academic year 2020–21.
The University developed the Student Code of Conduct in 2018 to create a unified code, related disciplinary procedures and policies that apply across the five Pepperdine schools, according to Davis’ email. Administration made changes to the code in 2019 to clarify language in the Sexual Misconduct Policy in addition to further solidifying Pepperdine’s stance against all marijuana products.
“[Students’] adherence to, support of, and input regarding the Student Code of Conduct helps maintain the strong and caring community we have built together at Pepperdine,” Davis wrote.
The COVID-19 Interim Protocols serve as official regulation for Pepperdine’s standards during COVID-19 regarding visitors, face coverings and other essential business on campus. The Sexual Misconduct Policy updates reflect new Title IX regulations provided nationally in May and clarify some language and Pepperdine policy in handling formal complaints.
COVID-19 Interim Protocols
Due to the nature of the pandemic, Pepperdine created a new interim policy for COVID-19, outlining restrictions and protocols in place for community members.
Students, staff and visitors are required to wear a face covering at all times on Pepperdine campuses. The face covering, be it a traditional mask, bandana, neck gaiter, homemade face covering or scarf, must be worn over the nose and mouth and secured around the lower face. Exceptions are available for those with medical conditions and children under the age of 2.
Pepperdine will provide two face coverings to every student, staff and faculty member at no cost, and the individual will be responsible for cleaning and wearing the covering, according to the updated policy. Additional coverings will be available for purchase at the bookstore.
All campus visitors must be essential or invited guests. Invited guests include current essential students, faculty and staff, visitors with permission, family members of on-campus condo homeowners, parents and families helping students move out, designated vendors and service operators, and ride-hailing and food delivery drivers. Guests are also required to follow social distancing and face-covering protocols.
Pepperdine extended its telecommuting protocols as well, allowing for every employee — including student employees — to complete work remotely if the position allows.
Pepperdine’s new policy also indicates supervisors must extend flexibility for those doing in-person work to allow for extenuating circumstances, such as caring for elderly family members or children due to school closure and being at higher risk with a weakened immune system. All University-sponsored international and domestic travel is prohibited through Sept. 30, with some rare exceptions that the traveler’s supervisor and a member of the Steering team must vet.
Community members who travel internationally for personal reasons must complete a 14-day quarantine before being allowed access to Pepperdine’s campus. Students and faculty living on campus may return home but cannot access other campus spaces during their quarantine.
Updated Sexual Misconduct Policy
“This summer Pepperdine made substantial changes to our Sexual Misconduct Policy to conform to the new Title IX regulations published by the US Department of Education in May,” Davis wrote.
Major changes to the policy include redefining sexual harassment, permitting the Title IX coordinator to call for investigation(s) regardless of the complainant’s wishes, allowing both parties — the victim and the accused — to view evidence and allegations filed during a formal complaint and permitting an adviser to be present with both parties during a video conference hearing.
The Title IX regulations published by the U.S. Department of Education in May 2020 clarify the definition of sexual harassment prohibited under Title IX to include sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking as well as sexual harassment and sexual harassment (quid pro quo) — all of which are defined in Pepperdine’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, according to the website.
“The updated Title IX regulations provide more autonomy and control to the complainant to decide if they want the University to move forward with a formal investigation and hearing,” according to the website.
With the new regulations, the victim or complainant must file a formal complaint before the University will proceed with grievance procedures or disciplinary action.
Updated regulations also state the Title IX coordinator can determine if an investigation is necessary regardless of the wishes of the victim “out of concerns for the welfare and safety of the complainant and the community.” The example of this scenario listed on Pepperdine’s new webpage is in the case of a potential serial sexual perpetrator.
Pepperdine has two Title IX coordinators: one for the University, Lauren Cosentino, vice president for Campus Operations and Human Resources; and one for students, La Shonda Coleman, Title IX coordinator for students. Cosentino is responsible for Pepperdine’s compliance with Title IX and the University’s response to formal complaints by students against employees, employee to employee complaints and reports from third parties. Coleman, on the other hand, coordinates between students and is the University contact for both employees and individuals on the receiving end of a sexual assault complaint, labeled in the University handbook as a Respondent.
“The jurisdiction of the Sexual Misconduct Policy is broader than the jurisdiction of Title IX, and applies to the education programs and activities of Pepperdine, to conduct that takes place on the campus or on property owned or controlled by Pepperdine, at University-sponsored events, or in buildings owned or controlled by Pepperdine’s recognized student organizations,” according to the policy update.
This means, whether the allegations occurred outside the U.S. or did not occur during Pepperdine education programs activities — such as in off-campus housing or within an international program — Pepperdine can still apply the policy to community member behavior and can extend jurisdiction.
The role of advisers during a video conference hearing expanded under new Title IX regulations. Pepperdine’s policy, prior to revision, dictated that both parties will meet via video conference with a Hearing Officer to review the final investigation report and any response by the complainant or respondent.
The Hearing Officer, like the Title IX coordinator, varies based on who is involved in the allegation. For complaints between students, Sharon Beard, associate dean of students for community standards, or her designee serve as the Hearing Officer. For complaints against an employee, Human Resources appoints a Hearing Officer. The Hearing Officer can also create a hearing panel by adding up to two additional personnel to listen to the video conference.
Advisers, who can be a party’s attorney, are able to cross-examine and question the other party and witnesses, including asking questions that challenge credibility. Pepperdine added several layers of regulation to this. The adviser must question in real-time, an involved party may not cross-examine, all cross-examination questions are first shared with the Hearing Officer to determine relevance and the adviser cannot question in an abusive or disrespectful manner, among other guidelines.
Students filing a formal grievance of sexual misconduct can also opt for an informal resolution — a voluntary process through which a student complainant and respondent can mutually agree to participate in an alternate means of resolution. The complainant must still file a formal complaint, and the two parties must agree to an informal resolution. The informal resolution can still involve disciplinary sanctions, but it cannot be appealed, and once the students agree to an informal resolution, neither party can opt for the formal grievance process.
“Regardless of whether Title IX is applicable or which procedures are followed, Pepperdine is committed to a fair, accurate, consistent, transparent, and prompt response to allegations of Sexual Misconduct,” according to the website.
Community members have scrutinized the Sexual Misconduct Policy at Pepperdine after a sexual harassment case between two student Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers in 2019 and an increase in sexual assault cases on campus during spring 2019. An October 2019 article revealed many students do not understand the process for filing a sexual harassment complaint nor are they aware of sexual harassment reports being filed.
Good Samaritan Policy
Pepperdine also updated the Good Samaritan Policy “for clarity and efficacy,” Davis wrote. The website outlines the policy in its entirety as well as specific examples of individuals and group who would be covered by the policy due to varying circumstances. These can include club involvement, complying with Pepperdine and first responders, and who issued the first call for help.
The Good Samaritan Policy at Pepperdine has been continually reviewed and updated since its creation, with notable changes made after the deactivation of fraternity Delta Tau Delta in 2017. In 2018, a survey of first-year students by Unite Pepp showed incoming students did not trust the policy and would not use it.
Individuals who wish to provide feedback on the Student Code of Conduct or other related policies or procedures can contact the Office of Community Standards at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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