Photo courtesy of Pepperdine University
The start of a new school year is always a time to get reacquainted with campus life. Pepperdine has seen several changes entering the 2015-2016 term, but do not get too distracted by the shiny new appliances in the George Page apartments.
One of the most important updates is the new sexual misconduct policy.
In an email sent Friday to the Pepperdine student body, Dean of Student Affairs Mark Davis wrote about the importance of the policy.
“Pepperdine University views everyone as a person of infinite worth, created by God, deserving to be treated with dignity and respect. Thus, the university prohibits its students, employees, vendors or guests from engaging in any form of sexual misconduct.”
According to the new policy, “sexual misconduct can be committed by men or women, and it can occur between people of the same or different sex.”
Sexual assault in particular has become a national topic of concern ever since the rise of several high-profile cases brought to the media’s attention, such as Emma Sulkowicz’s performance art piece “Carry that Weight.”
Many of these cases took place on college campuses, spotlighting the need for better judicial policies and resources for victims.
Nearly a year ago, the California State Senate approved the “Yes Means Yes” legislation, which most notably redefined sexual assault as an absence of explicit affirmative consent from either party, instead of the previous definition that required the presence of any indication of a lack of consent.
This groundbreaking legislation aims to remove the ambiguity of consent, and ushers in a wave of improvements in many California college judicial systems.
“Pepperdine has always had a sexual assault policy and comprehensive protocols we follow anytime a sexual assault is reported,” said Sharon Beard, associate Dean of Student Affairs for Community Standards.
“We review our handbook every year and based on feedback from students, best practices, new laws, et cetera; we make changes to strengthen the policy each year. The big change this year is that we created one policy and process for all five schools at Pepperdine, and one student disciplinary committee with representatives from each school, rather than having separate processes at each school.”
Sophomore Meghan Flanigan said she believes that student involvement is an important aspect of policy development and is necessary for true implementation of programs.
“I think it’s important that students can participate in these committees and see the effects of this policy,” she said. “Not many people are aware of what they can do to help, and we need to know how we can support our community.”
Although the policy tackles all sexual misconduct relating to the Pepperdine community, Beard expressed concern that some students might not understand the full scope of the policy’s potential reach.
“I think some students hear ‘sexual misconduct’ and they think it is a policy about premarital sex, but that is not the case. Sexual misconduct includes sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking … As for this year, our handbook has always addressed that consent must be clear from nonverbal or verbal cues.”
Senior Daniel Tate wrote in an email that he thinks the comittee is going overboard with the policy report and is “labeling minor things sexual misconduct.”
Junior Gretchen Graf wrote in an email that she agrees with the introduction of the new sexual misconduct policy for the Pepperdine community.
“I think it’s a good policy that seems to really protect students … and I think it’s good that they have readily available resources for victims,” Graf wrote.
Pepperdine has engaged this topic through initiatives like Step Up!, a bystander intervention program meant to equip students with the tools to intervene, verbally and physically, during problematic situations, including sexual misconduct.
In a letter on the Step Up! website, President Andrew K. Benton wrote, “We may know someone within our community with any number of personal concerns that can feel overwhelming if not addressed with caring and compassionate help. For these reasons, I wholeheartedly encourage each and every one of you to familiarize yourselves with our Step Up! campaign and the many proactive services it offers to help you help others.”
Beard encouraged the student body to “read the entire [sexual misconduct] policy and be informed.”
The policy also clearly outlines resources available for students currently studying abroad or otherwise outside of California.
“If you are participating in a program located out of state or abroad, please consult with your program director for confidential reporting options, available community resources and law enforcement contact information in your location.”
For students still on campus, “confidential reports of sexual assualt or any kind of sexual misconduct may be made by contacting a counselor at the Pepperdine Counseling Center, located at TCC 270 or by calling (310) 506-4210.
These confidential reports can also be made by contacting the University chaplain, Sara Barton, directly at TCC 106A or at (310) 506-4275. There are also anonymous options, such as the Wave Tip- line at (310) 506-7634 or the LiveSafe app.
Follow Sarah Elliott on Twitter: @sarahelliotts